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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

NASCAR:The Official Hypocrite of NASCAR

NASCAR, not to mention the entire motorsports industry, runs on sponsors. Without the support of hundreds of companies teams could not run, and NASCAR would have no way to put on races and have the large purses that attract the top drivers in the US.

NASCAR has created a problem by awarding official sponsorships for seemingly any product. What is worse is the preferential treatment of certain sponsors by NASCAR.

Companies fork over more money to become the official ___ of NASCAR. The limits on what a company can officially sponsor are practically endless. Combos is the official Cheese-Filled food for crying out loud.

In some cases, NASCAR is willing to take on everyone who is interested. For example, there is not an official beverage of NASCAR. Instead there is an official beer (Budweiser), soft drink (Coca-Cola), sports drink (Powerade), juice (Minute Maid), wine (Diageo) and water (Dasani). If that isn't complicated enough, consider Calloway is the official golf ball while Top-Flite is the official golf club. NASCAR has an official manufacturer (Toyota), pace car (Chevy Monte Carlo), truck (Ford) and passenger vehicle (Dodge Charger). That obviously covers every manufacturer competing in NASCAR. These are all cases of NASCAR accommodating several sponsors and that is the way it should be.

With the latest sponsor conflicts however, either NASCAR is not interested in accommodation or NEXTEL and Sunoco have too much control over operations. With Nextel as the title sponsor, Cingular and Alltel were granted grandfather exceptions because they were in the sport prior to Nextel's involvement. Now Cingular is getting re-branded as AT&T, but NASCAR and Nextel is crying foul. Although it is the same company as Cingular, Richard Childress Racing can not show the AT&T logos on Jeff Burton’s #31 car. AT&T has filed a lawsuit. Robby Gordon was also initially denied use of the Motorola logos on his car. The ironic part is that Nextel is merging with Sprint, and the series will change to the NASCAR Sprint Cup as soon as 2008.

What is more, another RCR car, Kevin Harvick’s #29 was earlier asked to not feature the Shell logo as prominently on his car or firesuit due to the competition with Sunoco, the official fuel of NASCAR. Harvick’s car now features a smaller Shell logo plus the Pennzoil logo. Sunoco does not even have stations in some parts of the country.

It is not the first time a sponsor conflict has grabbed headlines. In 2004, as the official sports drink of NASCAR, Powerade paid for exposure in Victory Lane. Do not confuse this with the sponsor of Victory Lane itself: Gatorade. Powerade is made and distributed by Coke. The biggest feature was placing a large Powerade bottle on the roof of the winning car in Victory Lane. Drivers who were sponsored by Pepsi, like Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, would deliberately knock the bottle of the car during their celebrations. NASCAR representatives (the official officials of NASCAR?) eventually told drivers they couldn’t knock the poor Powerade bottle off the cars. When Johnson placed a Lowe’s sign in front of the bottle he was fined $10,000 for the nebulous and infamous section 12-4-A “actions detrimental to stock car racing”. That fine was rather benign compared to what it could mean for Childress or Robby Gordon. Without a multi-million dollar sponsor on the car it is difficult to pay the expenses involved with racing.

Official sponsorships should not grant exclusivity. One of the results of a free market is competition. It is usually a good thing. Home Depot and Lowe's both spend lots of money in NASCAR to gain exposure for their companies. All four car manufacturers coexist.

Things might be different is this was a sport with franchises like the NFL. NASCAR teams are independent of the governing body. They have to pay the expenses to compete and enter races. To use the analogy of a party, NASCAR is basically sending out invitations to teams and requiring that they bring a date (sponsor money). Then when the teams and their dates get to the door, NASCAR is refusing certain dates for not being on the list.

NASCAR should not be able to dictate how or where that money comes from. If a creative “official sponsor” title can not be found, NASCAR must at least allow teams to bring their own sponsors to the party no matter who it is.

My Tuesday bug (a day late):

Local news stations. Instead of teasing a story for half an hour, how about getting to the point and covering more stories. Teases must work at some level, but I can’t be the only one that just wants a straight story. Last night one local Portland channel ran a tease asking whether it would freeze overnight or not. They promoted this story three times and finally answered their own question at the end of the broadcast. Having young plants I really wanted to know whether I should cover them from the pending frost or go to bed knowing that the frost would not come. In the time it takes to ask the question, the weather man could have simply told me “yes” or “no”. Then they could move on to another story that is worth my time. They used the same tactic for a story about a lady that found a large nail in a chew toy for her dog. Instead of telling us where this happened, they wasted time with teases promising to tell us what store the nail was found at. I understand they are trying to get people to watch their channel instead of the competition. What would really keep my interest is information instead of gloss and fluff. I am confident I’m not alone. Let me know what's bugging you this week.

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