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« JGR right to ask Kyle Busch to step out of his truck, but will he do it? | Main | Kahne, Allmendinger and Danica have upgraded this off season »

Sponsors exerting greater influence over NASCAR drivers and teams in weak economy

By admin | January 2, 2012

By Richard Allen

 

In the high times of NASCAR back in the early 2000s teams could almost dictate terms to their sponsors. In good economic times with television ratings near their all time peak and fans being made to put their names on waiting lists for tickets at several tracks, teams had leverage over their backers. If one sponsor left there were seemingly several others waiting to take their place.

Now, with the economy lagging companies are apparently being more careful about how they spend their advertising dollars. Also, television ratings are well off of the numbers of a few years ago and grandstands often reveal large empty spaces at the drop of the green flag at many tracks. Those factors make NASCAR less attractive than it once was in terms of getting exposure for products.

Suddenly, sponsors seem to want more for the commitment they make to race teams when they write checks as large as $15-30 million.

At the end of the 2011 season, M&Ms asserted itself with Joe Gibbs Racing after Kyle Busch was benched by the sanctioning body from Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Texas Motor Speedway for intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday under caution during a Camping World Truck Series race at that same track.

The candy maker removed its name from the side of the JGR #18 car for the final two races of the season. And more, if reports are to be believed, Mars Candy came close to leaving the team all together.

It should be mentioned that this move was not without some precedent. Even in the high times of a few years ago, Home Depot fined and rebuked driver Tony Stewart after he engaged in some unruly behavior. But the action by M&Ms was more drastic in that they actually did remove their name from the car and threatened to leave the team.

Kurt Busch felt the sting of sponsor driven expectations even more severely than did his brother when he was removed(or mutually agreed to leave) from his ride at Penske Racing after being caught on video dishing out some rather surly comments toward an ESPN reporter and cameraman after he experienced mechanical troubles in the season’s final race.

Although the elder Busch’s employer had to be near the breaking point with the volatile driver, his ultimate removal from the #22 Dodge was no doubt at least somewhat motivated by an embarrassed sponsor.

Another recent incident involving a NASCAR driver had all the look of a sponsor/PR related scramble. Last week, Kasey Kahne posted on Twitter that he was repulsed by a woman openly breast feeding her child in a public market. That led to a number of angry responses from some of the driver’s followers. In one exchange, Kahne went so far as to call one woman a not-so-nice name after she voiced her disapproval of his earlier tweet.

Soon after, the posts were deleted and a formal apology was issued that had all the makings of being crafted by a public relations spokesperson. While the apology and removal of the tweets may very well have been the driver’s idea, it would be hard to imagine that sponsors and/or the PR savvy folks at Hendrick Motorsports in charge of placating sponsors didn’t have a hand in the sudden change of heart.

And while NASCAR drivers have always been among the most accessible professional athletes, it seems as though they are becoming even more accessible of late. On January 2nd, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made what he admitted was his first ever appearance at a college football game in Jacksonville, Florida. When asked why he had come to the game he candidly but light heartedly told the interviewer, “Taxslayer.com is why I’m here.” It’s probably safe to say that Junior would not have been at the game had one of his sponsors not requested it.

NASCAR, its teams and its drivers have always been quite conscious of how their actions will be viewed by sponsors. Now, it appears as though that viewpoint is taking even greater significance since the next $15 million sponsor isn’t waiting right around the corner.

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Topics: Articles |

10 Responses to “Sponsors exerting greater influence over NASCAR drivers and teams in weak economy”

  1. Offkilter Says:
    January 2nd, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Luckily for kurt, he found a sap to provide yet another ride. And kurt shall drive off into anonymity to the sunset of his career behind the wheel of mediocre equipment. But there is an upside for kurt. They don’t usually “bother” lap down drivers for interviews.
    His brother, Shrub, i mean kyle, who may be the most talented driver in the horendous COT era, learned from Mr. Hendrick that talent doesn’t always trump character. Yet he too repeatedly ignores the fact that there are only so many chances with top teams and its good to see that these sponsor just aint willing to put up with these spoiled little drivers’ crap.

