NASCAR Media Conference
May 14, 2004
JIM HUNTER: Good morning, everyone. We appreciate everybody coming out this morning. Our chairman is going to make some remarks, then we're going to open it up for questions and answers. At this time, I'd like to welcome and to introduce the NASCAR chairman, Brian France.
BRIAN FRANCE: Thank you, Jim. Good morning. Today we're announcing the NASCAR's Next Days of Realignment, which we feel appropriately addresses the future of our sport. Last year, as most of you know, we unveiled a strategic plan called Realignment 2004 and Beyond. The name of that plan is to ensure that NASCAR keeps pace with its growing fan base nationwide. All of our fans deserve the opportunity to attend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event in person, to experience the excitement of our sport firsthand. At the same time, NASCAR has been careful to continue to serve its traditional fan base and recognize its traditional venues. But in 2005, the Southeast also will continue to be well-served with great racing in places like Richmond, here, Charlotte, Atlanta, Daytona and many others. Additionally, NASCAR continues to reach out to new fans in all four corners of the country. With regard to the 2005 schedule, I'm glad to say that we're about three months ahead of where we usually are at this time. The changes for the 2005 schedule are as follows: An additional date will be added at the Texas Motor Speedway November 6, making it a crucial part of the chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Championship. This second date is a result of the Ferko settlement, but at the same time it fits in perfectly with our realignment plans. The terms of the settlement are on file in District Court in Sherman, Texas, as of this morning. I'm sure those terms will be discussed later on in an ISC news conference as well as Speedway Motorsports as well at the Texas Motor Speedway. Also in 2005, the North Carolina Speedway will no longer, regrettably, be on the schedule. Darlington Raceway will have one event, which will be moved to the evening of Saturday, May 7th. Phoenix International Raceway will run a second date on the night of April 23rd. This is in primetime. This is another example of us increasing our visibility in an area of the country that is truly a hot bed for NASCAR racing in the Southwest. The California Speedway will have its first of two events moved from the spring to February 27th. That's one week after the season-opening Daytona 500. So we're going from the biggest race of the season straight to the second biggest market in the country. The 2005 schedule marks another important milestone not only in NASCAR's realignment efforts, but in NASCAR's historical overall view of its growth plan. Our sport is growing and it's moving faster than ever, and the 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule certainly reflects that. You know, we have tried to give the information out on all these things as fast as we received it. In a few moments, I'm going to take every question and answer it the best I can. Later on, the other public companies will make their respective announcements. After that, what we're really talking about is 2005, talking about Ferko, the settlement. We're in the midst of one of our greatest seasons that we've had in recent memories with the Nextel Cup Series points tighter than ever, Martin Truex emerging in the Busch Series. After today, I hope we'll be able to put these matters behind us and go on to what we do best, which is the best racing in the world. We'll take questions at this time.
Q. You said you wanted this to go to court. What changed in your mind?
BRIAN FRANCE: The court mandates we have settled the discussion, which we obviously participated in. We found a solution, a solution that was in the best interest of everybody in the sport. Took advantage of realignment. Took events to places where there were fans. So when you have a solution that works for the whole industry, that was a moment that we just frankly thought was worth putting forward as opposed to the distraction in a lawsuit.
Q. In 1960, there were 26 races in Carolina. Next year there will be as many in California as in Carolina. In light of that, how can you say the traditional roots are being served? What do you say to the Carolina fans that have lost three of their six races?
BRIAN FRANCE: I'd say we're disappointed the events didn't work as well as they work in California and other markets. I would say that there's plenty of good NASCAR racing right here in Richmond, in the Southeast. I mentioned Daytona, Charlotte, Atlanta, Bristol, many other places, Martinsville. I would tell you there's plenty of opportunities for our fans in the Southeast to see the sport that they love the most, which is NASCAR.
Q. In the West Coast, what do you see are some of the advantages to moving NASCAR to the bigger markets out on the West Coast more frequently?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, obviously, it's under-served from our view. The population base in Los Angeles, second largest market. Phoenix is the 16th to 17th largest market in the country. It's proven, as we proved last weekend, two weekends ago, that the interest level. Texas has a huge interest level in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series racing. They've proved it for a number of years. I don't think it's any secret that the demand is there, the population is there, the race fans are there. We're going to take our events there.
