CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A top group of NASCAR team owners skipped a meeting with series officials Wednesday with the two sides at an impasse over permanent charters, a key plank in the business model of the stock car series.
Fearing the meeting would be “hijacked” by conversation solely on the charters — multimillion-dollar guarantees of having a car in NASCAR’s top Cup Series — the team owner council told NASCAR it felt talks should be postponed.
NASCAR said it planned to hold the meeting anyway, but the teams did not attend, said Curtis Polk, a part owner of 23XI Racing and one of four members of a negotiating committee that is trying to hammer out a new business plan for the nation’s top racing series.
“It was evident that if we got the whole group together, that was going to be the only topic that anyone wanted to talk about and that is generally not constructive,” said Dave Alpern, president of Joe Gibbs Racing. Alpern, Polk, Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports and Steve Newmark of RFK Racing are the members of the council representing all teams.
The owners went public last October with their frustration over what they consider a broken business model in which racetracks and NASCAR make the bulk of the money and teams are forced to fund their organizations through outside sponsorship.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Alpern and Polk said significant progress has been made with NASCAR on many key issues but the two sides have reached a “significant impasse” on the charters.
NASCAR in 2016 adopted a charter system for 36 cars that is as close to a franchise model as possible in a sport that was founded by and independently owned by the France family. The charters give the teams something of value to hold — or sell — and protect their investment in the sport.
The charters are both renewable — the current ones expire at the end of the 2024 season — and revocable by NASCAR if a team fails to perform over a predetermined length of time. The race teams want the charters to become permanent, and NASCAR apparently is unwilling to even discuss the issue.
“It’s the foundation that everything else is built upon. If they gave you the moon, but they’re able to take it away from you periodically, what good is having the moon?” Polk told AP.
NASCAR has said it is willing to work with the teams on financial security, and reiterated that commitment Wednesday after no owners showed for the meeting.
“NASCAR is committed to open and productive dialogue on a regular basis with all industry stakeholders,” NASCAR said in a statement. “We remain committed to continuing discussions in the spirit of collaboration and with the shared goal of growing our sport for the benefit of all stakeholders.”
The breakdown happened after the entire Race Team Alliance held a call Tuesday to discuss topics for the smaller meeting with NASCAR. The RTA is comprised of all 16 teams and teams can have as many representatives as they choose on those calls.
When it became apparent on the call with 50-plus participants that permanent charters was the only issue the RTA wanted addressed, the smaller negotiating committee advised NASCAR that its meeting should be delayed. The meetings with NASCAR are limited to one team owner and one executive from each of the 16 chartered teams.
Asked what happens next, Polk said “we’re ready to meet. We want to make a deal.” But he reiterated that talks must open on permanent charters.
Alpern and Polk declined to discuss specifics on how teams have gained traction with NASCAR during months of negotiations.
NASCAR has maintained that teams receive about 40% of industry-wide generated revenue.
The financial split from the $8.2 billion media rights deal signed ahead of the 2015 season sends 65% to the tracks, 25% to the teams and 10% to NASCAR, according to the series. There are two major track operators, NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports; NASCAR owns the majority of the venues on the Cup Series schedule, including the crown jewel Daytona International Speedway, and the France family owns NASCAR.
Teams have argued they have become “full-time fundraisers” seeking sponsorship to keep their organizations afloat and the only possible place to make further financial cuts is through layoffs.
The teams revealed last October that sponsorship covers 60% to 80% of the budgets for all 16 chartered organizations. Because sponsorship is so vital, teams are desperate for financial relief elsewhere and have asked NASCAR for help to cover baseline costs.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps in February told AP that he was confident a resolution could be found.
“We have said publicly and we will continue to say publicly that we need to have financially healthy race teams,” Phelps said then. “Financially healthy race teams will put a better product on the racetrack and that’s great for the sport overall.”
The current charter agreement expires at the same time that NASCAR’s current television deals expire. NASCAR is in an exclusive negotiating window with both Fox Sports and NBC Sports on renewals. The exclusive period expires May 1, Phelps told AP, and NASCAR can explore television rights deals with outside partners after that date.
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