That has never been more obvious than it is today, a time when, amid economic uncertainty, teams are scrambling to find every dollar they can.
Sometimes it’s not successful. You don’t have to be told about the teams that have folded or the high number of employees who have been laid off because of economic hardships.
This situation continues into 2012.
A dozen years ago things were far, far different.
It was a boom time for NASCAR. Its popularity soared. Races were sold out. National television came calling and paid huge fees for the rights to broadcast events.
With this “gold rush” teams found it easy to expand for at least one simple reason – they could ask for big dollars from companies that wanted to take advantage of a huge, relatively new market that fit their ideal demographics.
For NASCAR and its competitors it was an easy sell.
For corporate America, which was also flourishing at the time, it was an easy buy.
I’ve often said that NASCAR over a decade ago was not unlike America in the 1920s, when it was prosperous and carefree. But when the stock market crashed in 1929 everything changed and the world became more difficult and darker.
What has happened over recent years isn’t as dramatic, of course. But, and make no mistake, it’s close – and it could have been worse.
Today, this means a couple of things: Where teams could once demand $15-20 million for a single sponsor for one season – personally, I never believed they really needed that much money – they cannot today.
That is obvious, given the number of teams that have had to scramble to acquire multiple sponsorships to make it through a single season has increased significantly, so much so that it has become the norm.
You have, no doubt, noticed the various sponsor names and color schemes that have appeared on several cars during one season.
You will see it again in 2012.
And, as said, you already know that teams that have been unable to find suitable sponsorship, by whatever means, no longer exist.
That’s not unusual, given that it has happened in each of the last three seasons.
What’s happened has, in my opinion, created a shift in power, so to speak.
I believe that sponsors now have more control over the teams they support than at almost any other time.
Understand, sponsors have always been able to make demands when they fork over their dollars.
Contractually, they have been able to extract a certain number, or level, of driver personal and commercial appearances, performance requirements, logo placement on the cars, personal conduct standards and more.
And, for the most part, teams and drivers have cooperated fully. To do so was just common sense. They, and their drivers, were obligated.
For example, when Miller Lite sponsored Rusty Wallace, you would never find him with a Budweiser in his hand. Other drivers always acted in kind.
Here’s the major difference that exists today: Sponsors can make all the demands they once did – and even more – for a whole helluva lot less money.
In other words, they wield more power for less expense.
Think of it. If a company has the wherewithal to become a NASCAR sponsor today – and certainly fewer of them do – and teams are desperate for money, the balance of power has changed.
I believe it’s the sponsor who has control.
I think it’s logical to assume that the CEO of any company interested in NASCAR team sponsorship would, and should, make a high number of specialized demands to any organization pleading for dollars – and then settle for as many as agreed upon.
Notice I did not say it was happening. I only said that, given the overall economic situation, it could. And we should not be surprised if it has.
Evidence indicates that one thing that ranks as most important to sponsors is driver professional and personal behavior.
Which makes sense, by the way.
Surely any company would have a very difficult time explaining to its stockholders why it spends money for a race team that has a jackass as its driver.
Sponsors have, indeed, reacted to boorish driver behavior in the past. Home Depot, for example, responded to Tony Stewart’s physical confrontation with a media member by matching NASCAR’s punishment of a $50,000 fine.
But it’s likely that we will see ever more of this. It could be that we already have.
Perhaps it’s why M&Ms took its logos off the Joe Gibbs Racing car for two races after Kyle Busch deliberately wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. in a truck race.
Maybe Miller Lite suggested to Roger Penske that it was time to dump Kurt Busch after his profanity-laced tirade at Homestead on national TV.
It could be that after Kasey Kahne tweeted his disapproval of public breast feeding – and received a landslide of disapproval – that his new sponsors at Hendrick Motorsports suggested it would be in the team’s best interest if the matter be cleaned up as quickly as possible.
As an aside here, in addition to the public and the media, drivers now have to be aware of their comments, and interpreted behavior, on the social networks.
I don’t say that the sponsors involved in the aforementioned scenarios became directly involved in the resolutions.
But common sense dictates they were very aware of what happened and that, at the very least, someone on the team had some explaining to do – and for one ultimate reason: to keep the money coming in.
Again, I stress all of this is really nothing new.
However, I think there is one major difference. Sponsors today can wield as much, or more, influence over the teams as they once did.
But now they can do it by spending far less money.
Given the economy, teams have no recourse. It could be as simple, and dramatic as this: Do what it is asked – or go out of business.