Champion Driver, Team President Robert Hight on the Business Side of Drag Racing

Robert Hight

With 2 races left in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship (their playoff system), Robert Hight is atop the leader board (11-points ahead of J.R. Todd). Aside from being a 2x champion driver, Hight serves as the President of John Force Racing (the team he races for). Robert was recently in New York and JohnWallStreet had the chance to sit with him to discuss how drag racing became a billion-dollar business, why NHRA has one of the youngest fan bases in sports and the importance of car sponsorships.

JWS: Drag racing has become a billion-dollar industry. Where is the money coming from?

Robert: It’s really driven through sponsorships and attendance. Fans have to come to the races and then we need them to tune in on TV. It (the sport’s economics) really changed when Fox Sports took over (the television contract in 2015) and our viewership grew by more than 70%, because you need eyeballs on your sport (to generate the big sponsorship dollars).

JWS: NHRA has one of the youngest fan bases among all sports properties. Why is that?

Robert: It fits the new generation. They (the fans) don’t have to sit in the stands and watch cars go round and round for 3-4 hours. There’s some racing, you go back in the pits – there’s some entertainment back there – watch some more racing; it just fits the attention span of today’s youth.

JWS: Is the NHRA business model so reliant on sponsorship that if a team were to lose a major sponsor, they would be forced to fold-up shop?

Robert: It costs $4 million to run a single NHRA Funny Car for a full season. We could not compete if we lost a sponsor, the hope would be to find a new one. Our organization signs long-term deals (to avoid that fate). We don’t sign year-to-year deals, it’s a 3-year minimum.

JWS: Nearly all NASCAR tracks are publicly owned. Is that the same with NHRA drag strips?

Robert: No, most of them are private – a lot of family owned tracks, but Bruton Smith owns quite a few of our events and honestly, they are the best events we go to. Beautiful tracks, beautiful facilities, very well run.

Fan Marino: Bruton Smith is the founder and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, a publicly traded company (TRK) that owns 9 racing venues (that hold NASCAR, IndyCar and NHRA events); Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, Texas Motor Speedway and North Wilkesboro Speedway. Back in early August, the company reported Q2 total revenues had declined -2.4% (to $4.2 million) as the company “experienced poor weather during almost all of the events it held during the quarter.” TRK shares will open at $16.64 on Thursday (10.11.18), just north of their 52-week low.

Interested in Sports Business? Sign-up for our free daily email newsletter list, here!

NASCAR Visits “Tricky Triangle”, Monster Energy and Busch Beer Activating

Pocono

JohnWallStreet is headed to Long Pond, PA this weekend for the Pocono 400 at the “Tricky Triangle”. The race is on Sunday, but Pocono Raceway is hosting a series of events throughout the weekend that NASCAR fans in the Northeast will want to be aware of. Monster Energy kicks things off today with “Free Can Friday”, a promotion offering fans who bring an empty of Monster Energy (MNST) drink (to recycle) free access to the day’s activities. These include a BMX trick show and the General Tire #AnywhereIsPossible 200 (ARCA Series race). On Saturday, the track hosts an Alex Bowman selfie session and the Pocono Green 250 Recycled by J.P. Mascaro & Sons (Xfinity Series race), before the Cup Series takes over on Sunday. That race starts at 2pm, but make sure to get there early; Clint Bowyar (10:45a), Jimmie Johnson (11:00a) and Kurt Busch (11:15a) are all doing Q&As at the Tricky Triangle Club (opens at 8a).

Howie Long-Short: Pocono Raceway, which has been family-owned since its inception in 1971, is one of just two NASCAR tracks (out of 25) that is privately-owned; Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the other. International Speedway Corporation (ISCA) and Speedway Motorsports (TRK) own a combined 22 tracks (13 and 9, respectively), while Dover Motorsports (DVD) owns the “Monster Mile”.

In early April, ISCA reported “revenue and earnings increased for comparable events” in Q1 ’18, despite a continued decline at the gate (admissions revenue -2.5% YoY). Shares are down 11.5% (to $41.70) since February 1.

In late April, TRK reported that a YoY decline in admissions revenue for Q1 events led to a -2.5% decline in total revenue (to $74.4 million). Shares have declined 6% since (to $16.70) despite the company touting the prospects of long-term future profitability from Q3 event realignment.

DVD didn’t hold any events in Q1 ’18, so there was little to report during its most recent earnings statement. The stock is currently trading at $2.10 – exactly where it was 12 months ago.

Fan Marino: For those passionate about their brand of domestic beer, Busch and Busch Light (BUD) are set to go head-to-head on the track Sunday. Kevin Harvick will be driving his #4 Busch Beer Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing, as he seeks his circuit leading sixth win of the season. Harvick’s SHR teammate and friend Clint Bowyar, winner of the ’18 STP 500 at Martinsville, will be behind the wheel of the #14 Busch Light Ford Fusion. They’ll compete with the loser “scheduled” (weather pending) to cut the infield grass at Pocono. Off the track, the two will battle it out throughout the weekend on social media and will appear on stage together on Friday at Pocono’s Infield Block Party.

Interested in Sports Business? Sports Finance? Sign-up for our free daily email newsletter list, here!

