Erik Moses' Journey to NASCAR Track President

Audio Description

Erik Moses’ journey to NASCAR track president was circuitous. With his hopes of becoming a player agent dashed in law school, Erik moved from practicing private law to corporate roles before finding his legs in the sports world as Washington DC’s Sports& Entertainment Commissioner. Today, Erik is building a bridge to NASCAR. As the first Black track president, Erik feels the responsibility to construct a brand that is valuable to the community while pushing against stereotypes.

Transcript

00:09 - 00:21

Hi, everyone, and welcome to The Big Stage podcast, where we talk to athletes, artists, and entertainers of all kinds. I'm your host, Adam Sansiveri Bernstein managing director and Co-head of Sports and Entertainment.

00:28 - 01:01

To quote from his Twitter bio, my guest today is a creative thinker, problem solver, team builder, attorney, entrepreneur and sports and live events executive. Now he's making history as the first Black track president of NASCAR, responsible for revitalizing the formerly dormant Nashville Superspeedway. He's become a friend and a fellow business leader in Music City. So it's my pleasure to welcome Erik Moses to The Big Stage. Thanks for joining, Eric. Thanks for having me. It's great to see you. I want to start in the beginning.

01:01 - 01:16

You are a graduate of the University of North Carolina and Duke University School of Law. While growing up and getting your education, did you ever think that you'd one day be the president of an XFL football team or a NASCAR track president?

01:17 - 01:49

I don't know that my my dreams and ambitions were that specific, but I knew that I wanted to be involved in the entertainment industry broadly and that I wanted to be in charge of things. I wanted to help to lead efforts and team whether that be on the team side, on the league side, on the facility side, I wasn't quite certain. But, you know, your path has a way of laying itself out in front of you. We just have to look and listen for the clues. So tell us a little bit more about that path. How did you find yourself in the position you're in today?

01:50 - 02:22

What's interesting, you know, I'm a lawyer by training, as you alluded to, I started my career off in private practice, buying and selling TV and radio stations for commercial broadcast clients in Washington, DC. And, you know, I thought when going to law school, having gone to Carolina undergrad and made really good friendships with guys who are the type that you represent. Right. Who are playing professionally and making a living, leveraging their very unique set of skills and talents and capabilities. I always wanted to protect those kinds of people.

02:22 - 02:39

You know, they have a short period of time to earn a lot of money. And we all are familiar with the horror stories of guys getting these huge contracts and ending up five years later or less after their playing careers are over, broke. And I wanted to be an agent. And so I went to law school thinking I was going to be a player agent.

02:39 - 03:10

I had the very unusual and very appreciated opportunity to sit in on Grant Hill's interview of agents in his senior year, because that would have been my first year of law school at Duke. I got to see all the big names come through and listen to their pitches and all of that. And it dawned on me pretty quickly after that meeting and some follow-up that chasing 20, 21-year-old kids around the country to get them to sign with me so I could pay back my law school loans is probably not how I wanted to start my career.

03:10 - 03:27

You know, Grant is an exception to what you will normally encounter with professional athletes, especially at the beginning of their career. And so I started thinking about entertainment more broadly. And so that's how I started my career in the kind of commercial broadcast area. This was at the time,

03:27 - 03:48

not to date myself too much, but this was at the time when we were just having conversations about a 500 channel universe. Right. And about satellite TV and radio and all of these new kind of platforms. And I thought, all of those platforms need programming, and those programming needs directors and producers and actors, et cetera. And those people will ultimately need representation.

03:48 - 04:15

And so I kind of got started in private practice, as I said, on the transactional side. And then after about four years of doing really interesting work and enjoying it in private practice, I didn't know whether or not I wanted to be a lawyer... partner at a law firm when I grew up. You know, I had friends and older attorneys tell me that being a partner in a law firm was like winning a pie eating contest where the reward was more pie. And I didn't know, Adam, if I like pie that much.

