The Frontstretch: It's All Fun and Games -- But In NASCAR, Someone Is Bleeding to Death by Amy Henderson -- Friday September 25, 2009

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It's All Fun and Games -- But In NASCAR, Someone Is Bleeding to Death

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday September 25, 2009


It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

Remember hearing that phrase as a kid? It was usually connected to doing something like running with scissors, or swordfighting with your brother with the kitchen knives. Anything where the “fun” was getting out of hand and becoming potentially dangerous; hence, the lecture.

Guess what?

Things are getting out of hand.

It’s not an eye being lost per se, but instead teams are bleeding dry while NASCAR pretends there is nothing wrong. Two major sponsors — Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam — announced this week they will not return in 2010, leaving Casey Mears’ future uncertain and Robby Gordon’s tenuous hold on the sport as an independent owner/driver a little bit weaker.

It’s not a liquor company issue that’s driving them away — the industry is weathering the recession well — but rather one of cost/reward. Simply put, these sponsors weren’t getting their money’s worth considering how much they were putting in. So, as soon as one pulled out, there was not reason for the other to stay — for if nobody sees the competition every week, well, you don’t need to fork out to try and compete. Time to move on to a cheaper market.

There are a few things at work in this mess; and while NASCAR denies there’s an issue, rest assured the bleeding continues.

Jack Daniel’s is the latest sponsor leaving the sport, a trend that will continue unless the brass at NASCAR take action now.

Let’s look at some specifics behind these sudden departures. The first thing going wrong is the skyrocketing cost of a Cup-level team. Ten or 12 years ago, a full-time Cup sponsor could be found for $4-5 million, while a top one might toss $10 million at a team.

But then, someone paid a little more. And then, the competition had to keep pace, so they shoveled out another couple million like common driveway gravel. Before we knew what was happening, suddenly it cost $20 million or more to field a competitive Cup car for a year, while the $5 million sponsor that once got a great deal of exposure in return can’t even buy the hood and quarterpanels of a top Nationwide Series car. And while the biggest companies toss the money into the pot, the smaller ones can’t possibly keep up with them. Some teams have had success running a number of smaller sponsors for a few races apiece, as Robby Gordon does, but that model hasn’t been reliable over the long-term. A solid primary sponsor, or possibly two, for the majority of the season is what keeps a team competitive — and there aren’t many of those left.

Compounding this issue is NASCAR’s habit of snapping up several choice sponsors for themselves when they could be on the hood of a race car. In fact, there have been rumblings of the sanctioning body actually stepping in and taking these from a team if they don’t like the fit. But whether that’s true or not, NASCAR’s practice is definitively destructive to their end product — the racing. If the racing isn’t competitive except for a handful of elite cars, everyone suffers: the fans, the small teams, the track owners, and so on. Eventually, this will have to bite NASCAR in the butt… right? Instead of “The Official Toilet Paper and Dill Pickle of NASCAR,” wouldn’t the Charmin Chevy racing door-to-door with the Vlasic Dodge be better for everyone involved? But the sport doesn’t see the long-term benefit of making sure there are teams on the track over the money they can pocket today. 20 years down the road, Brian France will be retired in his upscale condo; why should he care about the state of the family business when it no longer pays his bills?

Another problem that NASCAR is in no hurry to solve is the Cup teams taking the choice sponsors in the Nationwide Series, which reduces the level of competition (and eventually, fan interest) in that series. To their credit, they have introduced a few token cost-cutting measures, but the only one that will make a difference is to limit participation from big name Cup drivers. If you’re a smaller sponsor, it’s a no-brainer where you should land; after all, you can sponsor the same Cup guy in Nationwide for $10 million or so, less than half of what you’d pony up on his big league car. But these small-time deals are putting a big-time killing on the series. If those drivers were not allowed to race, the sponsors could get the exposure they need on the hood of a Nationwide regular, and probably for a couple million less. You can’t blame a sponsor for wanting maximum exposure — after all, that’s why they’re here — but there has to be a way to make it profitable for them without killing off race teams.