Q. Do you feel by settling the lawsuit you've opened yourself up to other lawsuits from non-SMI track operators? Are you concerned about the anti-trust issue?
BRIAN FRANCE: You know, we have a history of being very aggressive in defending NASCAR's business practices. We're aggressive in this case. We'll be very aggressive in the future. Make no mistake about that. I will say that there was a solution in this case that was unique we were able to find that worked for everyone. Probably not the case in most. And the other issue about, you know, from an anti-trust standpoint, we feel very good, we're a pro-competitive business model, frankly the only one in motorsports around the world that really works for everyone: drivers, teams, tracks. All of our partners, as the sport has grown, they grow. You would be hard-pressed to make a case at the end of the day that we would not be a pro-competitive business model for everyone.
Q. Were there financial considerations for the plaintiffs in the settlement of the lawsuit?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I said earlier that the settlement has been filed, the entire document, in District Court in Sherman, Texas. I don't want to get into every detail of the actual settlement. That's for everybody to review to perfectly understand that. I don't want to get into every inch of the detail.
Q. Can you talk about moving two night races, Darlington and Phoenix? Once Seattle gets settled, will Phoenix lose that date?
BRIAN FRANCE: I hope no track ever loses a date. I hope they work real well and fans support each facility. I have no reason to believe that Phoenix, in prime time under the lights, won't be a big homerun. It's a popular NASCAR destination for a long time. Seattle is yet to emerge as a place that we're going to be looking at in our schedule. I can't comment on that.
Q. In Realignment 2004, a big stretch is taking it from markets where it's not currently to places that already have races. When are you going to places where there aren't races?
BRIAN FRANCE: We didn't say that. We didn't say that realignment was just for markets that we weren't at at all. As a matter of fact, we said one of the keys of realignment, we had to work within our system, we view our tracks as our partners. They're an important part, obviously, of the business model. We weren't going to act off the cuff; we were going to work hand-in-glove with our tracks. If they were interested in moving a date, the market within a system of tracks they might own or might make a connection with, that might work better, we would be interested in that. That's what we did.
Q. Two dates at Texas for '05, how long will they get two dates? You always talk about the schedule after every year, redoing the schedule. Is it a long-term agreement?
BRIAN FRANCE: All of our agreements are year to year. That allows NASCAR the unique situation of examining how events work, you know, year in, year out. That day, I'm sure the folks in Texas feel like it will work terrifically. I have no reason to believe it won't. We have year-to-year sanctions and we'll see as we go.
Q. Where does Kansas figure in? Were they close to getting a second race for next season?
BRIAN FRANCE: I can't tell you that somebody was close or far away. They obviously have their one date in the fall. They're part of the chase to the championship. They're excited about that event. It's a great market for NASCAR. But that's where they are in 2005.
Q. Is the Busch Series going to follow this change? The two Saturday night races, will Busch Series races be on Friday night?
BRIAN FRANCE: Yes. The Busch Series on those respective weekends will track the NEXTEL Cup Series. They'll make their second debut at those facilities, as well.
Q. Did ISC buy out both halves of Martinsville, the whole racetrack, or just Earl's side, or what?
BRIAN FRANCE: ISC, they will give you all the details, I don't want to get ahead of their conference, has purchased all of the Martinsville Speedway facility. I'll let them give you the details to that acquisition later on.
Q. How does the schedule change affect your television package negotiations coming up?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I think it makes it a lot better. But you'd have to -- I think our partners, number one, we consulted with our TV partners as we are expected to do, as we always would, to make sure they're comfortable with the direction we're going - and they are. I would tell you all these moves obviously we think help us in the long run to grow the sport.
Q. Realignment, is it still a process that will be continuing in the future beyond this? You mentioned all the races in the Southeast. Do you still consider the Southeast a saturated marked that they need to (inaudible) down the road?
BRIAN FRANCE: The realignment is going to continue. Listen, the Southeast is an important -- it's historically where we started. We're never going to forget that. We've got so many traditions, beginning this weekend, a hugely successful event here in Richmond tonight and tomorrow night, not to mention Charlotte next weekend with the All-Star race, Daytona 500. I mean, goodness gracious, we are not going to forget the Southeast, and no one should mistake that.
