Feature Article

A solution for CART's franchise dilemma
Mark Cipolloni
April 21,  2000
Here is a proposed solution for CART to kill three birds with one stone, i.e. the dilemma of not enough American drivers in CART, too low a car count, and the standoff with Gerald Forsythe.
Note:  This article was originally printed on 7th Gear.com when I worked with those fine folks

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As I'm sure you are aware, CART owner Gerald Forsythe wants to run a third car for Bryan Herta this year, but refuses to do so because CART has a rule that says no single car owner can have more than two CART franchises. This rule was put into effect years ago to prevent any single car owner from dominating the series should they find a possible unfair advantage. NASCAR has been criticized as of late for putting the small guy out of business by allowing rich car owners like Jack Roush to field 5 or more cars. Of course NASCAR does not have a franchise system like CART, so there is no financial advantage to fielding more cars, it just increases your odds of winning and allows more sharing of race setups.  NASCAR does have a 2-car limit, but owners just enter more cars under their wives names which essentially defeats the purpose.  In CART, obtaining a franchise isn't so easy.

Some would argue that CART should not have franchises.  For the purposes of this article, lets assume they do.  Franchises work for Football, Baseball, Basketball, etc, so the concept has some merits and the NASCAR team owners have come out publicly and said they like CART's franchises system as it gives them a vested interest in the sport they helped to build.

Forsythe petitioned CART's executive board to allow him the 3rd franchise. They approved it. However, CART's franchise board ruled against Forsythe and he stood fast to his principles by withdrawing Herta's entry. The result - CART is out another good American driver and another car to fill the grid. Ideally, a starting field in CART would be 28 to 30 cars. So far this season the average is more like 25.

And to make matters worse, CART is still an American based sport, yet American drivers (only two Americans have full-time rides down from 8 or more just several years ago) are having a hard time finding a ride in CART because 1) America has so many competing sports for American companies to invest their advertising dollars, 2) American companies don't demand who the driver must be like some foreign companies, they let the car owner hire who they feel is the best driver, and many times the owner chooses to hire drivers with a road racing background because America's oval track feeder series have proven they don't give a young driver the road racing skills required in CART, 3) The NASCAR steamroller sucks up a lot of good American driving talent. Because CART will always be primarily an American based sport, its health is very much dependant on the support it gets in its home country. And we can't forget that its home country also happens to be the financial powerhouse of the world and the world's largest consumer market. Yes, CART must expand globally to be strong, but they must water the roots if the flowers are to blossom.

Currently there is no financial advantage to Forsythe in having a third franchise, but someday, when the financial incentives may be reinstated, he could reap some benefit. Anyone who makes an investment in a company hopes to realize a return on that investment at some point in time. From that perspective we don't blame Forsythe for taking the stand he has. He is a very smart businessman, something CART can always use more of. The man wants to invest in CART and see CART grow and prosper. He has not only invested in fielding a Champ Car team, he also has run an Indy Lights program in the past, and has invested in racing facilities on which CART races, or will race in the future.  He is one of CART's best owners in terms of investing in the business.

However, with that said, we also see the merits of not allowing a single individual to gain too much control. So how do we solve this dilemma, with which CART seems to be struggling?  Here is what I propose:

  1. Allow an owner to have up to four (4) franchises (up from the current 2), but the 3rd and 4th franchise must be for an American driver. The owner would be free to place a driver from any country in their 1st and 2nd cars, but if they want to gain more than two franchises, then the driver(s) of those cars must be an American.

  2. A franchise owner would be allowed a maximum of 2 franchise board votes, regardless of how many franchises they hold.

  3. No more than 30 franchises would be issued by CART. This is up from the current 24. CART needs to encourage a larger starting field, and the current limit of 24 encourages a 24 car starting field, not the desired 28 or 30. If a new car owner enters CART and all 30 franchises are already spoken for, that owner would have to buy a franchise from an existing franchise holder or run without a franchise. Since today there is no financial advantage to having a franchise (except for some overseas race travel money), running sans a franchise right now is not a financial burden.

  4. A franchise owner would reap financial rewards, should they ever be reinstated, in proportion to the number of franchises they held, up to a maximum on 4 franchises.

  5. If a franchise holder fields a car in less than 18 of the 20 races (i.e. misses more than 2 races), in the previous season, they will forfeit that franchise back to CART the following year. CART is free to then sell that franchise to another car owner.

  6. If not all 30 franchises are spoken for and a new car owner enters CART, they would be offered one or more of the remaining franchises at the end of their first full season of racing, assuming they met the requisite number of races entered.

There you have it, my proposed solution to CART's lack of American drivers, low car count, and franchise dilemma. I think it is fair in that it gives a single car owner no more than a 4 in 30 chance of winning a race or the championship. It rewards a car owner who provides a ride for an American driver. It gives a franchise owner no more than 2 (of 30) votes on the franchise board, and it encourages a 30-car starting field.

We ask that existing franchise owners, who might otherwise see this proposal as diluting their vested interest in CART, think about the larger picture and not just about their myopic world. If CART prospers as an overall organization, they stand to gain more in the long run than any loss they might otherwise perceive by having up to 6 more franchise holders dilute their existing portion. Yes, CART is big business, but it is also a team sport and a team business. It's not about me, it's about we!

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