Spire Spends $40 Million on 3rd Charter in Hopes ‘Sleeping Giant’ Awakes
Spire Spends $40 Million on 3rd Charter in Hopes ‘Sleeping Giant’ Awakes
Spire Motorsports recently purchased Live Fast Motorsports’ NASCAR Cup Series charter for a reported $40 million. If accurate, the figure would represent a sharp increase from comparable sales in recent years (think: $8-15 million), and a further lift from the first few years of the charter system when team charters could be had for as little as $2-3 million.
NASCAR’s initial eight-year charter agreements expire at the end of the ’24 season, as do the Cup Series’ existing media rights deals. So, one could argue Spire’s willingness to invest in a third charter at that level is a risky proposition.
But Spire doesn’t see it that way. It sees an opportunity to scoop up another charter at a fraction of its intrinsic value, and a chance to generate outsized returns.
“The sport has only started to tap its potential and it’s [just] a matter of getting alignment on a new charter agreement with NASCAR,” Bill Anthony (president, Spire Motorsports) said. “If the new agreement is structured in a way where teams can be reasonably profitable and continue to reinvest in the sport at the current competition levels, NASCAR is poised to perhaps explode like every other big five sport has when you take into consideration franchise and enterprise valuations.”
And while the team recognizes the significance of the many issues that still need to be resolved to reach that potential, it expects the two sides to eventually hash out a mutually agreeable deal.
“There’s no doubt it is a huge challenge, but we must remain optimistic and dedicated to the process,” Anthony said.
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Spire Motorsports’ origins reside with Motorsports Management International, a prominent motorsports agency back in the late ‘90s and ‘00s.
Spire, which spun off in 2011, was initially a service based company too.
“We were personal managers and advisors to Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Regan Smith, and several other drivers,” Anthony said. “[We] also represented sponsors.”
The list included 5-Hour Energy, which it helped transition to Furniture Row back in 2017. Spire also helped facilitate the team’s signing of driver Erik Jones that same year. So, when Furniture Row needed help finding a buyer for its charter following the ‘17 season, it reached out to Spire again.
Furniture Row was looking for $6 million at the time, a high number in a sellers’ market.
“There were still a lot of teams towards the back of the field uncertain about their future in the sport…There was the threat of start and park cars, and NASCAR was trying to weed them out putting increased pressure on teams to perform. It was becoming more costly [to run a team],” Anthony said.
But Spire co-owners TJ Puchyr and Jeff Dickerson had a vision. They watched IndyCar become more cost efficient, which helped to turn that sport around, and saw NASCAR going down a similar path.
The motorsports lifers were also convinced they could leverage pre-existing relationships within the industry to operate a team cost-effectively, take advantage of guaranteed revenue streams, and over time, achieve the incremental success needed to increase sponsorship revenue and convince top drivers to come aboard.
So, they got a $6 million loan, bought the charter, and turned their service-based business into a race team focused operation that would strive to achieve long-term success.
“It’s about improving a couple spots at a time on the track,” Anthony said. “It can’t be flashes in the pan. You have to operate in a way that you’re able to achieve sustained improvement.”
Furniture Row lost money en route to winning the 2017 championship with Martin Truex Jr. and ended up selling the associated charter after the season.
Spire spent its first few years as team owners ensuring the #77 car ran consistently, minimizing the amount of equipment it damaged, piecing together sponsorship deals, and minding the books.
“We undertook every effort to cap costs and fees with the goal of paying down debt to the greatest extent possible,” Anthony said.
Through consistent efforts it paid off the loan within a couple of years.
The opportunity to purchase a second charter arose soon thereafter. It was part of a package that also included a race shop and some racing equipment (assets Spire needed at the time).
“That was a pivotal moment for the team because we were in essence making a decision about whether we’re building and growing to compete more, or just maintaining and surviving,” Anthony said.
Spire chose the former and bought the package from Levine Family Racing in December of 2020, using the second charter to create the #7 car entry.
A break-out price was never attributed to the charter. However, it is believed to have been relatively on par with the price it paid for the Furniture Row charter, taking into consideration that Furniture Row’s charter had a higher historical ranking (and thus more guaranteed revenues associated with it).
The team brought on Corey LaJoie as the driver of the #7 car at roughly the same time. The funding he brought along with him helped the team to establish a business relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and secure a better engine set for his car than on the team’s second car. The personnel used on the #77 car at the time was also slightly less experienced and it had a rotating cast of drivers.
That was until October 2022.
“We made the commitment to invest even more into the operation and equalize out the equipment on the two cars, bring in Ty Dillon, and make the #77 a single driver car,” Anthony said.
The team also upgraded its technical alliance with Hendricks Motorsports giving it access to more/better information.
Those insights have aided performance on the track. LaJoie’s #7 car finished, on average, 24.3 last year. This year, through the second race at Talladega, its average finish has been 20.6.
Unfortunately, team “revenues have grown little compared to progress made on the track,” Anthony said. “Budgeting in the NASCAR Cup Series relies heavily and unhealthily on sponsorship funding. Securing and sustaining sponsorship revenues in a fractured and highly competitive sports and entertainment marketplace is extremely hard. We’re hoping the new charter structure will help teams to right size that a bit on a go-forward basis creating more balance between shared revenue sources and sponsorship funding.”
Spire does not make money. It strives to operate at break-even.
And that often means having to do more with less. For perspective, the company employs 40 people across both race teams. A competing two-car team has ~130 employees.
So, it’s logical to wonder why a team already stretched thin would add another charter, particularly at a time when critical questions about the sport’s future remain.
“It’s the belief in motorsports and belief in the possibilities and potential upside,” Anthony said.
It’s also a belief in the sport’s direction.
Despite the universe of pay TV households having declined since the pandemic, NASCAR has largely been able to maintain its audience numbers.
Moves to introduce the next-gen car and single source parts have been viewed positively by team owners, and The Clash at the Coliseum and Chicago street course race (Grant Park 220) have proven the sport has room to grow its fan base outside of conventional domestic markets. There are viable international expansion opportunities too.
Spire acknowledges issues remain. But remains confident the teams will be able to work through the charter renewal process with NASCAR, and that the sport will be able to command a notable increase for its media rights package(s).
NFL aside, “our ratings on a per event basis compare favorably with anything else on a Sunday,” Anthony said.
Spire’s willingness to pay a reported $40 million for a third charter suggests it believes the sport still has plenty of room for growth. Anthony would not venture to guess how much NASCAR teams might be able to command for them in the future.
However, “the potential of this sport, and where it sits in the universe of sports [properties] and valuations, is motivating,” he said. “It’s a sleeping giant in terms of where it can find itself with industry alignment.”
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