NASCAR is no longer a public company having purchased International Speedway Corporation in 2019 and going private. While the advantages and disadvantages of such a move are open for debate, there is little doubt that being a private entity in 2020 was probably a very good thing. That’s because had NASCAR been forced to report its earnings, it would have most likely been a very uncomfortable call with investors.
Last year fan access to NASCAR tracks went from none to limited as the sport and the rest of the world navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. The sport created a bubble allowing it to put its product back on the track, though the stands were empty. Venues did receive TV money, however, any money from ticket sales was nonexistent.
While no figures from NASCAR are available, a report in the Sports Business Journal estimated that NASCAR’s tracks saw a drop estimated to be between US$150 million and US$175 million in total ticket revenue. Dover Motorsports Inc. which owns Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware and Nashville Superspeedway near Nashville, Tennessee is publicly traded and reported that revenues for the fourth quarter 2020 were $185,000 compared to $20,794,000 in the same quarter of 2019.
TV money is great for tracks, but without fans in attendance, ticket sales, concession sales and the like, one of the biggest revenue streams dried up. Employees were laid off, and while races were held, tracks had to learn to do more with less.
With the pandemic easing and more people getting vaccinated the world is waking up, and sports fans everywhere are being welcomed back. NASCAR announced last week that of the 13 tracks it owns, 11 will expand fan access to near pre-pandemic levels. The exceptions are the two tracks that have already held races and were forced to do so with limited fans.
One of the tracks that will allow more fan access is Daytona International Speedway, where the season began with limited fans in February and where the series will return in August.
Frank Kelleher was appointed president of Daytona last year during the pandemic. He was of course, happy to get the news that fans will be back in August.
“I’ve been on the job now as the president of Daytona international Speedway almost three months,” Kelleher said. “And this for sure is one of the most exciting days to announce to the sports community, the motor sports community, as well as our backyard, that we are getting back to normal.
“We will have pre-race ceremonies as our fans are used to experiencing being down on the ball field. We will have a pre-event concert on Saturday. All of our hospitality will be 100% open interactive display space. It is truly going to look and feel like the Daytona international Speedway that we’re all familiar with.”
While fans will be allowed, owing to the continued COIVD-19 threat they won’t be allowed everywhere on the property.
“There are still some restrictions,” Kelleher said. “We still need to keep integrity around what we call the bubble around our competitors. So, you know, that hot garage access of getting in the garage near the drivers, there still are some tweaks that we’re working through specific to the garage area and the pit road, but outside of that we’re business as usual.”
Kelleher said the decision by the industry to open up didn’t happen overnight.
“There is a large crew that on a daily basis is working with the CDC local and state officials,” he said.” It’s something that we have been chasing every day.
“You know, we were the first sport back. We were the first sport back with fans; protecting our community, our employees, our competitors is our number one focus. And just as local and state rules and laws started opening up that put us in this spot…to make this announcement.”
And with the announcement a revenue stream that wasn’t available last season has returned. A revenue stream that extends beyond the track.
“I mean, selling tickets, selling guest experience, giving people an escape, that’s our core business,” Kelleher said. So we are yes, 100% excited to get back to being in a revenue generating position, but also for the community as well. All of the local businesses and restaurants and hotels, we are thrilled for them to have an opportunity to start generating more revenue as well.”
Kelleher said the outreach into the community has already started.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We had our friends from Coca-Cola here last weekend, and I was on the phone with our friends, from Anheuser-Busch and the whole topic was getting out into the community and reminding everyone that this event is August 27th and 20… And we want people to come out and have a great time.”
Not just the energy that only fans can provide be returning, but for the first time since the pandemic started the revenue stream tracks once took for granted will be flowing once more.