Sep 25, 2013, 4:00 PM EDT
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field Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe’s cars since Philip Morris tobacco money exited at the end of 2010 (livery was withdrawn at the end of 2009).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.
Aug 30, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT
Lotus driver doesn’t think the removal of the gravel track at the corner will change a great deal.
Aug 29, 2014, 10:52 PM EDT
Severe looking three-car accident affects Mikhail Aleshin and two others.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
Harvick earns his sixth Sprint Cup pole of 2014 with the help of some advice from returning boss and teammate Tony Stewart.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Helio Castroneves on pole; Will Power struggles to P21 for Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying.
Aug 29, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT
The Nationwide Series rookie and Sprint Cup regular top today’s two practice sessions ahead of tomorrow night’s Great Clips 300 benefiting Feed The Children.
Aug 29, 2014, 7:06 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — According to Jeff Gordon, the last three Sprint Cup races just weren’t quite the same without Tony Stewart. Gordon is glad Stewart is back.
Aug 29, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, and Brian Vickers share their thoughts on Tony Stewart getting back behind the wheel in Atlanta.
Aug 29, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
The 500-mile shootout may be late Saturday night in Fontana, but still promises a bevy of story lines for the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale.
Aug 29, 2014, 6:25 PM EDT
NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan also reports on the atmosphere around Tony Stewart’s return at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Aug 29, 2014, 6:02 PM EDT
“…[Stewart] being in the race car right now is about him getting through what has been a very emotional two weeks, and what his next step is in coping with this.” – Stewart Haas Racing’s Brett Frood
Aug 29, 2014, 5:41 PM EDT
Brian Vickers and other winless drivers are facing big-time pressure to get a victory in the final races of the regular season.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Porsche GT-Cup class class to enter into Pirelli World Challenge in 2015.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Coming up today: More on the return of Tony Stewart at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Houston gone and momentum grows for Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, if a date can be found, for IndyCar.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Following an emotional press conference this morning, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion got back to work.
Aug 29, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — Tony Stewart didn’t just wake up Friday morning and decide he was going to return to NASCAR racing. Rather, NASCAR officials required that Stewart followed procedures and protocols that included him being evaluated by outside professionals.
Aug 29, 2014, 3:05 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Tony Stewart is still eligible to make this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR president Mike Helton announced Friday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But for that to happen, Stewart must win one of the next two races to get in.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — NASCAR president Mike Helton spoke with the media an hour after Tony Stewart read his self-prepared statement Friday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip Povero makes his first statement on the Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward Jr. crash investigation since Aug. 12.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch are fully in support of their boss, Tony Stewart, being back in a race car this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Video from NASCAR America
- Aleshin conscious following heavy accident in MAVTV 500 final practice 1
- Kevin Harvick wins Atlanta Sprint Cup pole; Stewart qualifies 12th 0
- Castroneves secures crucial MAVTV 500 pole; Power starts P21 for IndyCar finale (VIDEO) 2
- Jeff Gordon: Last 3 races weren’t the same without Tony Stewart 2
- IndyCar has 500 miles to glory, through speed, dirt, tire fall off and unpredictability 0
- How NASCAR determined Tony Stewart was ready to race again 4
- Helton: Tony Stewart still eligible for Chase, but must win to get in 3