NASCAR 'consigliere'Brooks manages the hottest sports package on television 6/02/2002 08:00:00 PM Eastern
Last June, executives at Fox Network had a clever idea for coverage of a NASCAR exhibition at Daytona. It opened with a computer-generated animation of the cars racing that day, cars usually encrusted with the logos of their various sponsors. Fox's sequence, however, featured only certain logos: those of companies that had bought TV commercials on the network.
That meant a big headache for Paul Brooks, vice president of broadcasting for NASCAR. A big part of his job is to manage the delicate balance among the TV networks paying huge rights fees, track owners holding races, and drivers who are part athlete/part independent contractors. On that day, the balance was out of whack.
It didn't stay that way. NASCAR protested, and chagrined Fox executives promised there would be no repeat.
Just another day of managing the hottest sports package on TV. Working as what Fox Sports Chairman David Hill calls "consigliere" to NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr., Brooks helped shepherd NASCAR to its current $2.4 billion TV-rights deal, an average four times the revenue of prior deals. Previously, some track owners had individually licensed TV rights to races they promoted. NASCAR's France family persuaded track owners—many France-family partners—to pool TV rights and sell them to fewer networks.
Fox and its cable siblings get half the 34-race season; NBC and Turner Broadcasting are teamed for the other half. NASCAR will collect dramatically more than the $100 million generated yearly by an old package fragmented across ABC, NBC, ESPN, TBS and TNN.
Managing the package is Brooks's job. Based in Los Angeles rather than NASCAR's Daytona Beach, Fla., headquarters, he's responsible for all the group's media deals, including the recent VOD package with cable distributor InDemand and a streaming-media deal with Turner and RealNetworks.
Like NASCAR, which grew from a Southern dirt-track circuit into the nation's second-ranked sports "league," Brooks took an unusual path. Reared in Lynchburg, Va., he never went to college, opting instead to be a paramedic. After two years as a volunteer, he got the certifications for a full-time job with the local fire department, chasing fires, car accidents, heart attacks and the usual assortment of medical mayhem. The workload could involve 12 to 16 calls per 24-hour shift.
Then, seeking to get involved in business, Brooks moved to Charlotte, N.C., considering becoming a financial planner for an uncle's small firm. Charlotte is the heart of American car racing, and the wife of racer Bobby Hillin worked for his uncle. Hillin needed help landing new sponsors, so Brooks signed on.
"It was a lot of calling on companies cold," Brooks says. "At that time, he was fairly prominent. He wasn't a superstar but was competitive week in and week out."
Brooks didn't meet with much success but gained important exposure to the racing culture and friends in the pits. He landed a job as special projects manager for a publisher of racing magazines.
After three years, it led him to Bill France's son, Brian, who was about to take over marketing for NASCAR. In 1993, Brooks moved to NASCAR as a marketing services coordinator, attending two dozen or so races a year and working with sponsors to ensure everything went right—from making sure winning drivers wore correct-logo caps in the victory lane to lining up garage tours.
That led up the marketing ladder to the president's office and, when the new TV deal came, to head of broadcasting.
Brooks looks back on his days on a paramedic rig to put life in perspective.
"When you've seen death and destruction and babies being born," he says, "whatever problem I run into today isn't going to be that huge a deal in the great scheme of things."