04:15 - 04:39

Yeah, so. So I ended up at AOL Time Warner when it was the largest media company on the planet, learning about the Internet, doing really, really interesting deals for the launch of interesting platforms with some incredibly smart people. And that allowed me the opportunity to kind of migrate to the business side over at AOL. And I haven't looked back since, you know, figuring out how to get the sports kind of just happen. As I say, that path laid out.

04:39 - 04:56

I was running a local business development agency for Washington, DC, which is some of the most rewarding work I'd ever done in my career, representing and being the chief advocate in the city for businesses large and small. And got a call from the mayor, said, we want you to run our DC Sports Entertainment Commission.

04:57 - 05:16

Oh, that's amazing. This is at a time when we were looking to complete Nationals Ballpark as a project and they said, you know, you're going to need to negotiate with the learners and make certain that we finish up that project, and then broaden back out this organization whose call really was to attract, promote, and host sporting entertainment events for Washington, DC.

05:16 - 05:48

And so that really kicked off my career. And I spent about 11 years as a sports commissioner in Washington. Wow. Yeah. And that's clearly positioned you to be successful leading different sports organizations. Is there something about you, though, particular that you think has helped you be successful across multiple sports? Because that's unique, right? I mean, you see a lot of executive success within a sport and movement within a sport. But to be in multiple sports, is there something specific that you tie to your success? You know, I think it has a lot to do with the way I started.

05:49 - 06:17

I think you see in sports, normally people kind of come up through the ranks, whether you start off in ticket sales and then move to sponsorship sales and kind of climb the ladder that way. And I kind of came in in a different way, on the promotions and the venue management side, basically agnostic about what the sport was. The sport was just the content that we were putting in the building and we were looking to spread out that content and make that as varied and diverse as possible.

06:17 - 06:47

You know as well as I do, the business fundamentals of all of these league and sports is the same, sell sponsorship, sell tickets, sell popcorn, sell beer, sell parking, et cetera. Those business fundamentals are the same. And that's why I'm finding myself. And NASCAR really wasn't that much of a long shot for me because the business fundamentals are the same. It's just the context is slightly different. That's interesting. You know, on that note, there's this Golden Globe winning show on Apple right now called Ted Lasso. Have you seen it? I love it.

06:47 - 07:14

It's so good. But it's a, for our listeners, if you haven't seen it, it's about an American football coach who's brought to Europe to coach soccer in the Premier League. It reminded me of you going from running an XFL football team to running a NASCAR team. Now, I'm sure this is an unfair comparison, but I'm actually just curious, is there something from the football-specific experience that made you ready for racing? Or as you said before, it's just the business fundamentals are the same? Well, it's a good question.

07:14 - 07:41

And any comparison to Jason Sudeikis, I'll take. So my XFL experience was a startup experience, that was starting a team in a new league all at once in a relatively challenging period of time to get all of that stood up at the same time. While this track was open and operated for ten years, between 2001 and 2011, it had been dormant for 10 years. And so the mission here really is a startup mission.

07:41 - 08:00

And so that certainly prepared me. The part of building a brand and fusing it with the kind of values and attributes that will make it valuable to the community as well as to partners is something I had to do with the XFL from scratch. Being the kind of public face of that enterprise was very similar.

08:00 - 08:25

The audiences, I think, are not altogether different. Right. In the XFL, what we were presenting was a slightly different take on professional football than what the NFL was doing and certainly something that was different than college football. So how did you, how were we going to introduce ourselves to the marketplace that said, hey, we're presenting something that's familiar and that you love, America's number one sport by far?

08:25 - 08:31

So that's what we're giving you. We're giving you three months of that at a time when there is no other football. But we're a little bit different.

08:31 - 09:04

And here's the twist on that theme, and you're going to love it. That's similar to the challenge, I think, that NASCAR has before it, which is how do we continue to serve and super-serve our core audience that has been with us since the beginning, but understand that that audience is shrinking in some way. And how do we put out the welcome mat for new fans, for people who are curious about our sport and welcome them in and provide them credible on-ramps to our sport so that they can come under the tent and enjoy what we have to offer, just like our core fans do.

