Race Weekend Central

Sub for Dr Howell – The Sponsorship (Dis)Connection

Darrell Waltrip drove Gatorade, Mountain Dew and Budweiser cars. Bill Elliott’s known for the McDonald’s car. Tony Stewart drove the Home Depot car.

Over the 2018 season, many of the comments on Fronstretch articles have basically said, “I used to love NASCAR, but I don’t really care any longer. I don’t know why and it makes me sad.”

Many commenters cite the playoffs as a possible reason why they’ve lost interest, but I think there’s another reason – there’s no connection to individual consumers when it comes to sponsorship these days, and nearly everyone rotates between at least three major sponsors.

Ordinary people run into Dollar General or Target on their way back from work without thinking anything of it to pick up Folgers coffee or Kellogg’s corn flakes, and if there’s a house project going on, regular runs to Lowe’s or Home Depot are a necessity. None of those companies are in NASCAR anymore.

Fans don’t know what First Data or IT Savvy do, so that doesn’t help generate fan loyalty. DOW Chemicals will never be seen as trustworthy, and neither will Smithfield.

Cessna aircraft, DC Solar lights and Axalta paint are for businesses, and they might work great at partnering with huge organizations, but they don’t impact the average consumer at all. If they don’t work in the automotive industry or care about cars, then the average fan has probably never heard of Performance Plus Motor Oil, Fleetwood RVs or Peak Antifreeze.

Safelite Glass Repair, Caterpillar and Alliance Truck Parts won’t impact most people’s lives in any meaningful way, either, even though they’ve been in NASCAR for years.

There’s some dim understanding that Ally Financial or Click ‘n Close Mortgages are online companies, but with something like money physical locations build customer trust, and anything else looks suspicious.

What exactly do ARRIS or XYO Networks do? No idea. Liberty University is a very expensive private school, which puts two strikes against it, and that’s not counting the political stands they often take.

Rheem water heaters and PPG paint fade into the background of memory really quickly, because there’s not an obvious draw, and insurance from GEICO or Liberty National can be necessary, but it’s also really boring.

People still need to eat, of course, and so there are food/snack sponsorships still prominent – M&Ms is almost full season, but McDonald’s and Miller Lite have cut way back on their deals, so that takes something away. 5-Hour Energy and Monster Energy are familiar brands, but more so among younger fans, not the nostalgic folks in the comments.

Bass Pro Shops, GameStop and Jimmy John’s are too upscale for most people, even though they market themselves as down-to-earth – in my part of the country, you go to those places as an event, like when there’s a huge sale.

Back history up a ways, and race fans had a brand or product they would stick to. They bought Tide detergent because Ricky Rudd drove the Tide car, or Kodak film because they were Sterling Marlin fans. Part of this could just be a generational change in purchasing habits – I’m in my mid-20s, and always look for the best deal I can find. Brand loyalty is a nice concept, but for most items it doesn’t exist – when it does, it’s for extremely specific needs (shampoo, ranch dressing).

Common daily products aren’t very common any longer as sponsors, though JTG-Daugherty Racing is doing well in this area. They had Gain detergent on Chris Buescher’s car on Sunday, and have also had Cottonelle toiler paper, Scott paper towels, Bush’s Beans, Cheerios, Slim Jims and Velveeta on the car at various points this season.

Depending on where you’re living or traveling, you might stop and shop at Kroger or Love’s, and chances are good that you’ll scan the radio past the local K-LOVE afilliate station, and maybe get a Little Caesar’s pizza for lunch.

But most of your race team’s sponsors will not affect the average fan at all, and that’s just kind of the way the sponsorship landscape is now, and one more area of concern that needs to be addressed in the near future.

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