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Could NASCAR be for sale?

America's premier stock-car racing series has been controlled by the France family since its founding in 1948. But as NASCAR's 70th anniversary season opens with this weekend's Daytona 500, it comes amid rumblings over what the future could hold for the sanctioning body and its major track operators: International Speedway Corp., also controlled by the France family, and Speedway Motorsports Inc., controlled by the Smith family.

Could NASCAR be sold and its track operators merged or even included in such a deal?

While NASCAR said in a statement that it is not for sale, recent developments have fueled the speculation and it's been a topic of major discussion along pit road and among motorsports observers. Several NASCAR and ISC executives have taken on dual roles at both companies; the Smith family and NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France have been linked to possible involvement in a bid for the Carolina Panthers; and ISC's president indicated during a recent earnings report that the company is open to consolidation in the sport.

Liberty Media's $8 billion purchase of Formula One two years ago showed the interest in sports content, and with many companies having a lot of revenue on their balance sheet, a number of institutional investors could be interested in NASCAR.

Comcast is a name that often comes up in the garage area. The company is already one of NASCAR's most important partners, serving as both a media rights partner and title partner of NASCAR through its NBC Sports and Xfinity brands, respectively. NASCAR is such an important investment for Comcast that several people from the sport, including new NBC Sports broadcaster Dale Earnhardt Jr., were interwoven throughout NBC's Super Bowl pregame show this month. Many sources inside the sport believe that Comcast sees great value in owning the content and in its future distribution. Comcast officials did not respond to requests for comment.

If NASCAR were sold on its own, a buyer would be getting the promotional, rule-making and rule-keeping arm of the sport. The sanctioning body has its own digital media network; negotiates major pacts for the sport, including media rights; and oversees the sport's charter system. The sanctioning body doesn't own teams or tracks, though the France family has a controlling stake in ISC, which has recently seen its stock price hit its highest level in nearly a decade.

The structure of NASCAR means that a sale of NASCAR by itself would be less desirable, albeit cheaper, than buying the tracks and NASCAR at the same time. ISC and SMI control the vast majority of the sport's current 38-race annual schedule, so that structure would limit the power a new buyer of NASCAR would have. On the other hand, buying both track operators at once in addition to NASCAR would likely unlock new opportunities. Another possibility would be buying NASCAR and ISC but not SMI if the Smith family did not want to sell.

So, how much would NASCAR sell for?

Estimates from the executives interviewed varied and are complicated by the fact that the sport would sell for more if the tracks were included. With the tracks included, estimates have typically ranged from $3 billion to $5 billion. By comparison, F1 sold for a combined $8 billion between equity and assumed debt, but no tracks were included in the sale.

--- Sports Business Journal (subscription required) ---