Skip to content

Racing sponsors now at a crossroads of performance, ratings and ethics

Sep 25, 2013, 4:00 PM EST

Sylvania 300 Getty Images

The last several weeks have seen sponsor stories take over from on-track ones as the dominant players in the North American racing news.

NAPA, of course, has made the biggest announcement with its decision to leave Michael Waltrip Racing at the end of the year, in the wake of the controversy at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season finale at Richmond. 5-Hour Energy, additionally, seems displeased with the action the organization has taken in a statement it has released.

Other sponsors are on the move, which is normal in racing, but noteworthy in their timing after Richmond. Valvoline leaves Roush Fenway Racing for Hendrick Motorsports; Jimmy John’s goes with driver Kevin Harvick from Richard Childress Racing to Stewart-Haas Racing.

Castrol made the jaw-dropping decision earlier this year to leave John Force Racing at the end of 2014 in NHRA after 29 years.

And then there is the report this morning that GoDaddy is re-evaluating its role as a primary sponsor in IndyCar with Michael Andretti’s team, citing low television ratings as the impetus for a potential move out of full-time primary sponsorship there.

It all adds up to a fascinating question: Which part of racing do sponsors prefer most? Is it on-track performance, ethics, or ratings?

To borrow a term from NASCAR President Mike Helton, the “ripple effect” of the last few weeks has changed the corporate game in a way we haven’t seen for quite a while. Sponsors often come-and-go from racing but it’s become increasingly apparent the Richmond saga has made a bigger impact on all forms of motorsport than we might have realized in the immediate aftermath.

If it’s on-track performance you crave, ideally, IndyCar would be the best bang for the buck. It costs substantially less – think in the $4 to 8 million range – for a season-long sponsorship (by comparison to $15 to $20 million in NASCAR). A sponsor can advertise itself at the Indianapolis 500, the largest single-day sporting event in North America, and have the chance to win a variety of different circuits.

That said, the marketing and promotional aspect of the variety apparently does not justify the ROI as it stands now. Roger Penske, for instance, has had to put together a consortium of sponsors to field Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe’s cars since Philip Morris tobacco money exited at the end of 2010 (livery was withdrawn at the end of 2009). Elsewhere around the grid, teams have become increasingly reliant on drivers bringing sponsorship to secure a seat. There’s still plenty of talent on the grid, but the days of fully-funded rides without bringing a dollar are drawing to an end.

NASCAR, meanwhile, can offer better TV ratings on the whole, with the performance aspect secondary. It’s why Danica Patrick, for instance – long seen by this writer and others as a good-but-not-great driving talent who has made most of her career via marketing – can afford to run 25th to 30th place every week, but maintain the GoDaddy support for the awareness and buzz she creates off-track.

Now, though, NASCAR faces an ethics crisis the likes of which it has rarely seen. If NAPA’s departure is the tip of the iceberg in terms of corporate America withdrawing its dollars, it could create another “ripple effect” – to borrow Helton’s words again – where more sponsors depart and hundreds of families see jobs go away. That might be an extreme way of looking at it, but it is certainly possible if sponsors don’t see the value in the tens of millions of dollars invested and the PR too damaging to their brands.

A good take from the Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass, linked here, suggests NASCAR needs to implement a “grand plan” to soothe sponsors and their concerns. Pockrass notes there are elements where NASCAR is already involved in direct communication with sponsors – notably via Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps – but that needs to expand in the wake of the Richmond controversy.

As a fan, you want to see sponsors – regardless of series – do the job of activating and creating a connection that spurs you to root for said sponsor and buy more of their product. As a sponsor, you ideally want to be successful in all three aspects of performance, awareness and moral standards.

Depending on the fallout the rest of 2013 as it relates to sponsor movement, we’ll see which of the three takes precedence in the motorsports landscape.

Latest Posts
  1. Mercedes and Williams unveil 2015 cars as F1 testing begins

    Feb 1, 2015, 5:00 AM EST

    F1 Testing In Jerez - Day One Getty Images

    F1 pre-season gets underway in Jerez with the first public test.

  2. Red Bull RB11 launched in camouflage testing livery

    Feb 1, 2015, 4:35 AM EST

    F1 Testing In Jerez - Day One Getty Images

    Something out of the ordinary from Red Bull as pre-season testing begins in Jerez, Spain.

  3. Jimmie Johnson likes new Chase format, but misses the one that brought him six championships

    Jan 31, 2015, 11:09 PM EST

    jimmie johnson 2015 media tour AP AP

    Given the way the 2014 season turned out for him, Jimmie Johnson would have preferred to see the old Chase for the Sprint Cup format rather than the new elimination format.

  4. NHRA: Alan Johnson Racing moves forward without Al-Anabi

    Jan 31, 2015, 5:13 PM EST

    Alan Johnson (Photo courtesy AlanJohnsonRacing.com) Alan Johnson (Photo courtesy AlanJohnsonRacing.com)

    With Al-Anabi Racing now defunct, team owner Alan Johnson has picked up the remnants and intends on racing one Top Fuel dragster, with 2013 champ Shawn Langdon behind the wheel, in at least the first two races of the 2015 season.

