With its opening a year away, NASCAR Hall of Fame officials remain confident in their business plan despite economic forces that could affect sponsorship sales and visitors.
The Hall of Fame plans an annual revenue budget of $10 million to $12 million or more against expenses in the high seven figures after it opens in May 2010. It also forecasts that more than 800,000 visitors will walk through its doors in the first year to sample its interactive displays and view its impressive collection of artifacts, shop at its store and eat at its restaurant.
The nearly $200 million Hall of Fame seemingly spared no expense. The architect, Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners, worked on the expansion and renovation of the Louvre, as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The NASCAR Hall of Fame will include a 270-seat theater, a speedway replica called Glory Road, cars, haulers and other equipment.
But as the Hall of Fame enters the home stretch before its opening, NASCAR's grandiose new epicentre comes with a shrinking reality, one of a sobering business environment, sagging attendance at the track and TV ratings that are down double-digit percentage points this year.
It all has executives in the industry wondering how the Hall of Fame will generate the sponsorship revenue it expects and questioning whether the attraction will draw the 831,000 annual visitors the city of Charlotte projects.
“We've got a very solid model,” said Winston Kelley, the Hall of Fame's executive director and one of the most familiar voices on NASCAR radio broadcasts over the past 20 years. “Am I aware that the economic circumstances have changed since we started this in 2006? Absolutely. We know that we've got to fight for that entertainment dollar. But being new and exciting, we've got the opportunity that, if we do a good job, it'll take care of itself.”
In the sport's early days, Charlotte gradually became the home to NASCAR teams and the rest of the sport's support industry has followed over the years. The city won a battle with the other finalists, Daytona Beach and Atlanta, to build the Hall of Fame.
While it maintains its headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla., NASCAR has a research and development office north of Charlotte, its licensing office downtown and its media group just south of downtown.
When the Hall of Fame opens, much of NASCAR's presence in Charlotte will come together at the development, with the Hall of Fame serving as the anchor, although the sanctioning body remains adamant that Daytona is its official home. NASCAR will move 260 of its current employees into the 19-story NASCAR Plaza office tower, representing its media group and licensing division. The R&D center will stay put.