09:04 - 09:14

So I think that positioning was something that I had to do in the XFL. And I think that helped me in terms of what we're doing now. And how is it going so far? It's going really well.

09:14 - 09:40

We have the the advantage of being in an environment in the region in Middle Tennessee that is rich in stock car racing history. People love the sport here. So it's not, as they say, it's not trying to sell ice to Eskimos, you know, we're selling we're selling something that people want. And we have the privilege and frankly, the honor of bringing back NASCAR Cup series racing to Middle Tennessee for the first time in nearly four decades.

09:41 - 10:00

And we're taking that very seriously. So the response thus far in all respects, from ticket sales to our conversations with corporate sponsors, to our conversations with government, local and state and regional, to the man on the street have been all very encouraging. That's great to hear. I know it's one of the big talks of the town, so it's great to hear it's going so well.

10:00 - 10:22

I want to switch gears a little bit and do so by reading you a couple of headlines that were all written in the past two years, Racing Without Race; How Motorsports Never Integrated; Racing Against Racism; NASCAR Failed to Fight Racism for 72 Years; Why Aren't There Any Black drivers in the Indy 500?

10:22 - 10:39

And finally, the World of Cars has a Diversity Problem—How Are We Going to Fix It? As the first Black track president, I'm curious, are there pressures that come with that that are on your shoulders to be in in a sport that has such a bad track record on race and inclusivity?

10:40 - 11:14

There is no more pressure on me than I put on myself to be successful at everything I do. I do feel a responsibility in particular to not only perform well in this role so that others might have the opportunity. But I do feel the need to, and as much as I can, be a bridge, you know, to people like myself who before October of 2019 had never been to a NASCAR event. My first event was October 19 at Dover at the Monster Mile, one of our other tracks.

11:14 - 11:40

And I will say that I had an experience that pushed against the stereotypes. What I encountered there, both in our fan zone and in the pits and in the grandstand, was a much more diverse environment than I had anticipated. Now, I'm not saying it's as diverse maybe as an NBA game or NFL game, but my expectations were quite low. You know, I had some eye-opening experiences.

11:40 - 12:06

And so I want to be able to share that kind of experience. I want to be able to educate those who are willing to hear us and give us a chance that there is a place for them. I think that NASCAR's Steve Phelps and the leadership at NASCAR has done us all a favor by prohibiting the Confederate flag. I know that I would not ever go to a place where that flag was flown readily by fans. I wouldn't feel welcome there, and my friends wouldn't feel welcome there, Black, White and otherwise.

12:06 - 12:35

So I think that was a real impediment to getting people like me and others to even give our sport a chance. And so now folks like myself and my colleague Brandon Thompson, who is the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for NASCAR, who is actually a Nashvillian, from Nashville, and as luck would have it, interned at my track back in the early 2000s, you know, he has a better opportunity now to be able to explain to people, it's a great sport and you should find out more about it.

12:35 - 12:46

And we want you, we want you here. We want you watching us on television. We want you following us on social media. We really want people to have an opportunity to feel that roar and rumble. That's great. It's really great to hear.

12:46 - 13:20

And I'm excited to see how things continue to evolve under your leadership and others. What do you want to accomplish in this role to cement your legacy in NASCAR? I think the ability to bring back a successful Cup series race to Middle Tennessee will be a win and an achievement in and of itself. As I said, it's really hard to believe that there has not been a Cup series race here since 1984. I think that challenge very seriously. I want to make certain that I do my part to ensure that Cup series racing in Middle Tennessee happens indefinitely. I think if I can do that, that will be great.

13:20 - 13:52

I think along the way, you know, building a team of talented individuals that are diverse, and not just in kind of check the box kind of demographic ways, but diverse in terms of our experience, our lived experience, our experience professionally, what we're able to do, the way we see and encounter and face problems and address those, the innovation and creativity that we bring to the sport to allow it to grow and expand, hopefully across the board, but certainly here in Tennessee, those are the ways that I'll measure my success, my team's success.