JIM HUNTER: We'll go to the phones now for questions, then come back for additional questions.
Q. Darlington's status, we were told it would ultimately come down to ticket sales. How do you rectify that with this announcement given that Darlington sold out last August and had the best crowd they ever had this past spring?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, unfortunately, it wasn't quite good enough, and that's regrettable. I want to be real clear here, there's nothing more disappointing to fans who historically come to an event, and it's no longer there. We have to balance that with the opportunities to move events to an area of the country that will be much more served, more fans will get a chance to view NASCAR firsthand. It's tough. It's a tough balancing act. By the way, the May 7th date under the lights, that's a nice spark for that facility. We think it's going to do well. We hope it will do well. It's a historically important track for NASCAR.
Q. Obviously Virginia is going to have four races, I guess twice as many as North Carolina, starting next year on tracks that are among the oldest and smallest in markets that aren't particularly big either. The question is, what is the long-term forecast for Richmond and Martinsville continuing with two races apiece?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I always say, I hope that the future's bright. I think it is actually. Richmond is a good market, number one. It serves as close to NEXTEL's home base, great access to the Washington, D.C. market, sells out, huge, 100,000-plus mega event. My view of Richmond is it's never been in better shape. Martinsville is equally in good shape in terms of its fan support. It has a unique place on the schedule given that it's a short track. I don't need to tell you how important short tracks are in giving us a diverse set of racetracks to compete on. Our drivers like that. My hope is that the Martinsville and Richmond facilities continue to grow and just get better.
Q. I know you said that you don't want to list all the settlement details, but I was hoping that you could touch on a couple of the major terms of the settlement that have the largest impact on the parties, specifically whether NASCAR is making any kind of payments to Speedway Motorsports?
BRIAN FRANCE: NASCAR is not making a payment to Speedway Motorsports. It is a complicated settlement, that's why I'm hesitant to go into every legal term and definition. That's why I would request that everybody get a copy of that agreement so they can read carefully. It also has to do with public companies, two of them, in fact. They have their own announcements. I don't want to get out in front of some information that might impact that. As everybody knows, I try to answer every question fully and completely, but that's where we are on the settlement.
Q. Interesting shift of the Southeast saturation to the Southwest. Can you address that?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, Phoenix, Dallas and Los Angeles market are huge markets. They're under-served. We've proven that. Texas will prove that, I believe. 2005, I believe they'll have a very successful fall event. I think that the spring event in Phoenix will be equally successful for that market. I think that we'll have to wait and see, but that's my view of it.
Q. One of the things on the schedule that hasn't been touched on is the All-Star Challenge will remain in Charlotte 2005. Is there any long-term decision been made on the status of that event beyond 2005?
BRIAN FRANCE: No, there isn't. Obviously, the folks at Speedway Motorsports believe it works really well at the Lowe's Motor Speedway, and it has worked well. They have a commitment through 2005. This will be the first time that NEXTEL, we've actually changed the name, making more of a NASCAR All-Star event than even it was in the past. So some new nuances we're going to take a look at through this year and into next. That's where we are on the All-Star race.
Q. Who is going to pay the legal fees in the settlement?
BRIAN FRANCE: The legal fees, again, touch into the public companies. They will discuss how the legal fees were put to rest, so I'm not going to do that today.
Q. Can you talk about your relationship with SMI (inaudible) that pretty much attacked your family?
BRIAN FRANCE: Lawsuits are difficult, obviously. There are things that come out that you don't like to see, in our view a lot of things that were inaccurate. I'm sure they would view some of that, as well. But that's behind us. Now we're on to 2005. It's a big distraction out of the way. We're going to focus on what we do best: provide great racing all over the world, or all over the country - hopefully the world one day - and we'll leave it at that.
Q. How would you put this in relation to all other major announcements, redefining the face of the sport, kind of summarizing this?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I think there's been a lot bigger announcements, quite frankly, in our history. Although there's a lot of moving parts to this and it's complicated, it eliminates a big distraction with the Ferko settlement, allows us to take full advantage of realignment. I would say it's a positive, obviously. We believe it's the right thing to do, and it's going to help us grow the sport. Thank you very much.
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