After a dip in first-quarter profits and a bigger drop in admissions revenues, Speedway Motorsports will look at cutting some costs to offset a decline in fan spending at races, company officials said Wednesday.
Possibilities include having fewer employees at events and renegotiating prices with vendors, said H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, the company's chief operating officer and president.
"You start looking at what you're paying for toilet paper," he said, "and if you can get that down a nickel a roll."
Speedway Motorsports owns seven tracks that hold NASCAR races, including Lowe's Motor Speedway, which hosts the Sprint All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 this month.
The Concord-based company reported a first-quarter profit of $30.9 million, down 3 percent from a year earlier. Revenues were $155.2 million -- up 2 percent from the first quarter of 2007 -- and expenses increased nearly 4 percent to $104.3 million.
One reason for the higher expenses was the purchase of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., company officials said. Helping offset that were more revenues from sponsorships, luxury suite rentals and broadcasting rights.
Speedway Motorsports also saw a 5 percent drop in admissions revenue -- from $56.5 million to $53.6 million. Company officials blamed bad weather for smaller crowds during races in Atlanta and Bristol, Tenn.
Less spending by fans also contributed, they said, and the current economic downturn -- from higher fuel prices to tough consumer credit and housing markets -- could curb attendance at future races.
"It's going to have an impact," Wheeler said. "It certainly puts us in challenging times. It makes us work harder."
International Speedway Corp. -- Speedway Motorsports' main competitor among track owners -- also has been squeezed. The company has seen a high-single-digit percentage drop in advance ticket sales from last year, said John Saunders, executive vice president and chief operating officer, during a conference call last month.
To attract more fans, Saunders said, the company is offering more payment plans for tickets and free parking at every track, and expanding camping areas.
Along with cutting costs, Speedway Motorsports also plans explore ways to engage fans beyond the grandstand and infield, he said.
"If we can help customers get a hotel room, we'll do that," Wheeler said.
"We've got to look at it as if we're in the travel business," he added, "and we've got to cater to people and meet their extra needs."
Although the racing industry has been through economic downturns before, Wheeler acknowledged that rising gas prices make fans "extra sensitive" about the cost of traveling to races.
That's why Speedway Motorsports is considering lower-priced ticket packages for races, he said, and already has installed an all-you-can-eat section at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
With today's fans, Wheeler said, "you have to placate their needs in a way you didn't five years ago."