Does NASCAR Need a Nike?
Besides auto racing, the other sport that earns my passionate attention is NCAA basketball, and like racing, my interest covers multiple levels. I follow the UNC Tar Heels, having earned my graduate degree there and worked there for six years. (After one UNC win over Duke, I swapped out the water cup on the pulpit at my church for a UNC stadium cup, which my Duke-grad pastor didn’t notice until he took a drink during his sermon.)
I follow the University of Richmond, my undergrad alma mater and a school that appeals to my love of underdogs; Richmond has scored several memorable upsets in NCAA competition.
I also follow Mount St. Mary’s University, where I worked for 15 years (when it was still Mount St. Mary’s College). The Mount’s Knott Arena is less than 10 miles from home, which makes it my most convenient – and cheapest – basketball fix. This year’s extraordinarily young team (all freshmen and sophomores) is struggling but still fun to watch.
Obviously, there’s a huge financial gap between UNC and Mount St. Mary’s. The former has an arena that seats 20,000+ and where tickets ain’t cheap. Most of its games are on network TV, and the booster club support is beyond my imagination. At the Mount, tickets in the 2,500-seat arena start at $8, TV is mostly streaming if available at all, and booster club income is modest. (Back when I was in charge of that part of the puzzle, it lost money.)
But even at Mount St. Mary’s, there’s a little TV money (more than a little if the team makes it to the NCAA Tournament) and a sneaker contract (with Under Armor). In part because it doesn’t play football, Mount St. Mary’s gets pennies compared to UNC’s estimated $3.875 million (cash and products) in 2016 (and more now, if I recall the numbers for the current multi-year deal). Still, for a little school like the Mount, that sneaker money comes in mighty handy.
The Nikes on a Tar Heel player. Carolina gets lots of cash and gear but nowhere near as much as football powerhouses Texas and Ohio State, which reportedly have multi-year contracts valued nearly $17 million a year.
So here’s my question for this still-a-few-weeks-from-Daytona article: college basketball may be rife with scandals these days – the biggest connected to those shoe contracts – but it seems to be cruising along in reasonably smooth financial waters, so is there a way racing could adopt a similar model?
Of course, there already is one. The car manufacturers give support racing teams to an extent that probably makes Nike’s money look like… well, like cheap sneakers. But it doesn’t work the same way. The manufacturers support a handful of teams – with really big bucks – and nobody else benefits.
These cars aren’t Toyotas because Joe Gibbs liked the way they looked in the showroom.
Is there a better way? I think we should look.
If the cost of race teams was a lot cheaper, maybe manufacturers could spread the dollars out over more of them and not place all their eggs in a couple of operations. Maybe they could even have contingency prizes like other sponsors and reward those who do the best, not who make the best sponsorship marketing presentations.
A big difference between the two sports is that the brand of sneakers a team wears has little to do with who actually wins a basketball game. That can’t be said for tires, so that’s probably not an area where we can create new revenue by inviting competition. Fuel, on the other hand…
Back when NASCAR got started, Pure Oil’s involvement went well beyond just supplying the gas, so its exclusive status (later as Union 76) was warranted. Today, though, does NASCAR come out ahead by just having Sunoco involved, or might inviting Shell, Exxon, Valero, Fina and all the others to the party maybe create more wealth to spread around?
Might there be more money available if each team could negotiate its own “official fuel” from among several possible oil companies?
(I know, right now NASCAR’s in such sorry shape that the alternative to one provider might be none, but my many suggestions are all based on the assessment that NASCAR.2018 is not a sustainable model, so we’ve got to try something else.)
I keep hearing that NASCAR is working on a new sponsorship model that sounds an awful lot like revenue-sharing, and that would be fine if all the parties – sanctioning body, tracks, owners, drivers – feel they’re being treated equitably, but as much as I hate to be negative about Daytona, that’s not been the norm in the past, and I can’t be that optimistic about any fundamental change.
Maybe instead we should let suggestions bubble up from all constituencies and then get everybody together to see what might work best.
Yeah, I know – I’m just a dreamer.
What just about everybody in the sport shares now is the TV revenue (which likely will shrink a lot when the next contract is signed), and that’s because TV makes plenty of money off NASCAR. It seems what we need to do is look at who else benefits from NASCAR and then look at whether that benefit might better be reflected in money for those who make the sport happen, the drivers, teams and tracks.
Beyond question, we have to fix the other broken parts on this buggy first: the bizarre rules, the charter system, the lack of affordability to new competitors. We can’t ignore this area, though. Who do you think NASCAR’s Nike, Adidas and Under Armor might be?
Maybe this is the answer
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
2019 marks the 71st season of NASCAR’s Strictly Stock/Grand National/Winston Cup/Nextel Cup/Sprint Cup/Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It also will be the 40th year that a Daytona race has lead off the season.
For the last 37 years the Daytona 500 has been the first race of the year, and NASCAR/International Speedway Corp. have worked hard to capitalize on that position and enhance the race’s stature. For quite a few years prior to that, the Riverside 500 in California began the season.
Still earlier, there were various races, all over the place, including those years in the 1950s and ‘60s when the season began in November and sometimes December of the preceding year.
However… in 1950 and ’51, the Grand National season began at Daytona, albeit on the old beach-road course. Each year it was a 200-miler with a purse of about $6,200, of which $1,500 went to the winner (Harold Kite in ’50 and Marshall Teague in ’51). If you finished 11th, you took home $50.
Harold Kite’s surprise Daytona win in 1950 did not lead to a NASCAR career. A successful weekly racing competitor in the Atlanta area and elsewhere, he ran six more races over the next six years, then came back to the series in 1965, only to lose his life on the second lap of his first start, at Charlotte.