The NASCAR season is almost at a close for 2008. The Chase for the Championship has almost been decided. The adrenaline is wearing off and the thrill of the fight is becoming less apparent. It’s now time to get back down to the business of NASCAR.
Teams are doing some fine tuning, preparing for the off season, and planning for the future. Owners have been looking over their books, looking at what drivers they will have again next year, and deciding how to fill the places left by others.
One of the main things going on during this time of year in NASCAR is the securing of sponsorship for the 2009 season. Most organizations are taking part in a “courtship ritual”. It is something that is required for organizations that depend on corporate funding. It will involve many things, a visit to the race shop to see how the cars get made, the people involved in the organization and of course meeting the all important drivers who will be the spokespeople for their products and services. It will include a tour of the garage area, premium hospitality at the track. In short, it is a sales pitch.
With NASCAR, this sales pitch comes with a pretty high price tag. Most sponsors will commit somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million dollars per race team. But this season is different. Sponsorship is the equivalent to lifeblood for NASCAR teams. But the world economy is on shaky ground, the U.S. financial industry is seeing an unprecedented bailout, the stock market is in a major upheaval, and the biggest presidential race in history has just taken place. Many companies just aren’t willing to spend their money as freely when the world is feeling the financial crunch. Few sports will feel that more than NASCAR.
Most of the sponsors this year have a “wait and see” attitude. They are not willing to commit as quickly as they once were. It requires more proof that their money will give them the returns they seek. Havoline and AAA are pulling out after this season. DEI is losing the U.S. Army to Stewart-Haas racing in 2009. Waltrip is losing UPS to Roush. Richard Childress will pick up Caterpillar and General Mills, leaving Petty Enterprises and Bill Davis Racing looking for sponsors to fill in the slack. But, the sponsors aren’t taking the bait.
What this probably means for NASCAR as a whole is that, the mid and lower level teams will suffer, and some may not survive. It is possible that car counts will go down. You generally have three groups of teams in NASCAR. The first are those businesses and owners that have healthy organizations, who can with stand the economic storms best. Then you have those groups that are stable, but certainly have less resources and opportunities than the other organizations. Last but not least you have the third group. These are the teams that take it day by day. They don’t have the money to have the best drivers or the best equipment. These are the companies and teams that will feel the storm the worst.
These are the teams that will have to batten down the hatches and try to weather this storm in leaky boat. They may have to lighten their load, drop a car here and there. Test a little less. Cut out some of the perks. NASCAR as a whole is still very stable and will survive despite the economic and political upheavals of the country. But there will be changes, as their have been for people of every walk of life, during this crisis. NASCAR is not immune.
The question really is, how long will the storm last? How quickly will we bounce back? And what will we lose in the process?