Did You Notice? … The deal Dollar General had with Joe Gibbs Racing runs fewer and farther between in this sport? I took a look at the 2001 full-time Sprint Cup grid, the first year the series went to 36 races and looked at how many teams signed a primary sponsor for the same number of races Dollar General had (30). Here’s what I discovered…
2001: 41 of 42 Full-Time Teams (98 percent)
That’s right. Of the 42 teams attempting every race 15 years ago just one, the No. 97 driven by Kurt Busch did not have the same primary sponsor for 30 of 36 races. Why? Simple: Jack Roush’s No. 97 Ford started the season with Roush funding the car himself, running the first seven races with blank quarterpanels until Sharpie came on board. It was a different time then, one where cars were easily identified by the same type of paint schemes. Seeing that consistency week-in, week-out made it easy for fans to find their favorite driver rather than doing a double take every few weeks based on a sponsor rotation.
Before jumping ahead to 2016, it’s worth looking at that specific sponsor list from that era (keep in mind there are others that have come and gone during the past 15 years). I’ve grouped the 2001 set into three categories: companies that are still involved with a team as primary sponsor full-time, ones that are involved for a reduced number of races and ones that are no longer involved inside the sport.
Still Involved Full-Time (5): Lowe’s, M&M/Mars, Motorcraft, Shell/Pennzoil and Sprint* (we’ll count them since they’re the overall series sponsor).
Still Involved, Less Races (10): Budweiser, Caterpillar, DeWalt, DuPont (now Axalta), General Mills, Interstate Batteries, Kellogg’s, Miller Lite, Mobil 1 and NAPA.
No Longer Involved At The Cup Level as a Primary Sponsor (26): Amoco, Cingular Wireless (now AT&T), Citgo, Conseco, Coors Light, Dodge (two cars), GM Goodwrench, Georgia Pacific, Hills Brothers Coffee, Home Depot, Jasper Engines, Kmart (two cars), Kodak, Kodiak, Nations Rent, Oakwood Homes, Pfizer, Ralph’s Supermarkets, Square D, Texaco/Havoline, Tide, UAW/Delphi, UPS and Valvoline
Let’s add all that up. Just 15 of those 41 companies — a mere 37 percent — remain involved in the sport as a primary sponsor for at least a handful of races. Just five (12 percent) remain as full-time primary sponsors (30 races or more) for a Sprint Cup operation.
Certainly, the natural ebbs and flows of the economy outside of NASCAR play a role here. There are some sponsors on that list, like Nations Rent, that wouldn’t be in a position now to back a team regardless of how expensive it’s gotten. But this type of changeover in sponsorship showcases how much more difficult it is to pony up the cash for all 36 races. Companies have also learned that through special paint schemes, proper marketing and focus on the right events, they can get millions in mileage out of their sponsorship just by
backing a car for a fraction of the schedule.
That’s the challenge JGR and other teams face going forward. Let’s take a look at the present day and see how many full-time sponsorships exist.
2016: 11 of 40 Full-Time Teams (23 percent)
The list of companies making this commitment is so small you can list them below.
Aric Almirola – Smithfield Foods (31 races)
Trevor Bayne – Advocare
Ryan Blaney – Motorcraft
Kyle Busch – M&M’s/Mars (30 races)
Denny Hamlin – FedEx (34 races, plus two non-points races)
Jimmie Johnson – Lowe’s
Matt Kenseth – Dollar General (30 races)
Joey Logano – Shell/Pennzoil (33 races)
Casey Mears – GEICO
Paul Menard – Menards
Martin Truex, Jr. – Furniture Row
There are a few other deals that come close. Chase Elliott, for example, has NAPA for 24 races and Danica Patrick has Nature’s Bakery for 28. But that still doesn’t match the commitment Dollar General was willing to spend on a Chase-contending team.
