BOSTON (Reuters) - The Boston Red Sox’s principal owner will buy half of the top team on the NASCAR racing circuit, Roush Racing, in the first investment by a major league baseball team in the country’s fastest-growing sport.
The deal announced on Wednesday was valued at about $60 million and underscores NASCAR’s expansion in the Northeastern United States and the growing commercial appeal of a sport that boasts 75 million fans and plenty of Fortune 500 sponsors.
“It’s a pretty good fit for us geographically,” said Mike Dee, president of Fenway Sports Group, which is owned by Red Sox principal owner John Henry.
“While NASCAR is a nationwide footprint in terms of fan interest, it probably has the most room for growth and future expansion in the Northeast,” he said before a ceremony to announce the deal in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Under the deal, which came four days before the Daytona 500 opens the Nextel Cup season, Henry’s New England Sports Ventures will buy 50 percent of Roush Racing to form Roush Fenway Racing, which will compete in the 2007 Nextel Cup.
NASCAR, America’s dominant motor sport, is undergoing rapid change fueled in part by this year’s entry of Toyota Motor Corp., the first foreign automaker to compete in NASCAR.
The Japanese automaker is widely seen raising the competitive stakes in a sport whose growth some industry analysts say may be reaching a plateau.
“We welcome the competition and look forward to battling them on the track,” Dee said of Toyota. “To us, their entry just validates the strength of the sport.”
He said Henry’s purchase would not lead to a new NASCAR racetrack in Massachusetts anytime soon, and doused speculation of a Red Sox-themed Roush car competing in races outside New England, saying the team could not legally use the marquee that way.
But the deal could swell crowds at the New Hampshire International Speedway 80 miles north of Boston, where NASCAR holds races twice a year, he said.
The Boston Red Sox, the 2004 World Series winners, failed to make the playoffs last season, finishing third in the American League’s East Division.
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