May 27, 2024

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The team owners' feud with NASCAR is giving fans an excuse to set things straight

The team owners’ feud with NASCAR is giving fans an excuse to set things straight

Ryan McGeeSenior writer for ESPN7 minutes to read

The owners of the NASCAR Cup Series team boycotted a meeting with the series on Wednesday.David Griffin/Sportswear Icon via Getty Images

The NASCAR Cumbia has been replaced by a standard scratch. and boycott. This seems like a bad idea.

Remember 2020? That was when the pandemic shut down the world, but it was NASCAR, holed up with its team owners and drivers, that famously hatched a plan that allowed it to become the first major league sport to return to its big venues.

Remember 2021? That’s when NASCAR unveiled its next-generation race car, heralded for cost-cutting and one-size-fits-all versatility but even more that heralded “unprecedented levels of collaboration” to design and build new machines.

Remember 2022? That was when the body sanctioning the auto racing juggernaut put out a long-adjusted schedule, full of new races and venues. It began with a pre-season fair that took place on a bullring constructed inside the Sacred Olympian Temple at the LA Coliseum. When the sport came to Daytona two weeks later, the garage was full of hugs and smiles and Jeff Gordon did all that and more when he grabbed myself and Marty Smith on live TV, shouting while cuddling, “NASCAR is back, baby!”

Well, this is 2023. And all of the aforementioned goodies look as if they were just shoved into a hole as if they were embroiled in a restart at the Circuit of the Americas.

If only it were that exciting. Instead, it’s meetings, circuit diagrams, finger pointing, and… gross, right?

The first dark cracks in the sunlight began to appear late last summer, at the height of NASCAR’s most competitive season in a generation. That’s when drivers became vocal and understandable about the ongoing safety issues with the next-generation car, specifically the two items every racer hopes to avoid the most: fires and head injuries. NASCAR seemed to catch everything off guard, as president Steve Phelps admitted to ESPN over the winter that he didn’t realize how serious drivers’ feelings weren’t being heard.

“Honestly, I was surprised,” he said, “but I’m grateful that they were so vocal, as uncomfortable as that was, because it led to more frequent and formal meetings, on a weekly basis really.”

The next round of discontent came in October 2022, when an Avengers-like group of high-powered executives, including Gordon, got together with a small group of NASCAR reporters to voice their dissatisfaction with the series. on what? What they thought was a very slow reaction to their requests for a new, “fairer” deal pertaining to team charter agreements. The current agreement, a new idea intended to evoke franchise value for racing teams, began in 2016, was extended in 2020 and is set to expire at the end of 2024.

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Over the past few weeks, NASCAR drivers, owners, and the sanctioning body have publicly feuded over penalties and fines. be seen: NASCAR Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer, himself a former driver, expressing his displeasure That Hendrick Motorsports successfully appealed massive penalty reductions from Phoenix Raceway last month and Denny Hamlin is on Twitter pretty much the whole time.

On Wednesday, driver Chris Boescher also took to social media with a meme that questioned what has largely been seen as a success: turning Bristol Motor Speedway into a dirt race for the third consecutive season. Yes, Bucher won the final round on the half-mile track last fall, sans the dirt.

Just as Buescher was using images of an angry Pedro Pascal to illustrate his feelings, though, there was a lot of hurt feelings at NASCAR HQ. This is because when they settled their quarterly meeting with the owners of the Cup Series teams, those owners never showed up. no one. to. they.

It was an organized boycott of the team owners.

Why? When reached by one of those owners Wednesday afternoon, they said, on condition of anonymity, “Same bulls-the reasons that were explained to you last fall. Nothing’s changed. So, why come to a meeting knowing nothing is going to happen?” It’s called a waste of time.”

When the Associated Press broke the story, the other owners—who also wish to keep their names out of it, citing “the sensitivity of the negotiations”—said that NASCAR was not handling those negotiations in good faith, including a perceived lack of urgency when it came to the speed of the process. Runners have never enjoyed going slow. They also said they wanted to do business with not only the same old NASCAR brass, but some old-fashioned NASCAR royalty, specifically Chairman (and son of the sanctioning body’s founder), Jim France.

