Nascar, once thought of as bullet-proof in any economic climate, is showing signs of weakness. Its race attendance is starting to decline, ratings are slipping, and most frighting, its sponsors are starting to drop out. Out of Nascar’s 42 full-time drivers, 12 don’t have primary sponsors for the 2009 season, which is only 10 weeks away.
The primary sponsors are the companies with the most prominently displayed logo – on the hood of the car among other places. They pay around $20 million dollars for the whole season. Having one third of its drivers without primary sponsors is a huge problem to say the least, since around 75% of the budget comes from sponsorship.
And on top of the sponsor trouble, Nascar’s losing fans. This is the third season in a row with declining TV ratings and dropping race attendance, the latter of which is down almost 9% from last season.
Despite the recent economic troubles, Nascar itself is flush with cash from previous years. Still, just recently, at Nascar’s marketing extravaganza “Champions Week“, company president Mike Helton directly asked the fans there to purchase more products of Nascar’s sponsors, “I want to ask you, in the time that we’re going through right now, that when you’re out shopping and you’re on a mission to purchase something, consider the sponsors that are involved in the sport if you would, because they’re here because of you and they also play a huge roll in supporting our sport.”
Nascar is the number one sport in the country in terms of sponsorship revenue. Their $3 billion dollars a year is twice the amount that the entire NFL brings in. That’s pretty big, but what happens if the Detroit automakers go under, despite a bailout? It doesn’t matter how much sponsorship revenue Nascar brings in if there are no cars to slap stickers on. In 2009, 32 of the 42 full-time teams drive Chevys, Fords or Dodges. If they go, will Nascar just start racing a field of Toyotas? Will the fans turn to Formula 1 or Rally racing?
Stock car racing is a uniquely American sport, with an American heritage and American cars, so it’d be a kick in the groin to see an oval full of Hondas at the Sprint Cup.