Thursday, February 21, 2013
NASCAR drivers need sponsors
Many of the sport's biggest names are entering the season without full support.
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For sale: made-for-TV premium ad space on the hood of the car of NASCAR's most popular driver.
Even Dale Earnhardt Jr. has coveted sponsorship up for grabs. In fact, his No. 88 Chevrolet lacks a primary sponsor for about one-third of the 36 Sprint Cup races this season.
The perfect corporate sponsorship has yet to materialize for Earnhardt and team owner Rick Hendrick. Both are preaching patience, believing the right deal will eventually fall into place, and not a dire sign that big business has soured on NASCAR.
"We're just looking for the right corporations that are a good fit for us, that are long term, that want to be in the sport for a while," Earnhardt said. "You don't just take the first guy that comes along."
Earnhardt is one of the lucky drivers who can afford to be picky in the race for cash.
But Hendrick is not alone when it comes to teams still trying to make all the sponsor pieces fit for a season that opens with Sunday's Daytona 500. Stewart-Haas Racing - owned and operated by three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart - has about 20 races spread out over three cars that need a top sponsor.
Earnhardt's sponsorship dried up when Pepsi, through Diet Mountain Dew and Amp, sliced its sponsorship from 20 races to five in 2013. The National Guard did bolster its support of the No. 88, going from 16 to 20 races. Earnhardt is somewhat hindered in finding the right fit because of conflicts with committed corporate sponsors. For example, his Pepsi deal is the reason he ditched Budweiser when he signed with Hendrick Motorsports for the 2008 season.
"You have to think about what's good for his image," Hendrick said. "Some of that has stopped us. There's been a lot of interest."
Hendrick announced at Daytona that he locked up Lowe's for five-time champ Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Chevy for 2014. Lowe's is likely one of the biggest sponsor spenders in NASCAR. While most numbers are never publicly announced, NASCAR insiders say it costs about $18 million to $20 million a year to fund an elite driver's car for a full season. Some of the low-budget teams try to get by on about $5 million.
"You can have the best financed team in the series, but if they don't know how to apply it, it doesn't matter," Stewart said. "There's teams that have taken less money and gotten better results out of it because they know how to use the money, where to put it."
Stewart-Haas lost the U.S. Army from Ryan Newman's No. 39 Chevy, and Office Depot is gone from Stewart's No. 14. Danica Patrick came aboard this season with the potential full-season sponsorship from Go Daddy. Winning the Daytona pole only spiked the buzz among all the brands.
Drivers are hampered by NASCAR policy in some cases. Sprint's exclusive naming rights deal for the Cup series eliminates other communications companies like AT&T from consideration, and big tobacco sponsorship money is no longer welcome in NASCAR.
But walking down pit road is still like entering a Costco: chips and soda, oil and beer, car parts and fertilizer as far as you can see. Still, challenges remain.
"It just continues to be a tough sponsorship market," said Jill Gregory, the NASCAR vice president of industry services who helps connect sponsors with teams. "There's more inventory available and I think teams are starting to have to get more creative. Some of that sponsorship that cascaded down to the Nationwide and Truck Series are sticking with Cup. There's more competition than ever."