INTERVIEW-Race track owner ISC near deal to sell NY land
* Sale of NY land in near future, details being worked out
* Any proceeds in deal would be used for debt reduction
* ISC '09 attendance off in low double-digit percent range
By Ben Klayman
CHICAGO, Oct 21 (Reuters) - International Speedway Corp (ISCA.O) is nearing a deal to sell 676 acres (273.6 hectares) of land in Staten Island, New York, on which it had hoped to build a track, the race track owner's chief executive said on Wednesday.
"We do have a sale that we do think will occur in the near future," CEO Lesa France Kennedy said in a telephone interview. "We have more details to work out."
France Kennedy, who last week was named the most powerful woman in sports by Forbes magazine, declined to offer any details or timeline for the deal, but said she was encouraged by progress made so far.
ISC, whose tracks include the home of the popular Daytona 500 NASCAR race, had hoped to establish a beachhead in the New York market with a track. Local opposition led the Daytona Beach, Florida-based company to abandon those plans in 2007.
Similar plans for Seattle and Denver also were shelved as ISC shifted its focus to strengthening its business at 13 existing tracks in the weak economy.
The France family owns a 69 percent voting interest in ISC, as well as all of NASCAR. ISC derived 87 percent of its revenue in 2008 from NASCAR-sanctioned events.
However, NASCAR has been hurt this year as fans and corporate backers slash spending on the sport.
ISC has responded by cutting prices on about a third of its tickets and offering deals to lure fans to the races.
The company has said it expects the weighted average ticket prices to fall another 3 to 5 percent in 2010 after a 2 percent decline this year.
NO RAPID TURNAROUND
ISC track attendance will finish off this year in the low double-digit percentage range. Meanwhile, per-capita spending on concessions and food is off in the mid-teens percentage and spending on merchandise is down about 25 percent.
"We're still going to have our challenges next year," France Kennedy said. "I don't see a rapid turnaround."
Despite race teams making drastic cuts amid sponsor defections, NASCAR remains a strong draw for many companies with more than 70 million fans, lucrative TV deals that run through 2014 and TV ratings that, while declining, still rank it behind only football in the U.S. sports scene.
ISC has about 60 percent of its sponsorship revenue locked in for 2010, France Kennedy said. The company will not offer any financial forecasts for 2010 until January, when it reports fourth-quarter results.
As for any funds raised from the sale of the New York land, an ISC spokesman said the company will focus on debt reduction and improving company liquidity, but ISC was not opposed to augmenting its existing stock-buyback program. ISC has about $39 million available to buy back stock under a $250 million plan previously authorized by the board.
ISC shares have fallen almost 13 percent from their year high of $32.15 in October 2008. However, they have risen 75 percent since hitting a low of $15.96 on March 6.
As for the struggling Motorsports Authentics, a joint venture ISC has with Speedway Motorsports Inc (TRK.N) to market licensed merchandise, France Kennedy said all options are on the table.
Certain licensors recently declared the venture in default on royalty payments, and several analysts have speculated bankruptcy could be an option for the venture, which is currently trying to renegotiate existing license deals. France Kennedy did not rule out bankruptcy.
"That's not the preferable route, but we're not dismissing any option," she said. (Reporting by Ben Klayman, editing by Matthew Lewis)
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