With Nationwide Insurance announcing that it will no longer continue its entitlement partnership with NASCAR’s B-level series, the nation’s top motorsports organization will have to find a new company that is willing to be the one of the major faces of a sport who’s interest has been steadily declining in recent years.
The decision by Nationwide to abandon its sponsorship wasn’t necessarily driven by poor performance. They have actually chosen to increase its overall investment in NASCAR sponsorships by increasing exposure on Sundays, where the fan base is about twice the size of its current Saturday series. Nationwide will be sponsoring up and coming Sprint Cup driver and two-time Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., continuing its TV ad campaigns featuring select Sprint Cup drivers, all while increasing its online media and good will efforts.
For Nationwide, this decision seems like a no-brainer. Several studies developed by Performance Research indicate that there are solid returns to be made from an increased commitment to NASCAR’s top series. Nationwide’s longstanding relationship with NASCAR and its fans acts as a testament to these findings. With that being said, who will be willing to step into Nationwide’s shoes when the sport has been surrounded by so much controversy lately?
One can’t deny the sheer amount of people that consider themselves NASCAR die hards. On average, the Nationwide Series has pulled in about 1.7 million viewers throughout the 2013 season. While these numbers are down from last season, 1.7 million viewers is still a great number to have on a weekly basis over a 10 month season. However, one has to be wary when you see the fact that NASCAR’s ratings have been on a steady decline since 2005, sinking to their lowest level in 10 years
Some consider this downturn in recent interest as a direct result of a 2011 rules change which restricts drivers to only earn points towards one series per season. This means the big time Sprint Cup names that typically draw in fans to the Nationwide Series are no longer a key part of the action each week. Given the one-two punch of a decline in ratings and fewer big name drivers, who knows how long it will take the series to gain traction with its fans again.
And what about the issue of integrity? The recent allegation of race manipulation against the Michael Waltrip Racing team has seriously damaged the competitive spirit of the sport and may spell the end of MWR. NAPA Autoparts has already pulled their sponsorship, with more sponsors waiting until the dust settles at the end of the season to decide if they are willing to continue their efforts. This wasn’t the first time MWR has been caught cheating either… Anyone remember the fuel tampering scandal of 2007?
From the outside looking in, one has to wonder how much of this continues to go unnoticed. While the organizing authority has enforced strict penalties on the team involved in the latest scandal, nothing may be able to make up for the damage done to the public’s perception of the sport.
This news comes in light of NASCAR signing a multi-billion dollar TV contract with FOX and NBC. While these two recently established networks are more than happy to open its doors to so many racing fans, it begs the question, why have ESPN and TNT been so willing to give up one of the only sport that consistently competes with the NFL for viewers each week? Perhaps NASCAR’s fan base isn’t as stable as this new deal would suggest. With NASCAR’s ratings in decline, who could blame the two incumbents for not wanting to pay any additional rights fees in order to renew their contract?
Sports Business Daily released the terms and conditions for NASCAR’s new entitlement sponsorship, expecting the new sponsor to shell out around $30 million a year in rights fees, activation and media expenditures. At this price, NASCAR is guaranteeing unmatched fan loyalty. Our very own Jed Pearsall will attest to the influence a NASCAR title sponsorship will have on consumer behavior. In a previous study on NASCAR fans, he said, “NASCAR fans provide one of the highest levels of brand loyalty and sponsorship support of any one of the hundred or so sports and special events we’ve tested.” In any case, it would be safe to say that any prospective sponsors should carefully consider paying a premium to replace Nationwide as title sponsor of NASCAR’s B-level racing series.
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