WSJ: Just 7 Ways to Publicly Invest in Sports, JWS: Not the Case

wsj-wallstreetjournal

The WSJ published a recent story asserting there are few ways to directly invest in sports, a notion we dispute. The article deemed just 7 publicly traded equities to be sports-related and based their conclusion, that fans are better off watching and playing sports than investing in them, on the performance of 2 exchange traded funds; one of which (FANZ) has beat the S&P since its July ’17 inception, which would seem to counter to their argument. The article cites Matt Hougan, the CEO of Inside ETFs, and his belief that most of the economic value within sports (ownership and player contracts) “comes in private transactions”, to support the author’s thesis; but fails to pay consideration to the revenue streams that support those contracts (and generate ownership profits). It’s worth noting that JohnWallStreet follows over 100 sports-related equities.

Howie Long-Short: Sports teams generate revenue from 4 sources; broadcast rights, ticket sales, sponsorships and merchandising. Several publicly traded equities use a similar business model; Churchill Downs (CHDN), International Speedway (ISCA), Dover Motorsports (DVD) and Speedway Motorsports (TRK), and thus should also be included on the list. Others, like Acushnet Holdings Corp. (GOLF) and Callaway Golf Company (ELY), are undeniably directly tied to sports; and no one would claim your basket was unfocused if companies like Nike (NKE), Lululemon (LULU) and Fitbit (FIT) were to be included. Oh, and don’t forget Activision Blizzard’s (ATVI) new esports league (Overwatch); their inaugural season starts today.

Fan Marino: The story names the New York Knicks, New York Rangers (MSG), Atlanta Braves (BATRK), Manchester United (MANU) and Borussia Dortmund (BORUF) as the teams you can purchase equity in. The Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Maple Leafs (RCI), Juventus F.C. (JVTSF), A.S. Roma (ASRAF) and SS Lazio (BIT: SSL) are also all publicly traded.

To join our free daily email newsletter list, sign-up here!

NASCAR FACILITIES ADDING NON-TRADITIONAL EVENTS TO CALENDAR TO SUPPLEMENT DECLINING ATTENDANCE REVENUES

As NASCAR attendance declines, racetracks have been actively working to add non-traditional events to their calendar, to supplement admissions revenue losses. Tracks located in major markets are having the most success, with Las Vegas Motor Speedway (TRK) hosting more than 1,400/year. The concert industry has been drawn to the massive facilities as the vast parking lots, camping areas and other existing amenities suit the needs of a music festival, but smaller events from women’s professional bowling events to American Royal BBQ contests have also found success at the unorthodox location. It should be noted that while no specifics have been given, even with 1,400 non-traditional events/year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the revenue generated from those events makes up less than half of the track’s annual revenue.

Tracks get creative in drive for new revenue

Howie Long-Short: Annual speedway revenues peaked in 2007 at $814 million. Revenues dropped all the way down to $661 million in 2016. These massive facilities cost money to operate and generate nothing when not being used. Why not try to book as many dates as you can fill?

Fan Marino: I’ve never attended an event besides a race at a NASCAR facility, but after watching Tennessee/Virginia Tech play the ’16 Battle at Bristol (TRK) in front of 153,000 people, watching a football game at one has been added to the bucket list.

TRK, DVD & CHDN Q2 EARNINGS RECAP

Speedway Motorsports (TRK), Dover Motorsports (DVD) & Churchill Downs (CHDN) have reported earnings for the quarter ending July 30th.  Below is a recap of each company’s earnings report:

Speedway Motorsports (TRK):

Reported increase in both revenue and net income for Q2 ’17, from same time last year (up to $.68/share from $.62/share). YTD revenue and income figures are also up from 2016.

  • Good News: Track rentals & ancillary broadcast rights generating more revenue. Attendance & fan interest is trending upward.
  • Bad News: Certain admission revenues are down. Management believes underemployment and the absence of a fiscally strong middle class are hurting numbers.

speedway-motorsports-inc-logo

Speedway Motorsports boosts revenue, income

Dover Motorsports (DVD):

Reported slight increase in revenue and net income for Q2 ’17, from same time last year. Reported earnings of $.14/share remained the same.

  • Good News: Increase in broadcasting revenue.
  • Bad News: Lower admissions revenue for Dover NASCAR weekend.

dover_international_speedway_logo

Dover Motorsports, Inc. Reports Results for the Second Quarter of 2017

Churchill Downs Incorporated (CHDN):

Reported a 3% increase in revenue and 12% increase in net income for Q2 ’17, from same time last year. Reported earnings of $4.81/share, a 17% increase YOY, and $.30 higher than analyst predictions.

  • Good News: Increase in racing revenues from a strong Kentucky Derby week. Equity investments and organic growth lead to increase in casino revenues.
  • Bad News: Gaming company Big Fish Games saw net revenues decrease by $12.6 million.

churchill-logo-v2_1Churchill Downs Incorporated Reports 2017 Second Quarter Results

Howie Long-Short: I’m skeptical when companies are still blaming the economy/underemployment in 2017.

Fan Marino: Never been a NASCAR guy. Just can’t get excited by someone driving in circles…even if it is really fast.