Wednesday, June 11, 2008

SPEED Televises The NASCAR Culture Clash

The word "Boston" has a certain meaning to it for veteran NASCAR fans. Another major market in the US where NASCAR has no footprint, no fan base and no support. There is no other city in the US where stick-and-ball sports totally dominate the sports scene like Boston.

At a live press conference on Wednesday morning, the words Boston Ventures were said many times. It was obvious to those watching on SPEED and ESPNEWS that the issues being discussed were important. That was because sitting at the head table at Lowe's Motor Speedway was Mr. Brian France.

Having the Chairman of NASCAR participate in a press conference where one team was essentially being bought certainly spoke volumes about the financial realities of the sport in 2008.

SPEED's Bob Dillner opened the coverage with an introduction and led directly into Kyle Petty who handled the press conference. This is the new dynamic of NASCAR announcements, a nationally televised and coordinated media event.

This approach does two things for the participants. It allows them to control the action and agenda from the beginning. In this case, by holding the event at Lowe's Motor Speedway and not the new Petty shops in Mooresville, NC. It also takes any member of the media who is not physically located in the greater Charlotte area out of the equation.

Just last week, TNT held a media announcement previewing the Sprint Cup coverage that network was about to begin. Media members nationwide were given the opportunity to participate in a conference call and allowed to ask questions. No such thing happened at this press conference.

One look and a quick listen to the participants showed exactly where NASCAR is heading. Three distinct NASCAR faces in Bobby Labonte, Kyle Petty and the King himself shared the stage with three blue blazers and lots of "corporate speak." Everything was going to be "leveraged" and "branded" where the Petty name was concerned.

David Zucker, introduced as the new Petty CEO, has no track record in any type of actual management of a sports or racing-related business. His recent departure from Midway Games came after a loss of over $200 million dollars and a drop in the stock price of the company of over 70%.

That company is perhaps best known for the Mortal Kombat, Gauntlet and Joust video games. Prior to that post, Zucker was the CEO of Playboy Enterprises. After only one year in that position, he departed with some hard feelings left behind for Midway.

When asked by Lee Spencer of Fox Sports what Zucker was going to do with the Petty "brand," Zucker had no answers. There was seemingly nothing new on the horizon except having the Richard Petty Driving Experience now also owned by Boston Ventures.

When asked just how much of both Petty companies Boston Ventures now owned, all parties decided to decline to answer. When asked why this merger made sense, Kyle Petty tried very hard to compare this action to the one taken recently by Roush Racing and the Fenway organization.

Brian France was put on the spot about the need for outside investors in the sport, and he use the opportunity to talk about how attractive a sport NASCAR is to do business with right now. He called it "flattering" and allowed Richard Petty to follow-up by suggesting that outside investors were actually being drawn to NASCAR.

France denied the potential for a franchise system, and clearly indicated that Petty would be just another team in 2009. No on-scene media member asked if the new investors understood that once outside of the Top 35, the Petty cars might not even make the actual races.

Boston Ventures was represented by Managing Partner Andy Davis, who is an investment banker. Davis was clearly out of his element, but held the party line that this was a merger and everyone was partners in the deal. Somehow, it seemed like a sad time for a proud company that was fighting for its NASCAR life.

Television has been used now by several companies for these types of announcements, most notably Hendrick Racing and Dale Earnhardt Junior. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong with this situation, but SPEED tends to be in a tough situation.

On the Boston Ventures website, the news of this merger was not posted. Over at the Petty Racing site, the big picture was being painted with all of the details left out. SPEED had clearly been used as a part of this marketing agenda and this seems to be the trend.

Even more ironic was that SPEED pre-empted one hour of Infomercials to cover it. After the press conference, SPEED viewers were reminded that Bowflex is still only $19 dollars a month. Ultimately, it all comes down to the almighty dollar.

The NASCAR "culture clash" is in full swing, with the blue blazers of the businessmen mixing with the cowboy hats and logo-wear of NASCAR veterans. Now, rather than read about it in the newspaper we are seeing the transformation of the sport happen live on cable TV. The only question is who will be next?

