Teams’ Search For Dollars Tougher As Costs Are Up And Economy Is
Team sponsorship has been the lifeblood of NASCAR since June 19, 1949, the day NASCAR’s founder, Bill France Sr., promoted his very first race on a small dirt track in Charlotte, N.C.
In those days sponsors were mostly local
independently owned garages, restaurants or auto part stores. Often times, instead of money, it was use of the shop, hamburgers for the crew or parts for the car.
By the 1970s, top teams in NASCAR’s premier Grand National division (named for the movie National Velvet about horse racing that starred Elizabeth Taylor) could operate on 29-race schedules for $100,000 per season - yes, that’s per season.
Forty years later, there’s simply no comparison.
Sponsorships among championship-caliber teams in 2011 is estimated in the $20 million range for the 36-race schedule. That’s some $555,555.00 per race on the short tracks, intermediates, superspeedways and road courses used from February through November.
Ask any of today’s Sprint Cup team owners and they will tell you it’s a very tough sell to ask for that much money in this economy. When faced with the worst recession since the Great Depression of 1929, finding financial backing is close to impossible.
It’s one of the reasons Red Bull Racing is in jeopardy of closing its doors at season’s end, as the search for sponsorship to keep the team afloat is incredibly challenging.
To not be able to find sponsor dollars is affecting Sprint Cup teams across the board. As a matter of fact, many of the racing organizations among NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series have had to implement pay cuts and, in some cases, layoffs of crew personnel.
There’s confirmation that RCR Enterprises will cut back to three teams, eliminating the No. 33 team which currently employs Clint Bowyer, at season’s end.
Roush Fenway Racing is rumored to be looking at a three-team system as well, possibly eliminating the No. 6 team for which David Ragan drives.
Childress is incredibly thankful for his teams and would do almost anything to keep from going through a layoff at his Welcome, N.C., based facility. He searched high and low for funding for the No.33 Chevys in 2012, and beyond, but couldn’t put a deal together.
Childress is a master of making the dollars work for all sponsors involved. But times are tough.
“We at RCR do it a little different,” Childress said at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We try to sell our whole company and corporation. The driver is a huge part of it because he plays a large role in the marketing of the product but we also try to sell RCR and make sure that we get the return on the investment for all the companies that we’re associated with.
“At the end of the day I work for every one of these companies and I want to make sure I do a good job to get the return on their investment.”
It’s been said there are two lines of thinking where selling a sponsorship is concerned - either a sponsor looks for marketability or it is looking for championships and wins. Of course, it wants both, but it also realizes that money buys technology as well as speed.
Sprint Cup championship contender Kevin Harvick had fielded Nationwide and Camping World Series teams for many seasons. Recently, he elected to sell his truck operation to Childress in part to solidify the team.
So what does he think sponsors are looking for?
“I think it varies,” Harvick said. “Each sponsor is looking for something different. Obviously it is looking for something different in what it is trying to accomplish but I think the one key thing that we concentrated on over the years is to go above and beyond for the sponsor off the race track to make sure it is getting the things it needs.
“It’s not always about a contract. It’s more about a relationship outside of that contract and spending more personal time with the sponsors, getting to know them as people and not just somebody who is writing a check. The above and the beyond part is important because in this day and age it’s really not about 14 appearances and two hospitalities.
“Sometimes it’s about doing the little things that help it get through a situation when it needs something. The sponsor relations part of it is probably the most important job in making sure it is having fun, getting the things it needs and the return on its investment so it can go back and show that’s pushing the needle to make things better as far as branding is concerned.”
J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, is often in sponsorship negotiations for the organization’s three Sprint Cup and two Nationwide Series teams.
“The bottom line is you have to perform,” Gibbs said. “In today’s world, you have to perform. but you also have to show how the sponsor can move more product off the shelves, no matter what the business is.
“We have some great partners and we are able to do that and show them the value in NASCAR. There are a lot of industries that have gone through many different struggles, but I think you have to be real efficient in NASCAR. We still feel it’s a great place for new sponsors to come in.”
Some teams have even gone to spreading sponsorship throughout a season over several packages, thus, the reason why various paint schemes are featured throughout the year.
“Some race organizations have done that but you don’t have to do it that way,” Gibbs said. “That depends on what you’re primary sponsors are looking for and the value in it. But I think if you’re able to do that, great.”
But, overall, the conclusion is this: To realistically keep NASCAR’s top divisions healthy for years to come, the costs of racing must be reduced.
In addition to that, more creative ideas for saving money must continue to be adopted.