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No state help as attendance falls at BMS

August 23rd, 2012 3:14 am by Hank Hayes

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Talks between Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's administration and Speedway Motorsports haven't led to a green flag for new state assistance at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"I don't have anything new for you. ... Basically, there's nothing new here," Haslam administration spokesman Dave Smith said in an e-mail.

After an estimated 50,000 or more seats appeared empty at BMS' spring Sprint Cup race, Speedway Motorsports Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith met with Haslam to discuss potential state help for Tennessee's largest outdoor sports venue.

Still, no specifics have yet been outlined, said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville.

"I actually met with (BMS General Manager) Jerry Caldwell last week to see if there was anything in particular they thought they needed, and I expect I'll probably have a meeting with Bruton Smith this week, Thursday or Friday, to see if there's anything particular they need that we would be willing to help with," Ramsey said. "I've talked about more pedestrian walkways to help with better access to campgrounds so they can be more fan-friendly than they are. ... We'll just have to see how close they come to selling out."

Smith and BMS have completed significant modifications to the track based on fan feedback.

Those changes concentrated on the progressive banking applied when the current track surface was put in place in the summer of 2007, according to BMS.

Smith, meanwhile, has a history of pushing the state for improvements outside the track. He sought and got pedestrian safety improvements that were completed in 2008.

The state of Tennessee, however, is restricted in the types of tax incentives it can offer in economic development, according to the Department of Revenue (DOR).

The DOR says the incentives are based on the number of new jobs created, the amount of capital invested, and the type of business.

The incentives favor corporate headquarters, manufacturing, data centers, warehousing and distribution facilities, and call centers.

A DOR spokesman was not able to provide how much the racetrack pays in state and local taxes because of statutes governing taxpayer privacy.

However, a 2004 Bristol Convention and Visitors Bureau study -- -- projected the track's total direct economic impact at $422.7 million. The bureau also concluded the track pays more than $4.7 million annually in sales, property and franchise taxes. That study also found 152,000 race fans spend an average of $795 during their visit.

But in its 2011 annual report, Speedway Motorsports indicated the sluggish economy could have a continued significant adverse impact on consumer and corporate spending, and its business.

"Revenues continue to be negatively impacted by declines in consumer and corporate spending due to weak economic conditions, including high unemployment and fuel prices," said the investor-owned company's second quarter report released in early August. "In 2012, similar to 2011, the company maintained reduced ticket and other prices for its fans and corporate customers to help counter these tough economic times and mitigate near-term demand weakness."

BMS' 158,000-seating capacity is the largest among Speedway Motorsports' racetrack holdings.

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