The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season saw a lot of firsts. Among them: the first season for new premier series sponsor Monster Energy. The company reportedly signed a two-year contract with NASCAR paired with a two-year option to continue. In a sign of the times for the sport, the contract was considerably less than previous series sponsor, Sprint. Monster became just the third company to back the Cup Series since Winston first came on board in 1972.
However, that fact that didn’t alarm too many people. Monster Energy seemed like the perfect fit for NASCAR. They had already sponsored several different motorsports divisions and the thought was they’d bring a younger audience into stock car racing. There was also a belief the company would bring a rougher style. After some critics felt Sprint was too corporate toward the end of their tenure, an energy drink could provide a boost of fresh air.
When the season started, however, Monster appeared behind the curve. Limited at-track displays and signage combined with a feeling less money meant less attention for the sport. There’s still concerns among some in the garage activation isn’t going far enough.
As the season went on, the company revealed more of its strategy. We saw a monster truck show, trophy girls that were a little more ‘risque’ and even an MMA fight. All those were good ideas, but most of them were one-time occurrences.
By November’s season finale, those gimmicks had also faded into the background. Monster’s creativity was replaced by concerns they would not activate their two-year option beyond the 2018 season. Future primary sponsorship of Kurt Busch at Stewart-Haas Racing was also unsettled as of this writing.
The deal that Monster Energy signed with NASCAR was reportedly worth around $20 million per season. Previous sponsor Sprint reportedly paid about $50 million per year for their sponsorship. In attendance for this year’s Daytona 500, I did notice the lack of signage for Monster Energy. It was a little alarming but I figured the new primary sponsor was simply coming up to speed. Later, NASCAR added a pit stall with Monster Energy signage where all their people sat during races.
However, looking back on the year it felt too much like a little extra push from Monster was missing. In some ways, it wasn’t all that different from 2016 when Sprint was planning their exit from the sport.
Maybe I was expecting Monster Energy girls to be standing outside tracks in kiosks handing out Monster Energy drinks to fans. Or maybe I expected to see more signage with drivers holding Monster cans. Maybe I thought there would automatically be more aggression? Whatever I expected, I didn’t notice anything too different. That ‘edge’ that Monster tried to bring didn’t translate.
For their part, Monster reportedly asked to extend their sponsorship renewal deadline in September. NASCAR was quick to back up that report with compliments on the partnership.
“There’s still some things we’re learning about each other,” said NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps. “Overall, I think it’s working for them quite well.”
Now, we find ourselves at a crossroads. As the company enters its final season as title sponsor the sanctioning body would like an answer sooner than later on that two-year option. If they decide to decline, NASCAR would be looking for a new title sponsor for the 2019 season and another “lame duck” situation for 2018.
If NASCAR doesn’t get an answer soon, that could also put them in a tight spot. When Sprint announced their plans to leave, they gave nearly a year-and-a-half to find a replacement. Monster Energy would also be leaving at a vulnerable time for NASCAR, right after the departure of its biggest names: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick, and Matt Kenseth, to name a few.
Will Monster Energy renew their sponsorship? I don’t think so. From my perspective, there’s a disconnect between NASCAR’s marketing team and Monster about how to promote the sport. While the intentions of both sides were pure, the fit doesn’t seem to be exactly right.
Time will tell whether both sides choose to fix their differences or simply move on. Either way, 2018 brings a new challenge for Monster along with an opportunity to invest in young talent. With Earnhardt, Patrick, and Co. sitting on the sidelines, can NASCAR’s young talent mesh with the company’s younger, edgier ideas to market the sport?
“It’s somewhat of a transition time in NASCAR right now with a number of veterans that have been a part of the sport for a long time like the Busches and Harvicks and Kenseths and Juniors,” Monster’s VP of Sports Marketing Mitch Covington said back in March. “All those guys have been there a long time and now you have the Blaneys and Elliots coming along and those guys want to make a mark. I’m hoping what we see is a new crop every year or so, so that it’s always a transition.”