NASCAR’s Brian France on diversity, new Cup sponsor, TV ratings

NASCAR chairman Brian France said he expects to soon announce a new title sponsor for the sport’s top series.
NASCAR chairman Brian France said he expects to soon announce a new title sponsor for the sport’s top series. AP

An occasionally combative chairman Brian France said Sunday he expects to soon announce a new title sponsor for NASCAR’s top series, while aggressively pushing back on issues that included how his endorsement of President-elect Donald Trump might impact the sport’s diversity push and NASCAR’s drop in attendance and television ratings.

“Nobody wants to hear my political views; I won’t be talking about that,” France said during a news conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway, after being asked if questions will be raised about his support of Trump after Mexico-native Daniel Suarez won the Xfinity Series title Saturday night.

Suarez, the first foreign-born driver to win a national series championship, is also the first product of NASCAR’s Drive For Diversity program to win a title.

“On diversity, nobody in this company has worked harder, done more and resourced it better than me,” France said. “I founded the diversity council. I fought for every single thing that makes sense, because that’s my core belief about diversity. It’s very, very important. I talk about it frequently. My efforts there should never be challenged, no matter what my political views might be. That’s a ridiculous thing to do.”

France also pushed back on a question about NASCAR’s declining attendance and TV ratings. Although NASCAR doesn’t announce attendance figures, ticket revenues have fallen consistently since 2010. Television ratings have also dropped. France noted that other pro sports leagues, including the NFL, have also experienced a decline in ratings.

“We are still very pleased with our position in sports,” said France. “The audience isn’t going away at all. It’s sliding to different places, consuming in different ways. I would tell you some other leagues that have 30 percent drop-offs. They didn’t lose (that) from one moment to the next. That audience is just sliding and consuming in some different ways. Our digital consumption is off the charts.”

NASCAR’s financial health is actually on solid ground, thanks to an $8.2 billion, 10-year deal it signed with NBC and Fox in 2013.

But NASCAR also hasn’t announced a title sponsor for its top series for 2017 and beyond. Sprint announced in 2014 that it was leaving the sport after this season.

“It’s taken a little longer than I thought, but it’s also a big and important agreement,” France said. “It’s not just dollars and cents, but it’s a fit for us. We don’t want to announce anything certainly around this weekend. We’re in a good spot with that, I believe, but we’ll have to see how it finally plays out. It’s a complicated agreement.”

Brian France on other subjects

Suarez’s championship: “We’re very proud of Daniel Suarez. (It’s) historic for the sport in many ways. I got some nice calls from people south of the border last night that are very proud of him, and we’re very proud of him.

“We’re very proud that it validates our diversity plan in a significant way. All kinds of conversations on what we’ve said through the years have been that these things take time to find the kind of talent that can actually compete at a high level on the biggest stages, and he’s done that.”

Signs that the sport is consolidating, with fewer teams and potential layoffs: “That is normal. You’ve got teams that compete at a high level and do well. You have some teams that, for whatever the reasons, can’t compete at such a high level, and they have some problems. That’s throughout our history. Not abnormal at all.”

On how the charter (franchising) system has worked in its first season: “Charters are going to be a long process for us. But forget the value part of it. The things that we’re going to be able to do are going to take many, many years to achieve our end goal, which is to really lower costs in the industry by working with our interests better aligned with the teams. That’s number one, which will affect their values.

“But some of the things are not going to change, of course, like you’ve got to compete at a high level, you’ve got to get sponsorship, you’ve got to have a manufacturing relationship. 

“The benefit of collectively working together to get the rules packages better, more exciting for the fans, and at a much lower cost over time, it’s the hardest thing in racing to do. Few ever achieve it, or at least consistently achieve it.

“We are after that deal. We couldn’t do that without the teams aligned together with us like they are.”

On conflicts with the NFL on Sundays in the fall and if he’s talked about it with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: “We have a good relationship with all the leagues. I personally have good relationships with various commissioners. We can’t always figure out everything, but we have good conversations, generally speaking, especially on issues with safety. Scheduling, all the rest, we have good relationships. They have a business to run and so do we, so it doesn’t always work out.

On whether NASCAR will consider giving bonus points to the regular-season winner heading into the Chase: “We’re going to think about that. I think that’s a fair thing for us to consider, to make sure that the regular season is as important as it is. I don’t know exactly how we’ll do that, but we’ll look at that.”

On consideration of adding other manufacturers to NASCAR: “Yes, but we’re not in a position to make that announcement.”

On new rules next season limiting Cup regulars’ appearances in Xfinity and Truck series races: “Cup drivers obviously were able to compete in events, but you saw the championship get settled down to the series participants. I think it worked perfectly. We talked about it for a long time. I’m glad we did it. It got a very worthy champion in Daniel Suarez. It fit perfectly with our Chase format, too, by the way. So it worked on a lot of different fronts.”

On the overall health of the sport: “I’m happy with the health of the sport. Would I obviously like to have everything perfect? Of course, I would. But that’s sports. That’s a competitive business. The model is changing a little bit, too, maybe not even in a way that we wouldn’t like to see. We’re pleased with the health of the sport. The facilities are getting improved and are working and are good, so ...”