Despite the financial challenges that RPM faced throughout the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, last Wednesday plans were put into motion for a new ownership group featuring Andrew Murstein, Douglas Bergeron and Richard Petty. The deal, first reported on FOXSports.com, was made official this morning.
“I looked at a lot of sports teams over the years and to me, this is a great brand in sports,” said Murstein, the new majority owner. “It’s like the Boston Celtics or the New York Yankees. I saw how people brought them back to their glory years and I think the same can be done with Petty.
“It’s a phenomenal name, great track record and it was just a perfect storm of things that made this a great investment opportunity.”
That “perfect storm” included the collapse of George Gillett’s sports holdings — including the Montreal Canadiens and Liverpool Football Club, NASCAR and the economy leveling out and Murstein’s ability to “pull the trigger that fast” to save the ailing team.
Murstein, 46, is president of Medallion Financial Corp. Similar to the Petty’s, his family-owned business has its root in cars — but not race cars, taxi cabs.
Murstein’s grandfather started the company in 1937 by purchasing taxi licenses or “medallions” for $10. More than 70 years later, the same medallions run $800,000 and Murstein owns or leases more of them than any other company in New York City. Murstein’s Medallion Funding Corp. also lends funds to acquire the medallions.
But it was another subsidiary of Murstein’s that led to his initial interest in NASCAR. In 1994, Murstein formed Medallion Taxi Media, which placed advertising on the tops of taxi cabs. While he would eventually sell that company to Clear Channel in 2004, the idea left an impression.
“We started to do all of the tops of the cabs, primarily,” Murstein said. “Then we were doing so well that the advertisers started coming to us and saying, ‘We want to do the hood of the car, the side of the car.’ So I went to the city of New York several years ago and said, ‘Let us wrap the taxis.’ And their quote was, ‘What do you think this is, NASCAR? We’re not going to let you wrap taxis.’
“But that’s what put the thought into my head. Even though they didn’t let us do it, I started thinking about it then.”
Murstein, an avid sports fan, attempted to buy a franchise several years ago. While he put in a bid for the Cubs in 2008 and approached other franchises and NASCAR teams, the timing wasn’t right. However, partnering with Bergeron, director and CEO of VeriFone Systems, Inc., Murstein feels that the new owners will have “a good source of sponsorship” and be able to deliver.
One of the first orders of business will be to re-sign Best Buy for the organization’s No. 43 Ford driven by AJ Allmendinger. That deal is expected to be shored up later this week.
"I’m happy to move forward with the race team," Allmendinger said. "Excited to work hard with the new ownership, make the team stronger and even more competitive during the offseason so we can be ready for Daytona and make a charge for the Chase (for the Sprint Cup)."
Still, despite his immense financial experience, Murstein is not naïve when it comes to expecting a return on his investment.
“I’m going to help Richard Petty and his team get back to the winner’s circle," Murstein said. "If we do that, I think the monetary gain — which is a distant second to that — will follow.”
When Petty’s son-in-law, Brian Moffitt, RPM’s vice president of marketing, reached out to Murstein three weeks ago, it didn’t take long to convince him of the potential. Murstein felt an immediate chemistry with the family and believes they share similar standards and values.
Murstein has great respect for Petty’s iconic brand and its 60-year heritage. He compared the King to his personal friend and Medallion board member Hank Aaron.
“Hank Aaron is the king of his sport and I’ve gotten to know him pretty well,” Murstein said. “It’s a pretty similar experience going to the World Series with Hank Aaron as it is going to Daytona with Richard Petty. They’re very proud and they’re very humble men. They’re very different than today’s athletes. The antithesis of Hank Aaron would be Barry Bonds.
“Richard Petty is a class act, just like Hank is. He deserves to basically lead this team — that’s part of this deal. We’re appointing him chairman. He’s very much going to be active in the operations. I told him I’d only do it if he committed to be active in it. This was not a farewell play that’s being written where he can drift off into the sunset. We’re only going to do this if he puts himself in the middle of it and helps the team.”
Petty thanked his sponsors for their support and said he is looking forward to the new partnership.
"Our partnership with Andy Murstein and Doug Bergeron will help take us to a whole new level and I could not be more excited about our future," he said.
Murstein has great ambitions when it comes to RPM. Petty will top the organizational chart and Moffitt and Robbie Loomis, director of racing operations, will continue their current duties. Although RPM downsized at the end of the season from four teams to two, with drivers Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose, once the management team is in place, Murstein wants to work on returning the organization to a four-car squad. He’s currently evaluating drivers that will be free agents after 2011.
As far as the day-to-day operations, Murstein will leave those decisions in the King’s hands.
“The people that know the most about this business and are the best at it — like Richard Petty — make the decisions,” Murstein said. “Someone recently compared me to (NBA team owner) Mark Cuban. But in some ways I’m opposite of him. I know him and I like him, but my role for Richard Petty is to give him the money that he needs and the sponsorship that he needs and stay out of his way.
“This is such a great tradition for him and his family. He’s forgotten more than II’ll ever know in this sport. You can take this to the bank, the last thing I’m going to be doing is making decisions for Richard Petty. I’m going to leave that up to him.”