  5. Jeff Gordon: Chase Elliott is ‘right guy’ to keep driving No. 24

    Jan 31, 2015, 4:01 PM EST

    jeff gordon no. 24 Getty Getty Images

    Jeff Gordon wanted to see his successor continue on the legacy of the No. 24 car. Chase Elliott is happy to continue that tradition.

  6. Gutierrez enjoying life with Ferrari in third driver role

    Jan 31, 2015, 4:00 PM EST

    Ferrari Car Launch Getty Images

    Mexican driver is excited for the return of his home grand prix in November, even if he won’t be racing.

  7. Indy Lights notes: Juncos leads oval test, Chilton digs ovals, Piedrahita confirmed

    Jan 31, 2015, 3:30 PM EST

    Photo: Indy Lights Photo: Indy Lights

    News and notes after Indy Lights wraps up its week of testing in Homestead.

  8. Richard Childress Racing settles lawsuit with Matt McCall, Jamie McMurray’s new crew chief

    Jan 31, 2015, 3:21 PM EST

    Matt McCall (Image courtesy racing.quickenloans.com) Matt McCall (Image courtesy racing.quickenloans.com)

    Richard Childress Racing and Matt McCall have reached settlement on a lawsuit that sought to keep McCall from becoming Jamie McMurray’s crew chief for the 2015 season.

  9. Perez “extremely motivated” for new F1 season

    Jan 31, 2015, 3:00 PM EST

    Mexican Driver Sergio Perez Visits Hermanos Rodriguez Circuit Getty Images

    Mexican driver feels that Force India’s hunger can take the team up the grid this year.

  10. NASCAR: Kenseth’s DeWalt sponsorship schedule revealed

    Jan 31, 2015, 2:30 PM EST

    Sprint All-Star Race Qualifying Getty Images

    Kenseth and DeWalt are back together, and the six-race sponsorship dates are revealed.

  11. Report: No get-out clause in Fernando Alonso’s McLaren contract

    Jan 31, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    McLaren-Honda Announces New Driver Line-Up For 2015 Getty Images

    Ron Dennis makes clear that Alonso is locked into his new contract with the British team.

  12. In interview, Franchitti reflects on life without driving, a full year later

    Jan 31, 2015, 1:30 PM EST

    Dario Franchitti (right) has embarked on a new career path as a consultant for Target Chip Ganassi, with particular emphasis helping his hand-picked replacement and defending Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan. (Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Herald Scotland checks in with Dario Franchitti on his new life outside the cockpit.

  13. Rosberg and Hamilton ready for the rematch in 2015 (VIDEO)

    Jan 31, 2015, 1:00 PM EST

    Germany F1 Stars and Cars AP

    Prepare for round two with Hamilton and Rosberg as they set their goals for the season ahead.

  14. Preparation key for all-rookie Toro Rosso line-up in 2015

    Jan 31, 2015, 12:30 PM EST

    © Toro Rosso © Toro Rosso

    With a combined age of 37, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. forge the youngest line-up in F1 history in 2015.

  15. NASCAR AMERICA: Drivers predict Super Bowl XLIX winner (VIDEO)

    Jan 31, 2015, 12:00 PM EST

    superbowl_nbc

    Patriots or Seahawks? NASCAR’s top drivers make their picks for Sunday’s Big Game.

  16. Watch how Ferrari’s new F1 challenger gets stickered up (VIDEO)

    Jan 31, 2015, 11:30 AM EST

    Ferrari Car Launch Getty Images

    Watch a time lapse video of how the Ferrari SF15-T gets stickered up in advance of the 2015 season.

  17. Toro Rosso reveals STR10 ahead of Jerez test

    Jan 31, 2015, 11:21 AM EST

    © Toro Rosso © Toro Rosso

    Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. lift the covers from the team’s 2015 car, marking its tenth year in F1.

  18. NASCAR: Xfinity driver Daniel Suarez, ex-NFL WR Willie Gault win Gridiron Challenge (VIDEO)

    Jan 31, 2015, 10:30 AM EST

    NASCARGridiron

    Highlights from the special event featuring NASCAR drivers and former NFL stars.

  19. Kvyat raring to go ahead of pre-season testing (VIDEO)

    Jan 31, 2015, 10:00 AM EST

    Kvyat 311 Getty Images

    He may have risen rapidly up to a seat at Red Bull, but Daniil Kvyat is not feeling under pressure.

  20. Complete line-up for the Jerez F1 pre-season test

    Jan 31, 2015, 9:00 AM EST

    F1 Testing in Jerez - Day Four Getty Images

    All of the information you need for the first official F1 test of the year.

More from NASCAR America

Elliott: 'Common bond' unites inductees
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. C. Elliott (1723)
  2. J. Gordon (1268)
  3. R. Blaney (1202)
  4. C. Custer (1187)
  5. C. Eggleston (1177)
  1. B. McReynolds (1154)
  2. R. Chastain (1128)
  3. N. Drake (1113)
  4. A. Almirola (1059)
  5. K. Larson (1019)