13:52 - 14:13

As with every stop along my professional way, I want the people that join me in this effort, I want them to grow professionally and personally. I want them to have opportunities to do really amazing things that make them proud and expand their skill set so that they could use that expanded skill set either for our company or to take on different challenges in their careers.

14:14 - 14:30

Spoken like a true leader. And with that in mind, most people who are in your kind of role and have had the success that you've had have had mentors in their life, right, throughout the time that have pulled them along. I have to ask you the question that I like to ask most of our guests.

14:30 - 14:56

What is the best financial advice that you've ever received or is there any also, any other type of advice that you've received that have made a lasting mark on your career? Well, I wish I had gotten more religious financial advice, not that I've gotten bad financial advice, but... somebody to give me some Chicos. I think the best advice, in all seriousness, was to pay yourself first.

14:56 - 15:22

And by that, you know, say first, I like clothes, you know, so I could spend all my money all the time buying clothes. But, you know, someone, I can't even remember who, told me, someone said, pay yourself first, you know, put the money away for savings first, and then do what you have to do with with what's left over. A simple advice, but I think that philosophy is one that has served me well. That's good. Yeah. Sometimes the most simple advice is the best advice.

15:23 - 15:58

Thinking about your success in the position you're in, obviously giving back to the community is a really important thing. Are there any causes or charities that are most important to you? You know, I'm still getting to know the community at large here in Middle Tennessee, and so while we want to be a valued member of the business, civic, and cultural communities here and the nonprofit and philanthropic community, we're taking it slow. We had the good fortune of signing Ally Financial as our Cup Series sponsor. So we will have the Ally 400 on June 20th, 2021.

15:58 - 16:12

And they made it very clear from the beginning that they wanted to do something from the beginning of our relationship to give back to this community. And so we identified two local charities that we gave $25,000 to.

16:13 - 16:42

That was the Urban League of Middle Tennessee and an organization called Box 55 Association, which provides direct support and relief to first responders who respond to things like the tornado or the Christmas Day bombing here and really come out and provide recovery and direct services to those first responders. We thought that those two set the right tone for for what we care about and what's important in the community. And we'll be looking to expand those efforts as we get to know the community and they get to know us a bit more.

16:43 - 17:16

Love it. So you're newer to the sport. So I have to ask you, have you actually gotten behind the wheel and onto a racetrack? I have not. I have not. But as I understand it, our pace car is coming in soon and I am going to get it on the track and with someone who can tell me to, you know, slow down, but I'm going to get it on the track a little bit. And and hopefully, as you and I have discussed in the past, hopefully we will have kind of a ride-along opportunity for some of our friends and partners. And I will definitely have you in a car on that track at some point in the not too distant future.

17:16 - 17:24

I cannot wait for that. That will be fun. So before I let you go, I think our listeners may enjoy a little history.

17:24 - 17:52

NASCAR was actually born out of Prohibition in America. Bootleggers would build souped up cars to stay ahead of federal agents when running illegal whiskey across borders. These runners needed to have amazing driving skills to race across the country on back roads at night and often with their headlights turned off. Racing of these souped up cars began before Prohibition even ended. But the first official NASCAR race occurred in Daytona on February 15, 1948.

17:52 - 18:18

And the winner was Red Byron, a former moonshine runner. So, Erik, with all of that said, I'm curious what your drink of choice is, and then I'll let you go. Well, I'm in Tennessee, right? So it's got to be Tennessee whiskey. I like the Brown. I like the Browns. Awesome. I think that's what we had last time we were together. So thank you so much for joining us on The Big Stage. It's always a pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

18:20 - 18:49

Thank you all for listening. This has been The Big Stage. If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to subscribe, please go to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Also, please e-mail us with your thoughts, questions, and feedback to insights@Bernstein.com, and be sure to find us on Twitter and Instagram at BernsteinPWM. Bernstein: Making money meaningful for individuals, families, and foundations for over 50 years. Visit us at Bernstein.com.

Host
Adam Sansiveri
Managing Director —Head of the Nashville Private Client Group and Co-Lead Sports and Entertainment Group

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