Finally, the television networks have to shoulder some of the blame, especially in the Nationwide Series. Too many sponsors who do sign on with smaller teams don’t see 10 seconds of airtime when the Cup drivers control the airwaves. That’s important, as sponsors are essentially buying exposure; a car shown often during a race is a rolling commercial, and commercial time is very valuable. A popular driver should be no problem; in theory, he’ll get more airtime during a race than five or ten commercials, and that’s money in the pocket of the sponsor. But the airtime has to be there, and more and more often, it’s not. You can’t even count on the networks for one full-field rundown during a race, let alone the five to 10 cars they should be showing. And if these companies aren’t being seen on TV, there is little value in putting decals on a race car for a sponsor.

And so, the sport bleeds. A few drops have become a steady flow, and if that isn’t staunched, it could become a life-threatening hemorrhage — which means it will be too late. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the answer is right now; but without a cap, there will always be a few sponsors who will throw more cash at teams than anyone else, and those teams will take the lion’s share of spoils in both race results and exposure for the sponsor. If NASCAR were to help, and not hinder, funneling sponsors to the race teams, it would be a start, as would keeping the Nationwide Series for the Nationwide drivers and not the Cup egomaniacs who use it as a cheap way to win another trophy, thereby returning sponsorship to the real teams. So would the networks pledging to show every car in every race a few times.

But clearly, something needs to be done. Before someone loses an eye.

Contact Amy Henderson

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Joe C.
09/25/2009 06:06 AM

Not questioning the whole article’s point, but how much of the “cost/reward” issue of Jack & Jim leaving is related who they were sponsoring?

09/25/2009 06:33 AM

You beat me to the punch Joe. How much exposure can a company expect sponsoring a car and driver who has consistently run in the 20s his whole career?

Still, Amy’s right about the Nationwide Series. I think NASCAR needs to start taking all of the Nationwide races to other venues on race weekends, which would strongly discourage Cup drivers running for Nationwide titles. Who cares if Kyle Busch beats all of the minor leaguers?

The Turnip
09/25/2009 07:35 AM

Very nice article and summation of NA$CRAP “SPONSORS”, and the dilemna they face.

From NA$CRAP itself stealing sponsors from
teams, BUT to what I think is the most important issue is the TOTAL LACK OF TV COVERAGE A CAR/DRIVER GETS IF HE IS RUNNING 12TH OR WORSE IN A RACE! ANY RACE!

On any given Sunday, 31 cars are on the track, with ZERO TV coverage!

No folks, this is NOT a “Robby Gordon” issue, he does just fine giving his sponsors their money’s worth, from a driver & owners standpoint that is. What he can’t give them, is ANY TV coverage as the nitworks have their favorite 12 (well, ok, 13, but Jr. is dying fast theses days and even he is not getting the coverage of old)!

I have often questioned myself why ANY sponsor would pay the big bucks to support any of the 31 cars, week in, week out, that get ZERO press coverage on a Sunday!

Maybe with the economy tightening as it is, more sponsors will realize how fool hardy this is!

And with the advent of “THE CHASE”, and all the coverage these 12 cars get, (thank you Mr. Farce), the bottom 31 cars simply don’t stand a chance!

But again, NA$CRAP is lurking in the shadows to sign these sponsors for themselves and to line their own pockets!

The teams be damned!

Ghost of Curtis Turner
09/25/2009 08:07 AM

You guys are preaching to the choir. But unfortunately we are the only ones listening. The head “coke” drinkers at NA$CAR are the ones who should be listening but… they aren’t….. I guess when the last major sponsor leaves that’s when they might wake up….. but I doubt it… they are to self centered an egotistical to admit they made a mistake with the carp of tomorrow, the chase and everything else that has been responsible for people and now sponsors leaving.
Interesting that they are crucifing Mayfield, but His Royal Highness doesn’t have to wee wee in the cup…..not that we would ever see the real results from that test either….. just like the fans when debirs cautions are thrown, soon Brian Boy will be scratching his head wondering were all the sponsotrs went.
Peaace out.