  2. Russ Says:
    January 2nd, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    The ever inreasing need for dollars, from fewer and fewer companies has changed “the balance of power”. To attract those dollars, or retain them for that matter, concessins have to be made.
    The teams are in no position to refuse to do the sponsors bidding. The companies as business people want as much control as they can have over their money.
    Expect this to become more prevalent in the future, not less.

    Anybody want to bet whether Kasey Kahne got a little talking to about his escapades on Twitter?

  3. Bill B Says:
    January 3rd, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    IMO M&Ms removed their name from the car for the final two races as a PR ploy to make it look like they were doing something to reign in Kyle. I haven’t seen any official comment (on speculation) as to how close they actually came to leaving JGR.

    IMO, Penske was the main reason Kurt got released. It had more to do with his year long radio communications than the final straw of his youtube “interview”.

    As for Kasey, had it not been during the off-season when there is a vacuum of news, this would have been a minor story at best. But,,,, this is an example of why I can’t/won’t get on Twitter (sorry I can’t sign up to be a follower Rich). Leaving an electronic trail of your thoughts isn’t necessarily a good idea. Once something is out there in black and white you can’t take it back. If someone overheard him make the comment vocally (and not recorded) there are all kinds of ways to lessen the damage (i.e., it was taken out of context, the person who heard it didn’t hear the entire comment, etc..) but once it’s in black and white it is definitive. Likewise, if you have to censor everything you post on Twitter (like a NASCAR driver needs to) then what’s the point? It merely becomes another PR tool and not a window into the persons private (i.e., TRUE) feelings.

  4. Sue Rarick Says:
    January 3rd, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    This may turn out to be the most boring season. Drivers will be like all major corporation spokespeople. They will smile, give a perfunctionary answer, and smile some more.

    Bill B is right. Twitter if used will be for promotional use only. I do have a twitter account but only use it to promote. Same thing goes for Facebook. It’s just used for promotion.

    I think it’s funny that at a time when NASCAR wants to create media stars, The sponsors want to create vanilla spokespeople. My bet is that the sponsors will win this battle.

  5. Bill B Says:
    January 3rd, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Good point Sue. NASCAR’s desire to use the drivers’ personalities to bolster interest, ratings and attendance is completely in conflict for the sponsors’ desires for a good, non-controversial, company spokesperson.

    Corporate America has no balls. The first time some demographic gets offended and uses the word “boycott” they freak out.

  6. Russ Says:
    January 3rd, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Folks, remember why Nascar decided that they needed to shift the focus to the personalities, primarily but not exclusively the drivers. And this isn’t something that just happened.
    It began in about 1967 believe it or not. If you will recall that was after two years of boycotts by the only two manufacturers that were participating at the time. Ford in 1965, then Chrysler in 1966.
    Nascar made the decision that they couldn’t be held hostage to the manufacturers so they began to downplay the cars and equipment, and play up the drivers.
    I think you can make an argument that the COT and the 20 million dollar sponsors are a direct result of that. I mean you dont see the “East Tennessee Motor Co.” on the flank of a stock car today.

  7. Chris Fiegler Says:
    January 3rd, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    How Many First time Winners do you think that we will see in the Sprint Cup Series in 2012?

  8. djones Says:
    January 3rd, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    You know, corporate America ruined Las Vegas too. ;)

    KuB’s release must have been mutual. We never read where he sued Penske for what was owed him. I bet Roger was happy about that escape clause.

    @Russ, good post. It makes sense. Next I see drivers not using their car numbers on souvenirs (unless die casts) the way silly seasons have been going. And, especially with the one year contracts of late.

  9. Mr. Tony Geinzer Says:
    January 3rd, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Rich, I almost want the undying loyalty be thick as the paint, IE STP 43, Texaco 28 or Valvoline 6 and it kills me again and again when folks go from ride to ride and sponsor to sponsor.

  10. Offkilter Says:
    January 3rd, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    Sue…so its ok for kyle busch to wreck a driver on a caution lap at a high rate of speed just so we can say its not vanilla? You really don’t have a problem with kurt busch’s total lack of respect for anyone or anything on the name of not being bored?