Sep 25, 2013, 4:00 PM EST
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field Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe’s cars since Philip Morris tobacco money exited at the end of 2010 (livery was withdrawn at the end of 2009).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.
Nov 23, 2014, 8:30 AM EST
F1′s feeder series comes to a close in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
Nov 23, 2014, 7:45 AM EST
The third tier single seater series comes to a close in Abu Dhabi, with Alex Lynn winning the championship.
Nov 23, 2014, 7:15 AM EST
Nico Rosberg will lead the grid away for the 11th and final time in 2014 later today.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:45 AM EST
Nico Rosberg and Lewi Hamilton’s date with destiny awaits in Abu Dhabi today.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:30 AM EST
Spaniard responds to comments made by Ferrari team principal Marco Mattiacci earlier this week.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:00 AM EST
The 2014 Formula 1 season has been a sensational one, but the championship will finally be decided today in Abu Dhabi. Will it be Lewis or Nico?
Nov 23, 2014, 5:48 AM EST
Changes made to the cars overnight warrant another penalty for Red Bull.
Nov 23, 2014, 1:57 AM EST
“I believe in miracles but not this time. Lewis Hamilton has got this.”
Nov 22, 2014, 11:21 PM EST
The world of motorsports — particularly NASCAR and NHRA — is mourning arguably the best public relations person it has ever seen, Denny Darnell, who passed away Saturday.
Nov 22, 2014, 6:15 PM EST
Will Owen, who impressively won the 2014 USF2000 race as a rookie at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past May, is moving up the racing ladder.
Nov 22, 2014, 5:52 PM EST
Something a bit quicker than nine little reindeer…
Marco Andretti, Will Power, AJ Allmendinger go back to roots in big karting race this weekend in Las Vegas
Nov 22, 2014, 5:15 PM EST
Marco Andretti, reigning IndyCar champ Will Power and NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger, are all going back to their racing roots this weekend in Las Vegas, taking part in one of the biggest karting events of the season.
Nov 22, 2014, 4:45 PM EST
Luke, Lambert, crew chief for Ryan Newman, has been named Federal-Mogul Motorparts’ “Problem Solver of the Year.” And with it comes a $100,000 prize that he’ll receive Dec. 4 in Las Vegas.
Nov 22, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
The former Grand Prix regular and current sports car racer chats with NBCSN’s Will Buxton in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 22, 2014, 3:50 PM EST
Mallya attacks Red Bull following its double exclusion from today’s qualifying session in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 22, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
di Grassi climbs from 18th on the grid to second at finish in Putrajaya ePrix; Nick Heidfeld found to have made pit stop car change outside permitted area, relegated to 19th.
Nov 22, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
The stage is set for the final showdown on Sunday. Will it be Lewis or Nico?
Nov 22, 2014, 1:45 PM EST
McLaren junior driver moves up to second in the championship with feature race win in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 22, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
The new cancer center’s lobby will be named in honor of RHR’s late mother, who succumbed to colon cancer in 2009.
Nov 22, 2014, 1:15 PM EST
The British F1 debutant will start his first grand prix from 17th place tomorrow.
Video from NASCAR America
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