NASCAR State of The Sport: Charters, Media Rights, Driver Star Power, and Competition Items
On Friday at Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR's Steve Phelps and Steve O'Donnell addressed the industry with the yearly NASCAR State of the Sport Address. Everything from Charter negotiations to short-track/road course race packages were discussed. Here are the highlights.
On Friday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR President Steve Phelps, and Chief Operating Officer Steve O'Donnell delivered the annual State of the Sport Address. As always, there was a wide array of topics that were discussed, but among the biggest topics were the ongoing charter negotiations between NASCAR Cup Series teams and the sanctioning body, the next Media Rights deal, driver star power, and items affecting the competition at short tracks and road courses.
Here is a breakdown of the highlights from the media session.
Charter Negotiations / Media Rights Deal
One of the biggest storylines going on behind the scenes in NASCAR is the ongoing negotiations between the NASCAR Cup Series teams and the sanctioning body involving the Charter Agreement, which has been utilized in the NASCAR Cup Series since the 2016 season.
The teams have grown more and more frustrated as they attempt to turn a profit each year. Reportedly, the teams are attempting to negotiate a larger portion of television revenue in the next deal. But there is growing concern that the Charter agreement may no longer be a thing in 2025.
Phelps addressed this, and says that the negotiations are still ongoing, but nothing concrete can be decided until the next media rights deal has been fully buttoned up.
"I think the first thing we need to do is get through our media rights," Phelps explained. "I think the race teams have seen that. With that said, we're currently having discussions with our race teams. We had a meeting last Wednesday with a team owner council where the entirety of the meeting was about charters, charter extensions."
NASCAR echos the sentiment shared by the race teams, that the organizations should be more profitable than they have been, it's all about finding that balance.
"We've acknowledged that we want to change the paradigm for our race teams and we need to make sure our race teams are profitable, competing on the racetracks. We are interested in having their enterprise value climb, as I said earlier," Phelps said.
When pressed about the potential of the Charter Agreement being a deal in perpetuity, Phelps said he couldn't speak to specifics in the negotiation, but that he feels the teams and NASCAR will find common ground.
"We won't get into the negotiations specifically, but I would say that I'm confident that the teams and NASCAR will come to an agreement that is fair for race teams, fair for NASCAR, and help grow the sport. I think that's what we're going to do," Phelps concluded.
While the next Media Rights Deal is not completed, Phelps says the process is nearing a conclusion.
"Our media rights, the amount of interest in attaining our media rights for '25 and beyond exceeded our expectations," Phelps stated. "It is our expectation that not only having a great result with the CW with our Xfinity Series, and what's going to be an incredible 33-race schedule on broadcast television, we believe that we're going to have a very strong result with media partners that will look at a combination of broadcast, cable and streaming to some degree.
"What that looks like, I don't know. Are we getting towards the end of this process? We are. Did I think we would have a result earlier? I did. But we haven't. It's an incredibly competitive marketplace."
Short Track / Road Course Competition Package
While last weekend's NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway definitely showed promising signs that the Next Gen car, in its current form, can put on good races at short tracks, there has been a massive effort to find the key to improving the product at short tracks and road courses throughout the season.
Several test sessions, which have included a number of splitter, and underbody components have yet to make much difference. Many drivers and fans have suggested boosting the horsepower numbers at the short tracks and road courses in an effort to produce better racing.
Until Friday, NASCAR had always kind of shut down those suggestions. On Friday, they seemed a little more open to discussing it.
"I think everything is up for consideration," O'Donnell stated when asked about if increasing the horsepower was an option. "We've proven that. You have to factor in what are the costs involved as well, right? It's not as simple as just upping the horsepower. You better be ready for all your OEs to be onboard. It better make sense for any potential new OEM and technology. It's not just a short-term answer."
While they won't shut the door on increasing the horsepower of the Next Gen car, O'Donnell did say NASCAR has some other items they'd like to address before delving into changing the horsepower numbers.
"For us, we're going to look at shifting specifically around that at our next test and see what we can do," O'Donnell explained. "There will be variations. Also some aero things we do with the underbody. There's some things we found in Richmond from an aero standpoint that could work as well. Nothing to report in terms of yes we're going to do that. Open to everything, but I would say short-term more around shifting and the aero package."
Driver Star Power
The topic of driver star power was approached after a subdued Championship 4 Media Day on Thursday. Despite having four ultra-talented racers battling for the championship, it doesn't feel like enough effort has been made to showcase who the drivers truly are to give the common fan an idea of what makes them all tick.
Phelps was asked if attempting to build driver star power falls on the shoulders of NASCAR, the teams, or the drivers themselves, Phelps said, "Listen, the answer is yes. The responsibility is with NASCAR, the responsibility is with our race teams, the responsibility is with our drivers.
"I think that as we move forward, putting things in place that will allow for the success there is important because we will not optimize our growth if the entire industry doesn't come together. I include racetracks in that, too, which is why I included that in my up front."
Phelps acknowledges that driver brands are important. Last month, at Racers Forum, Jeff Gordon emphasized the importance of the race teams building up their own brands as well in an effort to keep fans engaged when their favorite drivers retire.
The NASCAR President is on board with that idea as well.
"It's important to grow driver brands. I've heard from others, the race teams, saying, Hey, we want to build our own brands as race teams. I'm for that, too," Phelps explained. "If Hendrick Motorsports can build Hendrick Motorsports, and it leads to more engagement from our race fans, I love that."
At the end of the day, Phelps feels that the tried and true method to increasing the sport's fanbase is by increasing the overall popularity of the sports drivers.
"I do know that drivers becoming more popular, increasing driver star power, is absolutely going to grow the sport, as well. So we need to make sure that we're putting things in place that will allow that to happen."
Other Notes of Interest
- Phelps confirmed that deconstruction of the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California has begun and that the plan at this time is still to build a short track in Southern California in its place. However, Phelps says the timeline is currently unsure as it is not an ideal time to be building with inflation and construction costs presently.
- NASCAR is open to international racing, and attempted to bring the NASCAR Cup Series to Montreal, Canada in 2024. O'Donnell said, "As we continued to talk in Montreal, we probably realized a little quick to be able to make that happen. In the meantime there's been a lot of discussions in other areas not only in the U.S. but other opportunities in North America and outside the U.S."
- Stage breaks were removed from Road Course events in 2023, but they were added back for the Playoff race at the Charlotte Roval. O'Donnell says he's, "99% sure," that there will be stage breaks in road races in 2024.
Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images