Anheuser-Busch is scaling back their advertising when it comes to NASCAR competition. They are no longer the official beer of NASCAR, they didn’t want to pony up the increased price tag to keep their name on the car of the sport’s most popular driver… and they are no longer going to pay the fees required to have their name on NASCAR’s second-most popular series. As a result, the folks in Daytona have found a new sponsor to take advantage of some remarkable marketing opportunities with all of the bent-up sheetmetal that happens on a weekly basis in the series: Nationwide Insurance.
Nationwide has signed a seven-year agreement to be the title sponsor for what is now the Busch Series, taking over for Anheuser-Busch, who has been in control since the series’ “inception” in 1982. The insurance company is not new to NASCAR; Nationwide has had an agreement with Speedway Motorsports for the past eight years, and provided free transportation at SMI tracks along with information guides. They will also become the official auto, home and life insurance provider of NASCAR with this agreement, taking over the role that is currently occupied by Allstate.
It is going to be interesting to see where this sponsorship will lead for a series that has suffered in recent years. Obviously, having an alcohol sponsor had put some limitations on the marketing capabilities of NASCAR when it came to targeting younger fans, which tend to make up a greater percentage of those attending the races for NASCAR’s junior series… especially considering the cheaper ticket prices and smaller crowds. Now, the sport should now have a greater ability to target a larger audience, including minors, when marketing their biggest feeder series… especially since there will no longer be any concerns about targeting minors with alcohol advertising.
Hopefully, Nationwide will fulfill the promise that they are making with their statement: “We look forward to putting tremendous energy and resources into supporting this sponsorship and advancing the profile of the NASCAR Nationwide Series.” It would be great to see the series become even stronger and hopefully begin to stand more on its own. Where that begins is making a name for itself apart from Nextel Cup; Nationwide needs to quickly recognize there can be more standalone events rather than all of the companion ones to the Nextel Cup Series that are currently run. There are racetracks all over the country that would love to have Nationwide Series races and don’t host Cup level competition; of course, more standalones would also result in a reduced number of Cup drivers taking up starting positions from series regulars due to the travel time and difficulties in running both series. With the company’s experience in running the Nationwide Tour for the PGA, the chances of them both recognizing and capitalizing on those future opportunities should be high.
There are also going to be an enormous number of marketing possibilities for drivers to make a difference, far more than those offered through Anheuser-Busch. On the agenda for the Nationwide Series is personal appearances at schools, as well as civic organizations promoting safe driving and helping to market the sport to the younger audience that will benefit most from those kind of visits. Revitalizing the fanbase will prove critically important for a series which has seen a drop-off in attendance in 2007 after the two highest-attended years in series history. The dilemma of falling attendance and ratings is something that NASCAR is struggling with across the board, and this new face and energy brought on by the new partnership will hopefully initiate a rebound.
The other thing that will hopefully come out of this new relationship is an increase in race purses. One of the biggest blights on the Busch Series is that the purses are abysmal; once you get below the driver who wins the race, the purse often barely covers the cost of the weekend’s entry. Coming in second in a Nationwide Series race will hopefully be more lucrative and more rewarding than what the Busch Series has been reduced to over the past few years. Simply put, the people who are spending all of the money to race in these races deserve to be rewarded a little more handsomely than they have been.
NASCAR continues to pull away from their traditional sponsor agreements and branch out into more and more mainstream partnerships. The tobacco connection left when Nextel took over the Cup Series; now, alcohol is going away as the sponsor of the biggest feeder series. As the sport becomes more and more corporate and mainstream, it continues to attract these new and different sponsors, increasing the respect for their product across the sporting world.
Let’s hope that Nationwide goes all out in their new endeavor and helps make the purses respectable, the product exciting and the series worthy of the kind of attention it deserves. If they do this properly, the Nationwide Series could once again become the premier feeder series for Cup providing the kind of aggressive, grassroots racing that was its trademark in its early years.