NASCAR Business Strategy a Lap Down to All Other Major Sports

McCord RobertsCorrespondent IJanuary 23, 2010

CONCORD, NC - JANUARY 21:  NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France (R) speaks with the media, as NASCAR President Mike Helton (L) looks on, during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at the NASCAR Research and Development Center on January 21, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)
Jason Smith/Getty Images

When I heard about all the changes NASCAR was making to better the sport for its fans and drivers, all I could think about was how this giant in the business world must have hit rock bottom, or at least the depths it, such that NASCAR has never seen.

The announcements made by the NASCAR suits in Charlotte this past week were highlighted by NASCAR saying they would be “more relaxed” and encourage drivers to show more emotion.

They also said changes would be made to increase the hole in the restrictor plates and go back to the spoiler instead of the rear wing.

Many companies in the current economic climate have had to regroup, change strategies, and come up with new game plans to be able to forecast growth realistically, but seldom do they admit their faults to the public or financial analysts.

NASCAR’s new plan is to basically go back to the old plan, which is admitting their faults in past changes. It is commendable that they can admit their past failures in decision making, but it would have appeared more earnest if not so desperate.

The NASCAR State of the Union address had me thinking of another company who recently rolled out with an ad campaign that basically admitted their past product was garbage.

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Domino’s Pizza, once a thriving up-and-coming company, built a huge following becoming a mega-giant in the pizza delivery business with little national competition.

Once some of the others came along with advertising campaigns just as big, like Papa John’s, and revenues were way down—making their year-over-year charts look like the “diver down” flag, they shared all their recipe changes in a last-ditch effort to get their slice of the business pie.

In doing so, they shared comments from customers about how bad the pizza used to be, “It tasted like cardboard” and “the sauce is like ketchup.”

So now this big business pizza joint, who I thought was just fine but still never ordered much from, is admitting to me how bad the pizza used to be.

They’re taking a 50-50 shot that they’ll maybe get some old clientele back, but they’re also alienating those who liked the old stuff. It’s business suicide, but it was a measure they were willing to take before the nose dive went off the charts. 

In NASCAR’s case, we don’t have a Papa John’s circuit to run to for alternative stock car racing.

It’s the only game in town, but why couldn’t they have come clean with their faults, which everyone had cried aloud about, when everything was rolling well with NASCAR’s bank account and future?  

Last season saw television ratings increase slightly in only seven of the 40 NASCAR Sprint Cup events compared to 2008.

The economy was bad, but most folks had TV sets before things went sour. The writing was on the wall, and they needed some momentum for the next big TV contract in 2014, plain and simple.

The double-file restarts format (in the middle of the down 2009 season) was a sign that NASCAR would be willing to do just about anything to garner more recognition and impress the sponsors and networks.

So NASCAR announces it has a rodeo again, but the best broncos have already been broken. Is it possible to think you can break a wild horse and then tell it to buck again like it used to?

How do you tell the likes of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch to go ahead and be that colorful personality with a style that the fans love and hate equally, when it was NASCAR who made them stay after school writing, “I will not misbehave again or else,” a thousand times on the chalkboard?

In a way, it’s refreshing to see a sport react so swiftly and make the subtle changes. On the other hand, NASCAR is also showing that its business is being run like a Korean liquor store where the prices fluctuate on a daily basis with never an ounce of consistency.

Could you imagine Major League Baseball, the NFL, or NBA drastically changing its rules year after year, or—even worse—in the middle of a season? No, because part of what makes those sports so good is that the core rules basically stay the same.

It’s not hard to follow for someone who took a few years off, whether in jail, in a cave, or even worse, got married.

Can you picture the NASCAR fan who took a 10-year hiatus from the sport and he’s being told about all the “new” things going on in stock car racing? The first response might be, “why the hell did they make a change to a rule that was already there?”

And I don’t even want to attempt explaining all the add-on changes throughout the Chase for the Championship format, along with why Labor Day weekend doesn‘t have a race at Darlington anymore.

In the long run, the changes will be good for NASCAR, and I’m looking forward to this season more than ever.

But I have to believe that some of things that have gone on with this family-operated business over the last decade could have been handled much better by real business minds who think things out with long term effect rather than knee-jerk reaction.

Again, it’s the only game in town.

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