09/25/2009 08:13 AM

If I were king, any network that broadcasts a race would be required to go through the entire field, at least once, giving each team (and sponser) their 20 seconds in the limelight. Even if someone is having a lousy race the sponsor gets a bit of exposure.

09/25/2009 08:53 AM

One good thing about JR not having a good year is when they do show him running mid pack or even passing a few cars as he is finally doing, is we get to see the cars around him. Their sponsors should thank their lucky stars that Jr isn’t doing well because we see Streeme, Gordon, Sorrenson, McMurrey,Hornish and Regan on a regular basis. These cars seem to be running around each others every week,so their sponsors get some incidental air time since Jr gets mentioned even if he isn’t having a stellar season.

09/25/2009 09:36 AM

It’s so typical that everyone is ready to be critical and not have an idea on the solution…
Fan interest was waning before Brian France took over back in 2003. Its not the chase its not the COT. It’s the fact that NASCAR has run its course with the general public and they just don’t care about it. Plain and simple. Time for everyone to move on to UFC

09/25/2009 11:38 AM

I sure miss the Coors light Dodge, oh that’s right, NASCAR has them sponsoring the pole award! They just need to find a way to give the sponsors more exposure on THE CARS. Between TV announcers and a general change in priorities at NASCAR it can be done. Otherwise the bleeding will continue. Wonder why the owners (especially outspoken ones) aren’t making more noise on this issue?

09/25/2009 12:03 PM

Another problem beside the the 20 million to sponsor a team is the bribe money it will cost you to have the car seen on TV.

09/25/2009 12:30 PM

Everyone is missing the big picture. NA$CAR is a business plain and simple.Does anyone think Big Bill began promoting races because he loved racing? He saw a way to make money.

The Turnip
09/25/2009 12:38 PM

right on “mike”, but most “smart” businesses nurture who brings in the money so the money keeps flowing!

Quite the opposite in NA$CRAP! King Brian cannot realize, or simply understand, that the MORE happy sponsors on the cars, the MORE money King Brain makes for himself, a win-win type thing!

But maybe King Brain has no brain cells left!

09/25/2009 12:50 PM


Great article, but your missed one important thing that has been in our faces so long that we don’t even see it anymore. The Na$car mandated “sticker pack” that every team has to junk up their paint scheme with in order to be allowed on the track. These are all “official products” of na$car that the team must run the decal in order to be allowed entry. It has gotten completely out of hand. These decals now take up the entire front fender, half of the door and part of the nose. Calculate the square footage of the space that cannot be used for the team’s sponsor logos and imagine what that costs each team. And it is USELESS! The fans cannot read those on tv, certainly not from the stands, and what average fan knows or cares what Mahle or Stant is anyway? Not to mention it completely ruins whatever paint scheme/logos the artists have laid out for the sponsor and makes the car look like heck. I remember a Busch series (yes, Busch) car that Dale Jr. ran a few years back with Reese’s as the sponsor, and they had none of that mess on the car, and it was the best looking race car I have ever seen. I don’t know how they got away with it, but it looked great.

Short story long, this is an egregious case of na$car stealing limited and valuable advertising space on each and every race car.

Keep up the good work. Dave

The Turnip
09/25/2009 01:44 PM

Dave, right on, and help me out here, my memory won’t quite bring back the exact circumstances, but in the past (recent?) years, one team refused to place one of the “official” NA$CRAP stickers on their car and were penalized in some form or fashion. I just can’t get that part of my brain working (no jokes please)!

Anybody remember this?


AND! Congratualtions Danica Patrick! Smart move!

Lunar Tunes
09/25/2009 01:53 PM

To Jeff: Are you stupid or are you stoned? 2003 was about the apex (that means highest point)of fan interest. Dale Sr’s death brought more fans to this sport than anything that has ever been done before. France was ecstatic (very very happy)about the fan base and wanted to capture even more of the ‘casual fans’ and started all his idiotic (stupid) moves and changes. In doing so, he alienated (pissed off) most of the true fans. Casual fans are, by definition, just that….casual, and are easily distracted by say, a piece of dust, so they are gone now too. You got to play to your core audience, man! Liken (compare) nascar’s situation to say, Alice Cooper suddenly producing rap albums. Yeah, that’s gonna sell!
Oh, btw….WTF is UFC?

