Skip to content

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

Sep 25, 2013, 4:00 PM EDT

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. NASCAR AMERICA: Parity among Chase teams in Eliminator Round (VIDEO)

    Oct 20, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT

    Geico 500 Getty Images

    Six different teams are represented among the eight remaining Chasers, and NASCAR’s post-season is starting to resemble another familiar tournament. NASCAR AMERICA’s Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton discuss.

  2. NASCAR AMERICA: Is Ryan Newman’s Chase status up in the air? (VIDEO)

    Oct 20, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT

    Hollywood Casino 400 - Practice Getty Images

    Newman, one of the “Eliminator 8,” may be penalized tomorrow by NASCAR after his car was found to be too low following Sunday’s race at Talladega. Nate Ryan has more on the situation.

  3. Everything you need to know about the 2014 Chasers at Martinsville

    Oct 20, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger Getty Images

    Notes and numbers to keep in mind as the 8 remaining Chasers prepare to begin the Eliminator Round.

  4. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 7 p.m. ET recaps Talladega

    Oct 20, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT

    nascar america

    Recapping Talladega on NASCAR AMERICA.

  5. Despite elimination, Kyle Busch’s crew chief says Chase format is fair

    Oct 20, 2014, 6:01 PM EDT

    Geico 500 Getty Images

    A great post-season for Busch was erased by a mid-race crash on Sunday at Talladega, but crew chief Dave Rogers says there’s no point in blaming the rules of the new Chase.

  6. Remembering racing legend Raymond Beadle: ‘Once upon a time, I was the best at what I did’

    Oct 20, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT

    Raymond Beadle, who passed away Monday at the age of 70. (Photo courtesy Dave Rieff, ESPN) Raymond Beadle, who passed away Monday at the age of 70. (Photo courtesy Dave Rieff, ESPN)

    They say they always do things bigger in Texas, and that phrase would perfectly describe legendary former drag racer and NASCAR team owner Raymond Beadle.

  7. Doug Coby earns second NASCAR Whelen Mods title in three years

    Oct 20, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT

    NASCAR Whelen Modfiied Tour - Sunoco World Series 150 presented by Xtra Mart  - Thompson Getty Images

    Coby finishes 17th in the season finale at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway, but earns the 2014 series title by 22 points over race winner Ryan Preece.

  8. 3-time NHRA champ, NASCAR team owner Raymond Beadle dead at 70

    Oct 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    Photo courtesy: BlueMaxRacing.net Photo courtesy: BlueMaxRacing.net

    Beadle helped bring the “Blue Max” brand to prominence in drag racing, and guided NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace to his lone Winston Cup title.

  9. DTM champion Marco Wittmann to test for Toro Rosso

    Oct 20, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT

    WittmannDTM Getty Images

    DTM champion will test for Toro Rosso.

  10. Penske’s dream season still alive in Sprint Cup

    Oct 20, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT

    PenskeDega Getty Images

    Both of Team Penske’s drivers advance to Eliminator round of Chase, which saves the ignominy of one of the winningest drivers this year going home.

  11. FIA creates accident panel to investigate Jules Bianchi crash

    Oct 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-F1-ENG-SILVERSTONE Getty Images

    The organization says it will make a full presentation on its findings during the next World Motor Sport Council meeting in December.

  12. Weekend wrap: Brad Keselowski rises up to Talladega challenge

    Oct 20, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT

    Geico 500 Getty Images

    Love him or loathe him, Keselowski deserves respect for coming through in the clutch like he did on Sunday.

  13. Besides Cassill, several others score season-bests at Talladega

    Oct 20, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT

    WaltripDega2 Getty Images

    After Cassill, Kvapil’s sixth leads a quartet of more surprise drivers in top-20 Sunday at Talladega.

  14. Daniel Ricciardo makes a trip to Supercross in Las Vegas (PHOTOS)

    Oct 20, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Singapore - Qualifying Getty Images

    Ricciardo comes to the U.S. early for Supercross.

  15. The irony of a winless driver winning a title in the new Chase still exists

    Oct 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    NewmanKenseth Getty Images

    A potential nightmare situation for Sprint Cup’s new Chase still exists, in the form of two as-yet winless drivers still battling for a title in 2014.

  16. Landon Cassill posts career-best fourth place at Talladega

    Oct 20, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    CassillDega2

    Career day for Landon Cassill ends not only with his first Cup top-five, but first top-10.

Video from NASCAR America

Terry Labonte's milestone race
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. B. Keselowski (2195)
  2. K. Busch (1967)
  3. J. McMurray (1435)
  4. T. Stewart (1304)
  5. J. Gordon (1283)