NASCAR Chicago has to show it can deliver on revenue

Sure, Chicago looked great in the TV broadcast of the inaugural NASCAR Chicago street race. But any agreement to bring back the race in 2024 has to start — if it happens at all — with a hefty increase in the $500,000 upfront permit fee.

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Shane Van Gisbergen, driver of the #91 Enhance Health Chevrolet, was the winner of the NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park 220 on July 2. In this photo, racers are seen heading south toward the Field Museum.

Shane Van Gisbergen, driver of the #91 Enhance Health Chevrolet, was the winner of the NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park 220 on July 2. In this photo, racers are seen heading south toward the Field Museum.

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As any Chicagoan could have predicted, the city indeed looked great in front of almost 5 million viewers watching the inaugural NASCAR Chicago Street Race on NBC, breaking viewership records for the sport last weekend.

Especially during the summer and even in torrential rainstorms like the one that cut short the race, Chicago is gorgeous — and knows how to host a party.

But looking good, even to a global TV audience, is an intangible. It doesn’t pay the bills, of which Chicago has many.

So when it comes to taking over the city’s premier lakefront park, the Chicago Park District ought to get a far heftier upfront fee than the $500,000 NASCAR paid. That’s indeed embarrassing, as one local economics professor told WBEZ last week.

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Skeptical City Council members, who didn’t get a chance to fully vet former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s deal, are exactly right to call for an independent cost-benefit analysis before agreeing to a return for the race. Any agreement has to start with negotiating a hefty increase in that upfront fee.

Park District CEO Rosa Escareño on Friday defended the NASCAR contract as “consistent with how we’ve treated others like Lolla when it first started,” as the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman reported. The contract also gives the city 15% of net commissions from food, beverage and merchandise sales, plus $2 for every admission ticket sold — all of which has yet to be tallied.

But consider these numbers: Between 2012 and 2022, Lollapalooza’s permit fee was far higher to begin with: $1.5 million, with $750,000 upfront. In all, the city earns $8 million to $9 million a year from the event. Lollapalooza’s 10-year extension calls for the festival to pay a guaranteed minimum $2 million fee, along with a sliding scale of 5% to 20% of festival revenue.

Even Riot Fest pays a heftier fee — $750,000 — to rent Douglass Park.

And just as there are intangible benefits, there are intangible costs that alderpersons have to consider. They’re the ones who have to answer to their constituents, like the woman who wrote to us, saying Loop residents “are used to sharing the neighborhood with visitors, tourists and business workers. However, they should not be expected to simply accept the continual disruption caused by an expanding number of large-scale events being held in and around Grant Park.”

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NASCAR’s proponents estimated the event would provide a $113 million financial shot in the arm for the city. There’s no doubt Chicago, with its worsening pension crisis. needs every dollar of that, and more.

If NASCAR wants a return, it has to deliver.

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