Nascar’s Most Valuable Teams 2017: Trouble At The Track? – Forbes

Nascar has been in a skid thanks to falling TV viewership, bottomed-out race attendance and retreating sponsorship investments. The latest solution? A radical format change intended to bring new excitement – and new fans – to the race series. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

A dozen years ago, few leagues could match the popularity of Nascar, which boasted record-high viewership and was going toe-to-toe with the NFL. But then few leagues suffered worse during the economic crash. Nascar watched as corporate sponsors fled the sport and fans tuned out by the million. Though the race series has bounced back in the years since, it’s never returned to those pre-crash highs and some continuing negative trends have taken their toll: Team values are down this year, with the top ten worth an average $137 million, a 7% drop.

Nascar isn’t just watching from the sideline, though. The lagging interest in America’s top race series is enough of a concern that this year Nascar will introduce a radically different race format to bring some new excitement – and hopefully some new fans – to the sport. “A lot of it is rooted in research,” says Nascar executive vice president and chief global sales and marketing officer Steve Phelps of the rules changes. He notes that Nascar is listening to its fans and trying to give them exactly what they want: “They like side-by-side racing, they like restarts, they like this notion of not a contrived break but one that makes sense in the context of people racing hard and winning.”

Yet for some in the industry, the new format is a sign of desperation from a race series that’s struggling to stay relevant.

It’s easy to understand the viewpoint. TV viewership has been sliding for years, and last season continued the trend with an average 4.6 million viewers per race, a 7% drop over 2015. One stretch of ten races late last season averaged an 11% dip in viewership, and eight of those races posted their lowest numbers since at least 2001.

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Race attendance has likewise suffered and shows few signs of recovery. The two publicly traded companies that own the majority of Nascar’s tracks – International Speedway Corporation and Speedway Motorsports – have reported admissions revenues that never recovered after cratering during the recession. Both remain about 50% below pre-recession highs:

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Maybe most glaring of all is Nascar’s new title sponsorship deal. Sprint walked away after a dozen years in the sport, and its replacement, Monster Energy, is bringing much less money to the table. Sprint was reportedly paying about $50 million per year over the last few seasons, and Nascar was looking for around the same value from its next partner. The race series instead wound up settling for less than half of that: Monster is reportedly paying just $20 million per season in a two-year deal (Nascar doesn’t comment on financials, though CEO Brian France has publicly refuted those numbers).

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