Steve O’Donnell and Steve Phelps gave NASCAR’s annual State of the Sport Address on Friday, and it left us with a lot to talk about. Here are some of the major topics that were hit on, and what things NASCAR is looking for in terms of both this year and the future.
Next TV Deal
Steve Phelps spent a significant amount of time talking about both the current TV ratings and the future TV deal. While admitting that the TV ratings this year had been a “Mixed bag”, there was significant optimism for the next TV deal. Phelps said that the next TV deal would include a combination of broadcast, cable, and streaming “To some degree”, and he also said regarding timing, “Are we getting towards the end of that process? We are.”
NASCAR’s potential move to streaming has been a topic of conversation throughout the year. While specifics were not given, today shows that streaming will have some presence in the next NASCAR TV deal. As far as the timeline, Fox Corporation CEO, Lechlan Murdoch, told Awful Announcing that a NASCAR on Fox TV deal renewal could be close to happening, so, it seems that both sides are agreeing that the process is nearing its’ end.
At-track attendance saw an uptick in the 2022 season, and Phelps provided an optimistic outlook on that as well. He said that there were 50% more sellouts in 2023 than in 2022, and he said that the crowds and the energy at the track are better than in the past. Now, NASCAR does not release attendance figures, so, it’s impossible to know exact attendance figures for every race.
However, for how well attendance was at races like the Chicago Street Race and North Wilkesboro, some races did not show great attendance. One example was the fall race in Las Vegas, which clearly showed that the grandstands were not even close to sold out. However, Phelps did not discuss any races struggling in attendance.
Short Track Racing Product
Steve O’Donnell was the one who talked the most about the racing product on short tracks and road courses. When asked about doing what many fans have been calling for, adding more horsepower, O’Donnell said, “Everything is up for consideration.” However, he did mention that for now, they are looking at shifting and changes to the underbody of the car.
Shifting is something that many have claimed is a reason for the less-than-stellar product on short tracks. The removal of the underbody was something that was tested at Richmond back in the summer. There will be a short track test at Phoenix in December, so, that will be the first time we will see specifically what NASCAR will test.
O’Donnell did not close the door on NASCAR expanding to race internationally in 2024. He did confirm that conversations with Montreal did happen, and he also said that Iowa was not a “replacement” for Montreal. However, he said that there could be a “Number of opportunities” for racing outside of the U.S. at some point.
As for why Montreal fell apart, O’Donnell said, “We want to build NASCAR within that particular country or marketplace. As we continued to talk in Montreal, we probably realized a little quick to be able to make that happen.” It does not seem the door is not closed on going international by any means. It will be interesting to see if NASCAR works to market itself in different international markets in 2024 as a precursor to a potential race in 2025.
Auto Club Speedway
Steve Phelps was asked specifically about the plans involving Auto Club Speedway with the track currently being demolished. The original plan was for the track to be reconfigured into a short track, and Phelps said that NASCAR is, “Still planning on building a short track in Fontana”. However, he did not give a specific timeline.
Phelps said regarding why there was no timeline, “This isn’t the best time to be building based on inflation, cost of capital, et cetera.” Well, if it truly comes down to the economy, then it is all but impossible to guess when this will actually happen. However, NASCAR still wants to build a short track in Fontana, so, it is still a waiting game.
To start the address, Phelps took an interesting approach and defended the NASCAR Playoff system. He said, “I’ve heard some things, there were people like, Hey, listen, this is gimmicky. It’s Not. It’s an incredible, incredible playoff system that rewards the best drivers in our sport.” That is not something that every NASCAR fan would agree with.
However, if this comment tells fans anything, it’s that the Playoffs are here to stay. The executives like the Playoff system, and as long as they like it, it will likely stay.
A great deal of the press conference was spent on how drivers are marketed and how they use their brands. Phelps said regarding the drivers, “Our drivers are cool, they’re interesting.” He highlighted how NASCAR is going to be creating a brand new production facility called NASCAR Studios, which, aside from broadcasts, will be used to create content for drivers.
At the very least, this is an avenue. NASCAR is giving the drivers themselves an avenue to help market the drivers and their personalities in a unique way. Now, how much can NASCAR realistically do by themselves? That is an understandable question.
Charter Deal with Race Teams
Phelps gave both an update and a timeline for how the current charter agreement discussions are going with the race teams. In regards to specific discussions, Phelps said, “If you would ask the race teams do we think we’re making progress with NASCAR on where things stand in the extension of our charters, I think our race teams would say yes.” He also said that the TV deal comes first before getting the charter deal done.
This is exactly what Adam Stern reported earlier regarding the charter agreement. It seems based on all of the news coming out today, that something will get done, but it is still going to take some time.
Ultimately, time will tell whether or not everything discussed today comes to fruition in the way NASCAR and the fans want it to. All of these are stories that NASCAR fans will follow throughout the offseason.