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field Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe’s cars since Philip Morris tobacco money exited at the end of 2010 (livery was withdrawn at the end of 2009).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 29, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Bottas had been linked with a seat at Ferrari for 2016, until the team confirmed that it would be retaining Kimi Raikkonen.
Aug 29, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Lotus technical director Nick Chester reveals the cause of Maldonado’s DNF in the Belgian Grand Prix.
Aug 29, 2015, 9:03 AM EDT
Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas take Porsche to its fourth pole position of the season, edging out the sister no. 17 car.
Aug 29, 2015, 4:38 AM EDT
Marc Lieb storms to the top of the timesheets in the no. 18 Porsche, heading up a 1-2 finish in FP3.
Aug 28, 2015, 10:38 PM EDT
The title contenders sum up their chances heading into Sonoma.
Aug 28, 2015, 9:11 PM EDT
A long day on Friday ends with Will Power on top of the timesheets.
Aug 28, 2015, 8:11 PM EDT
Quick series of interviews and tributes flow in for Justin Wilson on site at Sonoma.
Aug 28, 2015, 7:16 PM EDT
The 10th place driver in NHRA Top Fuel standings gets released from his contract at DSR.
Aug 28, 2015, 6:40 PM EDT
Sage Karam speaks with reporters Friday at Sonoma Raceway.
Aug 28, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Marquez and Lorenzo continue their fight at the front of the MotoGP field in practice at Silverstone on Friday.
Aug 28, 2015, 4:09 PM EDT
IndyCar concludes its season at Sonoma this weekend.
Aug 28, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Prost and Buemi retained by the defending teams’ champion for season two.
Aug 28, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Porsche will debut a new aero kit at this weekend’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring in Germany.
Aug 28, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Finnish driver admits Williams expected to be further ahead than it is.
Aug 28, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Benoit Treluyer shoots to the top of the timesheets late on in FP2.
Aug 28, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Hamilton wrapped up the second annual FIA Pole Trophy last weekend in Belgium.
Aug 28, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Mallya expresses his delight in Force India’s form despite having a smaller workforce and budget than many of its rivals.
Aug 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Montoya, Rahal the two likely contenders to claim Power’s crown, as IndyCar looks for solace and a great race to end the season and ease the pain after the loss of Justin Wilson.
Aug 28, 2015, 7:44 AM EDT
First blood to Audi as its battle with Porsche is rekindled on home soil.
- IndyCar’s championship contenders ready their thoughts, minds for Sonoma finale 1
- Here are your NBCSN TV times, weekend coverage plan for IndyCar’s Sonoma season finale 0
- Preview: IndyCar will race to honor Wilson, and to close its season, at Sonoma 1
- Andretti to field No. 25 car at Sonoma; Oriol Servia to drive Wilson tribute car 4
- IndyCars cross the Golden Gate Bridge; pay tribute to Justin Wilson (PHOTOS, VIDEO) 5
- Fast Facts: GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma 6
- NHRA: Pro Stock driver Erica Enders hitting on all cylinders heading into U.S. Nationals 3