Sponsorship money is the lifeblood of Nascar racing. But the sagging economic situation nationwide has caused some companies to re-think spending their money on race cars. Team owners are working hard to maintain business relationships to stay afloat.
By most accounts, 2011 was a banner year for Nascar racing. The Sprint Cup Series saw 18 different winners and five first time visitors to victory lane. And thanks to the closest championship battle in history, TV ratings were up as was attendance at most tracks. Yet, the quest for sponsorship dollars continues in a tough economy. Bringing new companies to the sport and keeping current ones can prove nearly as difficult as winning a title. "It's relationships. Aaron's is more than a sponsor could ever be. They're a partner," said Michael Waltrip, owner of Michael Waltrip Racing. "Napa is the same way. We're friends and we have each other's backs and we work hard to make sure whatever it takes to accomplish the goals of those companies, we do it."
Five years ago, top teams got close to $25 million for a full season. That number is down to about $18 million now. Sponsors have had to get creative to maximize exposure, and it's less about business deals and more about partnerships. "I think what it's caused in modern day racing, in motorsports, we're moving more and more toward the benefits you can bring off the racetrack to enhance what you are doing on the racetrack," said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs racing. "What we're seeing is more and more a business-to-business standpoint. Whether it's Coke machines in front of the Home Depot, to most of our sponsors shipping with FedEx, that is, I think, where our sport is going."
"It's been a tough economy, but to show these companies that there is value in Nascar is something I'm proud of," said Tony Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. "It's the best position we've been in. I think it's a sign that things are starting to turn around and are going to work their way back up."
With corporate backing at a premium, attracting new brands can often be tied to on the track performance, contributing to the gap between the haves and the have nots.