The thing is, France was there on Wednesday and he ended up being held up by the people who were so adamant he was there in the first place.

What is all this really about? It’s about how the next round of TV money will be distributed. That’s it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There’s a lot of talk about those pacts, that teams want them to be signed to a permanent forever label, amen, while France would rather keep signing franchise contracts by seeing how no one has any idea what’s going to happen in the future forever. It seems like.

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Curtis Polk, advisor to Team 23XI co-owner Michael Jordan, was one of the few to speak formally about the issue on Wednesday.Jared C Tilton/Getty Images

But it’s all tied to TV money, which is the only real giant pile of cash the NASCAR world has. The current pie chart of the last rights deal signed, an $8.2 billion contract with Fox and NBC in 2015, is said to send 25% of that loot to teams via racing wallets, 10% to NASCAR and 65% to racetracks – the majority of which are owned for NASCAR.

The roots of these uneven cuts date back to a period earlier than this century, when individual cuts made their own TV deals. It was also a time when racing teams like Richie Rich sat on top of a mountain of coin, able to order blank checks from the likes of Budweiser, GM Goodwinch and DuPont, and those companies were forking blindly on dough as if they were being robbed and happy was going on.

This is no longer how it works. It wasn’t for very long.

Today’s sponsorship landscape is a daily battle and a bundle of deals. This is why today’s owners are so concerned, openly complaining that—in the words of Team 23XI consultant and longtime team co-owner Michael Jordan consigliere Curtis Polk—”a broken economic model for teams. Sustainability in this sport is not long-term unless we have it.” A fundamental change in paradigm.

With the current TV deal expiring after the 2024 season, an exclusive negotiation window with existing broadcast partners will close at the end of this month. Well, this is the funnel through which all this is being pushed. This is the reason for such a sense of urgency on the part of the owners.

However, they must also keep an eye on another concern that may not feel urgent but certainly is: what does this all look like for NASCAR fans. think about it. Classically disaffected fan base, it was made like this because fans felt increasingly disconnected from the racers, and finally seemed to be back enjoying the product on the track. Improvements in television ratings and attendance prove it. Just as they settle back into their couches on a Sunday afternoon, does sports really think they’d be ready for a drawn-out, publicly played drama filled with squabbles over who gets a cut of the billions of dollars?

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Major League Baseball first opened a long and widening chasm between itself and baseball fans in the 1980s, when labor disputes, giant player contracts, arbitration hearings, player strikes, blah, blah, blah, blah, swept the talk of wins, losses and home runs.

American open wheel racing tore itself in half in 1996 when Indianapolis Motor Speedway heir Tony George spun off from the CART IndyCar Series to form the Indy Racing League. The series’ team owners and drivers themselves think they can rally the fans to their side by broadcasting endless laundry sloops of dirty laundry through the media. Instead, these fans became confused and disgusted and turned away. The sport will never fully recover. Because sports fans get tired of such situations.

Like, for example, interrupting a meeting and then leaking the fact that you interrupted a meeting just to make a point.

Now, that’s when NASCAR finally seemed to be beginning to reverse a decade or more of bad decisions. Now, that’s when stock car racing finally had momentum. Now, when everyone seemed to be at least seen to be paddling all the oars in the same direction… that? now? Public chatter and posturing about stock and franchise and he got this and I didn’t and yeah, blah, blah, blah? truly?

There are definitely issues. These issues definitely need to be resolved. But that’s what meetings are for, slow or otherwise. This is also why meetings are held behind closed doors. There’s a reason no one buys or sells meeting tickets. Because no person without a vested interest cares, especially when they’re working all day trying to make ends meet, and the battle they’re forced to watch is a tug-of-war between millionaires and billionaires.

Do what you gotta do, NASCAR owners and CEOs. Heck, call me and tell me all about it. Just don’t do it out loud. it’s boring. It is self serving. Your fans don’t care. They have a race to watch… unless you give them a reason to go watch something else. once again.