NASCAR announced three weeks ago that it would return to Las Vegas in late November for the 10th consecutive year for its postseason Cup series awards celebration.
What it didn't say was that this year NASCAR will arrive in Las Vegas already down around $400,000, as NASCAR won't receive a penny for bringing its postseason celebration, at which teams are issued season-ending bonuses, to the city. Talk about leaving Vegas empty-handed.
Las Vegas Events, which is funded from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority through a hotel tax designed to bring events to the city, had paid NASCAR $400,000 in each of the past three years as part of a deal that kept the postseason awards in Vegas.
It wasn't a surprise that NASCAR didn't land a deal with LVE. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority had approved in March 2017 a seven-year, $2.5 million annual incentive package to Las Vegas Motor Speedway owner Speedway Motorsports Inc. to land a second NASCAR Cup Series weekend.
LVMS requested and received approval from NASCAR to move a Cup race from New Hampshire to Vegas starting this season, with LVMS getting a somewhat coveted date -- the first race of the Cup series playoffs.
Considering LVMS already has two Cup stops in the city -- in what many believe are prime calendar locations in March and September -- it made little sense for LVE to offer NASCAR an incentive package. An LVE spokesman confirmed last week that while LVE was happy the awards celebration remains in the city, it was no longer writing what amounts to a sponsorship check to NASCAR.
Despite no longer receiving $400,000 to go toward champion celebration expenses, NASCAR is going to Las Vegas for the champion celebration anyway.
Say what? Granted, for decades NASCAR never received a check to go to New York City, but in this economic climate, it seems bizarre that NASCAR would lose a $400,000 deal and still return, especially to a locale that already has two Cup events.
At least from the optics of it, not moving the banquet appears to be a lost opportunity for NASCAR, both from a financial and marketing perspective.
NASCAR probably spends seven figures on the champions week, when considering the events, parties, logistics, travel costs and putting the drivers up at the Wynn Las Vegas. It has trimmed the number of events in recent years and started last year having the awards on a Thursday, giving the industry another weekend off (and executives from sponsors have more of an incentive to attend since it occurs during the business week).
Considering that in March 2017, NASCAR knew it would have two 2018 dates in Las Vegas, it should have started working on a new venue at that time. Maybe NASCAR was myopic, thought that it could still get that $400,000 and held out hope of getting a new deal done with the LVE. Even if it did get a deal, going to the same city for events in March, September and November seems like a lot.
NASCAR would not provide an executive to speak on the record about why the awards event remains in Las Vegas but indicated that the time it takes to find a location and book such an event can often take more than a year. Some NASCAR partners and team partners already had started contests with a trip to the postseason awards included, with the assumption it would be in Las Vegas.
Since NASCAR doesn't have a contract with the city, it obviously wouldn't be obligated to do as much during the awards celebration week. NASCAR has traditionally staged a parade of show cars down The Strip (including burnouts), as well as displays of cars throughout the city and other events.
NASCAR could keep some of those events during the champion celebration week, but it also is considering moving them to the week prior to the race that opens the playoffs, which could have a bigger impact on ticket sales for that track and the playoffs in general. Highlights of cars going down The Strip in Las Vegas would be a reminder to the casual fan that the NASCAR playoffs have started.
Another possible factor of why NASCAR opted for Las Vegas this year is that it certainly is a city that is loved by series sponsor Monster Energy, whose employees have a renegade image. If Monster is going to throw a party, Vegas is a good choice.
NASCAR can't logically keep its postseason awards in Las Vegas for much longer -- maybe one more year if Monster Energy begs or throws in some cash.
But if not Las Vegas, then where?
Nashville was often mentioned as a possibility for 2018. It is relatively close to where the teams are based in the Carolinas; it would be a celebration of a traditionally Southern sport in one of the South's most entertaining cities.
Heather Middleton, vice president of public relations for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, said the city is always interested in events, although it has not offered NASCAR any financial incentives to move the ceremony to the city.
NASCAR has had past Xfinity and truck banquets in Orlando, which has plenty of resorts and hotel space and good weather at that time of year.
The economic way out would place the Cup awards ceremony in Charlotte, but the question would be how special would that make it and what would that do to promote the sport beyond a saturated market already?
One can ask similar questions about Las Vegas in November. It's a great city, and sometimes the deals are stout, like the incentive package delivered to SMI. But it appears time NASCAR folds on having its awards ceremony there and looks for a better deal and a new opportunity, elsewhere.