Exclusive: NASCAR's majority owners explore sale - sources

(Reuters) - The majority owners of NASCAR, the company which operates the namesake U.S. car-racing series and other motorsport events, are exploring options that include the sale of a majority stake, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The move comes as NASCAR grapples with an aging fan base, stricter safety rules and a competitive media landscape that have weighed on its popularity and made it less attractive to advertisers and sponsors.

The France family, which controls NASCAR, is working with investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc GS.N to identify a potential deal for the company, three sources said, cautioning that the deliberations are at exploratory stage and no agreement of any kind is certain.

The sources asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential.

NASCAR and Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

NASCAR could attract interest from media companies and private equity firms, according to the sources. The company’s exact valuation could not be established, though the sources said it could be worth several billions of dollars.

The company was founded by Bill France Sr. in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1948. Drivers in its races, such as Dale Earnhardt Sr, became household names, and major companies rushed to have their brands affiliated with NASCAR.

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But as its loyal fans grew older, younger consumers showed less enthusiasm for the sport, driving TV ratings down. There is still, however, a lot of competition between broadcasters, technology companies and cable operators for live sports rights, as advertisers seek events that viewers want to watch real-time.

“In a time period that is attractive for live event and live entertainment, Nascar has struggled,” said Rich Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG. “There is absolutely a desire to own rather than license content but everything has a price.”

NASCAR has been dabbling in so-called e-sports in a bid to reach younger audiences. Earlier this year, 704Games, NASCAR’s exclusive video game licensee, said it would bring NASCAR Heat Champions to Daytona International Speedway during the Daytona 500 weekend.

As a privately held company, NASCAR does not disclose earnings. However, International Speedway Corp ISCA.O, which hosts the Daytona 500 rally and owns 12 of the 23 NASCAR Cup Series tracks, reported a 1.6 percent year-on-year drop in admissions revenue in its fiscal 2017, blaming it "substantially" on NASCAR events.

In 2017, Liberty Media Corp FWONA.O spent more than $8 billion, including debt, to acquire international motor sports league Formula 1, ending a long-running saga surrounding the sport’s ownership and potential flotation. The new owners have shaken up its management, and put a sharper focus on new media markets and boosted its presence in North America.

Reporting by Liana B. Baker, Jessica Toonkel and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Bill Rigby and Lisa Shumaker