NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Shakedown Session: The Exclusive Sponsorship Catch-22

“The Exclusive Sponsorship Catch-22”

Much ado has been made in recent weeks of current Sprint Cup Series championship contender Matt Kenseth and his quest for sponsorship in 2012. Teammate David Ragan is also in the boat of looking for a sponsor. On the Nationwide side of things, guys like Justin Allgaier, Trevor Bayne and current points leader Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., among others are also looking for sponsorship, either partial or full-season deals in nature.

What exactly could be the cause of so many of these Roush drivers and even a guy like Justin Allgaier looking for additional backing? Could it truly be the economy? While that is a likely reason why these drivers are searching for funding to continue their careers, could the bigger issue point to NASCAR’s irritating “exclusive sponsorship” clause?

Case in point, the saga of Verizon Wireless, a company that desperately wanted to break into NASCAR’s top level, but due to the annoying meddling by the Series sponsor in Sprint, Verizon was reduced to the Nationwide Series with, ironically, Justin Allgaier. NASCAR’s official top series title sponsor put their foot down and said Verizon could not have a car in the Sprint Cup Series, which ultimately led to the cellular giant’s outright withdrawal from the sport.

While it could be argued perhaps that Sprint was merely “protecting its interests,” the fact remains that the exclusive sponsor clause pretty much blacklisted what could have been a fresh face to the sponsorship game. This is not the first time Sprint has pulled a power play like this. In a 2007 race at Atlanta, Robby Gordon was going to be sponsored by Motorola. However, the series title sponsor once again pitched a fit and denied another team additional revenue. Notice a trend here? (Editor’s Note: The parallel here is that Motorola came to Robby Gordon’s team by way of, you guessed it, Verizon Wireless)

Other examples over the years is when Domino’s Pizza was an official sponsor of NASCAR, it kept companies like Pizza Hut, who had been rumored at different times to have an interest in sponsoring a car in the sport, on the outside looking in. Bank of America’s “official bank of NASCAR” title has kept banks like MBNA out of the sport. Dish Network has been locked out by the presence of DirecTV in NASCAR.

Incredulously, NASCAR wonders why they can’t get any new sponsors to invest money in the sport. Hmm, let’s see… could it be because the sanctioning body has an official beer/tire/styrofoam cooler/whatever tchochkey piece of crap Michael Waltrip can shill endlessly sponsor of NASCAR and has, well, to put it bluntly, basically cockblocked additional revenue from coming in? Maybe if NASCAR loosened up on their “exclusivity clauses,” the series could again be lucrative to sponsors wanting to get into NASCAR.

Sadly, NASCAR realizing they’ve made a mistake with something and owning up to it is about as likely as Ron Paul getting elected the next president of the United States (no offense, Ron Paul supporters). One can only hope that there is some “change” in the sponsorship climate or there will be a whole lot of drivers looking for employment. Ragan’s future is uncertain, at best, even with a win this year. Trevor Bayne’s future is up in the air. Hell, even Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., due to lack of sponsorship, may become the next Stephen Leicht if NASCAR doesn’t wise up and loosen the reigns of sponsorship. But the big $64,000 question is, can they do so before it’s too late?

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