I didn’t want this to be a knee-jerk reaction so I thought on this, a lot. What does it say that Nature’s Bakery wants out? Is this a reflection of our sport, NASCAR, and it’s appeal to sponsors and fans? Is this more of a reflection of the driver, Danica Patrick, second most popular in the sport? Could it just be that a new owner of the sponsor company wants out?
NASCAR, as a whole, is not as healthy today as in the past. You have bigger names, dominating performance, new title sponsors, plenty of change; yet there are fewer fans at the track. The fans not coming out isn’t hard to figure out. Hotels jack their rates up, tracks up until last year were pricing tickets like they didn’t have enough seats, and overall the economy was down and unemployment (true unemployment) was at a high not seen since the 1980’s. Plus TV coverage and races being available.
The TV coverage has been at its worst in recent years. NASCAR jacked up its broadcast rates so television and cable companies had to pack the race full of commercials to pay for the contract. This has upset fans and pushed them away. It’s gotten so that some fans avoid television sponsors because it is so frequent. NASCAR was built around the cars and drivers being the advertisements, now fans are gouged at the ticket office, programs are 35% ad space, and races are nearing 50% commercial coverage with race interruption.
Given all this, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that Nature’s bakery would want out, they aren’t getting their air time. Well actually, they are. Thanks to the NASCAR agenda, Danica Patrick is over covered. She is mentioned on each and every NASCAR broadcast, she can be running 30th and the broadcast team will update her performance throughout the day. So her sponsors aren’t out of the camera lense for very long. That’s everything a sponsor could dream of!
If the reports of $15 million are right, this is actually a deal. To get that much air time anywhere, would cost WAY more. Looking at adage.com the lowest cost of a 30 second spot on Sunday night is $87,000. That’s not even DVR proof which racing and NASCAR car sponsorships are. If you figure Danica Patrick receives 2 minutes of airtime during the race and 1 minute of airtime throughout the week, valuing the time at $87,000/30 seconds, this would equate to $21 million each year in advertising. Why would a company walk away from that guaranteed time?
Maybe this has to do with the on track performance. Of people in similar equipment, over the last 36 races, she has the worst average. 22.03 with 0 wins, 0 top 5’s, 0 top 10’s, and 0 laps lead. even those who ran fewer races, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Alex Bowman, all averaged a finish better than 20th. Only one person had a lower average, Ty Dillon with 24th and he is a rookie gear s to make laps, gain experience, and learn.
NASCAR and television broadcasters make sure she receives airtime to guarantee sponsorship through the “Drive for Diversity” program. It is tailored to give certain drivers a better chance of success, tailored to make these drivers more appealing to sponsors. Perhaps Nature’s Bakery and the new owners saw this as a detriment when they “go through the field” and have to do a special spot just for Danica Patrick running outside of the top 20. No other driver in these positions receives equal coverage unless they have a special story that week.
Instead of suing the new company owner to force them to sponsor a below average driver, maybe SHR should be asking if there was something they could have done better to prevent this. This lawsuit is terrible for NASCAR, drivers, and teams. Sponsors don’t want to be trapped. If there weren’t “competition and performance” clauses before, there will be now. Sponsors are going to provide themselves an out, if they even come in! Speaking of clauses, there may also be personal conduct clauses, another out for sponsors.
Danica Patrick isn’t the first driver to have sponsor issues. c.int Bowyer, Martin Truex, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger have all had sponsorship issues in the past, Danica is the latest and highest profile because she is the highest profile driver to have issues in recent memory. With the volume sales just in memorabilia she has, companies should be jumping to have their name all over the place.
NASCAR is in a different place right now and drivers have to be more fan friendly than ever. This is another place where Danica has fallen short. There have been stories over and over about bad fan experiences and even I had one that soured me on her after I had read her book and was excited to see her entering the world of full fender racing. I understand for every bad experience that there may be 100 great experiences, but you cannot alienate a waning fan base. While we want drivers to be authentic, we also want them to be gracious at times. All of this may be under a sponsor’s “personal conduct policy.” Yes, companies will make sure they have outs more than ever now and they will hold drivers to the letter.
To me, this much is clear; dragging a sponsor through the courts to force them to pay is bad for the sport, the sponsor, the team, and the driver. As this plays out in court you may hear stuff that you don’t want public. There may be something that even though true, is very unflattering. SHR needs to let his go before it embarrasses everyone a lot more than you can imagine.
Again, this is my opinion. If Danica Patrick and SHR had put as much emphasis on their performance as they do on their pay, they may not be in this situation. If a new ownership group took over and saw that they were sponsoring a top 10 or top 15 driver, they may have been excited. Somewhere in the buyout or takeover the new owners had to know they were taking on this sponsorship contract. You can’t tell me they bought out a product and said, “We are just gonna walk away from this and knowingly be in violation of a contract.”
At this point the company sees it as a better cost/benefit to distance themselves from the team and spend countless thousands in court than to continue on with a great advertising opportunity. What you read into that and what I read into it may not be the same. I don’t see it as an issue with the sport so much as the team and driver. Feel free to debate with me.
My opinions are my own and do not reflect those of anyone else from any team or for any reason. I am an individual and these are just my thoughts, my views, and what I see.