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David said...

No matter what the product everyone is trying to get the message across. Whether it is politicians, sports leagues or companies trying to sell you something. It is such a matter of fact that all they want to do is get in your wallet/AKA "Get their message out". I am really tired of it, however I am not sure Speed would be there if it was not for Bobby resigning with the Petty's. The proof of their single mindedness of making sure to sell the deal and get the message out was the lack of facts about the deal and you will get none in the future from Kyle or anyone at the track.

Rick said...

About 28 minutes in for me (DishNetwork), SPEED went to a commercial. Was that a hard break for the distributors or did someone at SPEED forget that a live news conference was being aired?

Daly Planet Editor said...


It was inserted by the local cable systems and SPEED has no control over that. The network owes the local system one minute of local time each half hour.


Richard in N.C. said...

JD- That seemed like the longest one minute I can recall and I do not recall that happening with the Dale, Jr. press conferences.

I'm not sure I understand your objections. Were it not for SPEED, fans would have to wait until some reporter wrote an article for the internet or tomorrow's newspaper to learn about the press conference, and then filtered thru the reporter. I believe the press conference was announced Sunday or Monday so other media outlets could have sent someone to attend - but maybe they chose not to since they could watch it on SPEED.

Do you know something more about Zucker's background?

Rick said...

Thanks JD - I figured it was that. It had an very abrupt jump into the commercial.

Gary said...

More about David Zucker's recent past:

Tracy said...

It felt like a wake. The death of another proud family business. What happens when BV sells its controlling interest and the Pettys can't come up with the cash to re-take their company? Remember this is an investment company - they're in it to make money and get out at a large profit. And if the profit isn't there, they'll dump their interest so fast it'll be scary. Or spin off the unprofitable market and sell the profitable one. I don't care that Zucker said about being in it for the long haul - he's not a partner in BV, he doesn't make money decisions for BV.

I wanted to wear black and leave my condolences.

red said...

tracy: thanks for puting words to my feelings. i missed the press conference but i just have a very bad feeling about all this. these guys will dump petty enterprises uberfast if results don't start rolling in pretty damn fast. and petty has a LONNNGGGG way to go to catch up with the players in the sport right now.

hearing the venerable petty enterprises being tossed around as a "brand" (which it well may be) was just depressing to me. we ain't talking sneakers here, guys! we're talking a family enterprise, a family that quite literally BUILT nascar. yeah, i get why they are where they are tonight but it just makes me shake my head and sigh.

i wish i felt better about this, i truly do. but i don't.

as for how it was announced: the fact that it was done the way it was tells me a ton where our sport is right now. as david notes, everyone is trying to get their message across. so far from the racing we all love . . .

Daly Planet Editor said...


Most of the cable systems are automated and respond to a tone issued manually by networks like SPEED. Others are set to run at 29 or 59 after the hour automatically if no manual tone is issued. Those cable ops are not going to miss a break regardless of the programming.


Anonymous said...

As a journalist, I began to wish I was at the anouncement presser when it became clear that no one was going to ask hard questions nor push or answers.

I tried to imagine what kind of stories the reporters there would write, given the softball questions they asked. Today, we can see the results--softball stories.

Reporters need to be unafraid to ask real questions, but it is pretty clear that these folks were more interested in being friends (or fans) than getting at the information.

Tracy said...

Anon at 9:09: I agree. However, my take is that no one wanted to ask the hard questions because it would be a little like asking at a funeral "so how much agony was he in when he died? On a scale of one to ten? How devastated are you at your loss?"

I think everyone there felt like it was a wake, and they were using the best manners their mamas taught them, not their journalistic chops.

Richard in N.C. said...

My understanding was that all of the speakers - or maybe all but Brian F - were going to be around for the photo op's and for lunch after the press conf. I wonder if none of the reporters wanted to share answers with the others. I t appeared that David Newton of ESPN was at the press conf., but apparently did not ask any questions until afterwards.

I thought The King seemed real upbeat on N-Now Wednesday after the press conf.