AVONDALE, Ariz. — In the annual state-of-the-sport press conference on Friday at Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR President Steve Phelps anticipated the two questions of greatest interest to the broad range of NASCAR stakeholders and fans.
Phelps gave an update on negotiations for media rights, with current agreements with FOX Sports and NBC ending after the 2024 season. NASCAR already has secured a stand-alone deal for its Xfinity Series broadcasts with the CW Network.
“Our media rights, the amount of interest in attaining our media rights for ’25 and beyond, exceeded our expectations,” Phelps said. “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. With that said, I want to assure all our race fans, anyone who is listening, certainly the media corps here, we have had tremendous interest in our sport from a media rights standpoint.”
Before taking questions from reporters, Phelps addressed the charter agreements with the NASCAR Cup Series teams. Like the media rights, the 36 charters awarded by NASCAR are up for renewal after the 2024 season.
Though Phelps didn‘t discuss specifics of the charter negotiations, he emphasized that NASCAR‘s aim is to make sure their value grows in a competitive environment where attendance at NASCAR races is growing (50 percent more sell-outs this year than last) and broadcast viewership is on the rise from earlier in the season (when an uncharacteristic number of rain delays played havoc with the schedule).
“If you think about race teams, what do they want?” Phelps asked rhetorically. “They want to be competitive on the racetrack, they want to make sure they’re break-even or profitable. As it relates to the charter specifically, they want to increase their enterprise value.
“I won’t get into numbers where we stand from an enterprise value standpoint, but when the charters change hands at the end of the year, we know at least one will, there will be a significant multiple that race teams will have from a charter enterprise value standpoint.”
NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O‘Donnell highlighted the success of NASCAR‘s Next Gen Cup car, both in terms of safety and enhancement of competition.
Through ongoing testing and development, the safety of the car has improved significantly in its second year in the series.
“We had two really, really severe incidents this year,” O‘Donnell said. “That car held up. We were able to learn from that. As I’ve said, will repeatedly say, I think everyone on our team will say, it’s an endless journey for us.
“We want to be on the forefront of safety. We are going to continue to learn. When we find something, we’re going to implement it and react. Proud of the group and the effort.”
Statistically, the NASCAR Cup Series has never been more competitive. In the first year of the Next Gen car, 19 different drivers won Cup races. The 2023 season has seen a continuing broad division of success.
“(We) wanted to see continued excellence on the race track in terms of the number of drivers that are able to win, and probably even more importantly, the number of organizations that were going out and being able to compete, not have a fluke win, but really compete for race wins race-in and race-out,” O‘Donnell said.
“You’re seeing 23XI, Roush (Fenway Keselowski) Racing, Trackhouse, JTG go out there and really have a shot to compete. We saw 15 different winners (through 35 of 36 races). Ten of the 16 organizations won a race this year. That’s incredible. The OEMs have all been represented. All three OEMs are in our (Championship 4).”
Work continues on the short-track and road-course competition packages for the Cup car. O‘Donnell said NASCAR intends to test shifting and aerodynamic changes to enhance competition on those venues.
Another point of emphasis was the growth of the sport through the participation of all stakeholders, including the drivers themselves.
“I think for us, our drivers are fantastic,” Phelps said. “They’re interesting. They’re heroes when they get into the race car. We need to expose them in a greater way to both existing fans, nurturing that relationship with the existing fans, and future fans.
“How do you do that? One of the ways we can do that is we have a brand-new production facility that we’re building out in Concord next to our R&D facility, which will have two main components to it. It will be kind of the live broadcast component, then something we call NASCAR Studios, which is essentially content.
“We think the opportunity to create content, interesting content, whether it’s short form or series like what we’re doing with Netflix or whatever that may be, to serve fans where they are is an important component to it.”
As the 2024 season unfolds and the 2025 schedule develops, NASCAR will continue to look at the possibility of international expansion for the Cup Series. The sanctioning body has already had discussions with Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, which hosts the annual Canadian Grand Prix F1 race.
“As we continued to talk in Montreal, we probably realized (it was) a little quick to be able to make that happen,” O‘Donnell said. “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.
“For us, it was a little bit of a pause and let’s evaluate all those opportunities together, look at what’s in the best interest of all of our fans for ’25 and beyond to make sure that we put the most exciting schedule together possible.”