By admin | February 7, 2012
By Richard Allen
Back in the early and mid 2000s when Tony Stewart was pushing photographers around and NASCAR teams were receiving obscene amounts of cash and producing very little in return, sponsors apparently didn’t realize they had the power to demand more for their money. It seemed as though all $10-20 million bought a Fortune 500 company was the right to place their name on the side of a race car and a good seat in the corporate suites of most race tracks.
After all, sponsors seemed to be lining up for their chance to get involved with any Sprint Cup team when grandstands were full and television ratings were at their peak.
However, a dramatic power shift has occurred in the sponsor/team relationship of late as the lagging economy has discouraged companies from blindly throwing money toward NASCAR teams now that grandstands often reveal large pockets of empty seats and television ratings are off of those highs of a few years ago.
But economic times have been tough for a while so why have sponsors just now come to realize the power they have? Well, it seems as though the Busch brothers can be thanked for that. As amazing as it may seem, those who pay the bills had to be awakened to the fact that they can actually make demands of race teams.
Keep in mind that The Home Depot did once fine Stewart for his actions but that came off more as a PR grab than real disciplinary action.
However, when Kyle Busch intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday under caution in a Camping World Truck Series event at the Texas Motor Speedway, the Mars Candy company was rumored to have considered leaving Joe Gibbs Racing. And it seems as though that got the attention of those most dependant on the M&M’s maker’s cash. Busch was made to at least appear contrite as he sat on the team pit box after being benched by NASCAR for his actions.
But the real lesson to be learned by sponsors would be taught a few weeks later when Kyle’s older brother, Kurt, was caught on video blasting an ESPN camera crew in the garage area of the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Shortly thereafter, Kurt Busch and his Penske Racing team parted ways. Rumor has it that sponsor Shell Oil was very much a player in Busch’s departure.
Now, all of a sudden, sponsors are rumored to be demanding performance from lagging teams and drivers as well as expecting proper behavior from their high profile representatives. Lesson learned. Money does buy influence, especially when those willing to give it away aren’t lined up outside the doors of those Charlotte area team palaces otherwise known as garages like they were a decade ago.
Sponsors have realized the power they have. And it took the Busch brothers to teach them that lesson.
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