Lunar Tunes
09/25/2009 01:59 PM

Oh you mean the Ulimate Fighting stuff??? Where I live, we call that a ‘Tavern’. Come on down!

Doug in Washington (State)
09/25/2009 02:22 PM

Actually very few of the stickers are “required”. They need the Sprint sticker, the Sunoco sticker, and the Goodyear sticker. There might be a couple others.

The rest of the stickers are “Contingency” stickers that pay out as part of the award money. You want to see a car with very, very few contingency stickers? Look at the Red Bull cars. VERY devoid of stickers (and the “award money” shows it- The 83 made less money winning the Michigan race than the 2nd place car of Jeff Gordon, which is plastered end-to-end with contingency stickers like all the Hendrick cars). But none of the Hendrick cars run the WIX sticker, so they aren’t eligible for that particular “award”. Roush doesn’t run the WIX sticker either (they run a K&N sticker).

In fact the Red Bull cars run less contingency stickers than most of the Start-and-Park cars.

As far as “penalizing” I do recall that Petty Enterprises refused to run the Budweiser sticker, and as such were ineligible for the Bud Pole award (or even to be in the shootout).

Kevin in SoCal
09/25/2009 03:09 PM

According to the ratings, 2005 was the best year in NASCAR on TV. And its all downhill after that.

The Turnip
09/25/2009 04:29 PM

Hey “Doug in Washington State”!

BINGO! And a big thanks for remembering the Petty Enterprises situation, that indeed is the one I was trying to remember.

Yes, most are “contingency” stickers, as opposed to actually being “penalized”, such as the Petty situation! That takes it out of the optional “should I, shouldn’t I” category, and puts it in the “penalty” category!


And on a different subject, while out riding the lawnmower and thinking, (hey, I can think, once in a while anyway), one of the reasons I don’t watch the “events” (can’t really call them races now can we?), you used to be able to tune in and within a reasonable amount of time, find out where you favorite drivers were running, even if they were say 40th, but at least you knew!

For a few years, one of the drivers I followed was Robby Gordon, (I admit it, I like Robby), heck, in recent years you could watch for a full hour before ANY mention of say 15th thru 43rd.!

And with the “chase” (can we “chase” that out of town?), it is even worse!

And they have this scrolling at the top of the screen! BUT! Guess what?

The scrolling starts at #1, goes to about 20th, and then they stop it to show a commercial or whatever!

Then they go back to #1, AND DO THE SAME THING ALL OVER AGAIN!

What kind of CRAP is that?

mkrcr (in WA)
09/25/2009 10:46 PM

Doug in WA, thanks for saving me a bunch of typing. Those stickers mean money to teams at all levels of racing.

Bad Wolf
09/25/2009 11:19 PM

I’m one disgruntled fan turned off by Brain France and his insane changes to Nascar. I used to attend Nascar races each year and never missed a race on TV, but now I don’t give a crap and don’t watch.

I put in well over 30 years following Nascar and Brain France turned me off with all his insane changes to the sport I grew up with. If you told me 10 years ago I would not be following Nascar I would have called you a fool.

Thanks Brain France for ruining Nascar for me.

One more thing; Hows that ticket package scam working for you in Kansas? I received a mailing from Kansas Speedway crying for me to buy tickets for the cup race, but they still insist on scamming the fan for the whole package they don’t want. Screw you and I hope the stands are empty next month.

The Turnip
09/26/2009 08:45 AM

Hey “Bad Wolf”, RIGHT ON!

I could have written the very same thing, just change the 30 years to some 40+ years!

Yep, back in the days when things were exciting! I can still feel the adrenalin flowing when I think about the old days, now, gee, golf is even interesting to watch!

How sick is that?

09/26/2009 09:40 PM

One thing, Turnip, Morgan Shepherd wouldnt run the Budweiser sticker due to his Christian convictions..
Right on, Morgan.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.