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field Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe’s cars since Philip Morris tobacco money exited at the end of 2010 (livery was withdrawn at the end of 2009).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.
Dec 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
BayernLB sues Ecclestone and his family holding for 345 million Euros.
Dec 20, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Dillon made a big first impression and then quietly learned the ropes in Sprint Cup.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Clint Bowyer endured the worst season of his Sprint Cup career in 2014. He hasn’t won a race since 2012, but 2015 could be a comeback year for him.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:40 AM EST
Can’t say these sweaters aren’t memorable.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:45 PM EST
Daughter of legendary Funny Car champ John Force, Brittany Force is out to prove that 2015 will be her year in NHRA Top Fuel racing.
Dec 19, 2014, 6:55 PM EST
Michael Schumacher’s son, Mick Jr., spent a recent testing day in a Formula 4 car, a possible prelude to following in his famous father’s footsteps.
Dec 19, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
Edwards’ Arris car won’t be hard to find in a pack next year.
Dec 19, 2014, 4:00 PM EST
Rare, intriguing call for CGR to put two lesser-experienced drivers in No. 01 car.
Dec 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EST
Williams’ stellar 2014 season, recapped in pictures and words.
Dec 19, 2014, 2:15 PM EST
Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth proved that consistency still pays.
Dec 19, 2014, 1:49 PM EST
The fan-favorite Sprint Experience at NASCAR tracks across the country is apparently no longer, according to a media report.
Dec 19, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
McMurray shined at the All-Star Race in May but missed out on a 2014 Chase berth.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:57 PM EST
Kyle Larson had a tremendous rookie season in 2014. If he was that good this season, imagine how much better he’ll be next season and seasons to come.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Felipe Nasr’s No. 12 rounds out the F1 grid number choices for 2015.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Jean-Eric Vergne signs with Ferrari as a test and development driver, which means a bunch of simulator work.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:17 AM EST
RC Enerson moves up from USF2000 to Indy Lights.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Multiplatinum artist to rock out before 2015 running of the Great American Race.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:37 AM EST
Party like it’s 1996 in 2015 – Panis and Herta sons signed to deals.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:51 PM EST
It lasts only four months, but there’ll be lots of action on the schedule for the 2015 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:26 PM EST
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be slinging some pre-Christmas dirt this Saturday in an all-star sprint car race in DuQuoin, Ill.
Video from NASCAR America
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- IndyCar champ Will Power’s hidden talent — breakdancing 0
- NASCAR: Bubba Wallace confirmed for Roush Fenway XFINITY program 1
- Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 13 – Chase Elliott wins final Nationwide Series championship at record age 0
- CVC adds di Montezemolo, Walsh to Board of Directors for F1; Bernie stays on 1