Some will say, of course, the changeover in primary sponsorship is a good thing. With more races out there to fill per team there are more companies as a whole willing to spend money to put their name on a hood of a race car. However, patching deals together is also a result of rising costs. There are fewer businesses financially capable to foot the bill for a NASCAR team over a full schedule.
Car owners may understand the problem, coming together in the form of the Race Team Alliance (RTA), but you also wonder if they need to do more. If you take some of these companies, increase their commitment through reduced cost and release others to align with smaller teams, you wind up with greater parity, more owners in position to try NASCAR in all likelihood and a healthier sport.
There’s no magic solution to fix when a company like Dollar General leaves. Sometimes, a company’s marketing plan changes and there’s nothing anyone can really do about it. But what the sport can do is find a way to cut the price tag so when someone like DG jumps ship, you don’t need two to three companies replacing them. There’s only going to be so much money to go around.
Did You Notice? … NASCAR’s All-Star Race isn’t the only sport struggling with its athlete exhibition? A look at other stick-and-ball rivals shows you it’s a problem across all sports in America.
The 2.0 final rating recorded on FOX Sports 1, released Tuesday is the lowest for the event since 1999. It produced the smallest audience for any race this year outside of Kansas Mother’s Day Weekend and continued a downward trend that saw the race peak with a 4.3 rating back in 2005.
However, compare that to the NFL’s Pro Bowl, oft criticized for changes in format and for its inability to get players to give 100 percent during the game. Ratings this season were a 5.0, roughly half what it would be for a set of weekly NFL regular season games and the audience has dropped 25 percent from just two years ago.
How about the NBA All-Star Game? That’s held stagnant at a 4.3, well above their regular-season average but unable to move the Nielsen needle for the past three years despite improving popularity elsewhere. That stagnation occurred this year even though it was superstar Kobe Bryant’s final appearance. Then, there’s the NHL’s All-Star Game, which posted a 1.2, far below what NASCAR is pulling week-to-week.
The only sport, it seems that’s not struggling with their All-Star Game these days is Major League Baseball. They pulled a 6.6 overnight rating for their July spectacle last year, down significantly from years ago but still within striking distance of their worst-rated World Series game (7.8). With that said, keep in mind MLB’s All-Star Game has some inherent advantages. It occurs during a time in sports where no other major event is happening. It’s on a day where NASCAR doesn’t race and when the NFL, NBA, and NHL all lie dormant.
Was NASCAR’s All-Star Race a bit of mess this year? I think that story’s been well documented although Brad Keselowski would beg to differ. Would changing venues, better cars and a smaller group of “All Stars” help the cause? Of course. But as a whole, trying to make a “special event” for athletes fans see every week otherwise isn’t a problem germane to NASCAR. The social media revolution allows fans to now see their athletes off their “field of play” in a different way; one could argue there’s now overexposure. There’s also the threat of injury and, in NASCAR, costly expenses for these exhibition events that mean nothing in the grand scheme of someone’s season.
It all adds up to a very difficult sell for All-Star events, right? I think that’s across the board and it’s not going to get any easier. The way I look at it, at least Keselowski stepped up and tried something. At least NASCAR made an attempt to fix it. The answer here is far more complicated than it looks.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off…
- One other note on the All-Star Race. The 13 lead changes recorded (again, tough to gauge with the confusing rules) is technically the most in the history of the event. Add in the Joey Logano – Kyle Larson battle and I’d still call a set of confusing rules a step up from single-file all night long.
- Good news on the sponsorship front Wednesday as Fastenal has announced an extension with Roush Fenway Racing. As Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has performed this year I can’t help but think about his rookie season in NASCAR’s XFINITY Series. It was nothing short of a mess, Stenhouse had his back against the wall and then, all of a sudden “something clicked.” Is that happening again this season, the driver experiencing a renaissance when entering the latter stages of his contract?
About the author
The author of Bowles-Eye View (Mondays) and Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 30 staff members as its majority owner. Based in Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild.
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