With the end of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season months away, so comes the end of Sprint’s time as the series’ title sponsor. NASCAR has gone through a number of sponsorship changes over the last decade or so. For those who still refer to the NASCAR Xfinity Series as the Busch Series, this is quite apparent. Sprint, like Nextel and Winston before it, are about to leave the sport for good. With this comes a number of new companies looking to attach themselves to the sport’s top series. These companies can ultimately set the tone and identity of the sport. Therefore, there is a great deal of importance in who takes on the NASCAR name. As such, this analysis is of each rumoured company and the pros and cons of them being a NASCAR title sponsor.
Untitled: 2017 NASCAR Title Sponsor Prospects
In considering the possibility of sponsorship, NASCAR’s price tag must be considered. The role of title sponsor could cost upwards of $1 billion. Also, one must consider directions preferred by NASCAR in their presentation. With Sprint and Xfinity, it is obvious that communication technology is at the forefront of their presentation. NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps said of this stance: “…what we want to use is a tool to make the fan experience closer and better whether you’re at the race track or you’re mobile or you’re at home. We believe that’s what technology can do for the fans”.
Goodyear is among the most obvious choices for a new NASCAR title sponsor. They are the official tire supplier of NASCAR. Over the past 62 years, they have become synonymous with the sport. Having their name on the banner could be a no-brainer based on this longtime relationship alone. Such a partnership may also be more readily welcomed by the sport’s established fanbase. In this option, the sport’s title sponsor would be a company directly related to automobiles. Although Sprint and Nextel fit into NASCAR’s technological desire, they ultimately have little invested in motorsport. A company such as Goodyear, who already has so much invested in NASCAR, would make the series relationship with its title sponsor all the more beneficial.
An issue with Goodyear becoming a title sponsor could be the fact that they are the sport’s tire supply. There has been many issues throughout the years which are broken down into the tires supplied by Goodyear. Drivers have not been coy in their accusations of tire issues. If Goodyear were to become the title sponsor, their tires would be under more scrutiny. In the chaotic world of NASCAR, this could make blown and cut tires more heavily scrutinized. It would also limit NASCAR’s ability to bring on another tire supplier in the future. Although Goodyear and NASCAR’s partnership has lasted over 60 years, replacement is always an option if needed. If Goodyear were to become the title sponsor, this exit window would close rapidly.
Electronics brand LG is no stranger to racing. For five years, the company’s logo was inseparable from Formula 1. When this partnership began in 2008, LG’s Chief Marketing Officer Dermot Boden said: “Formula One represents the absolute peak of technological innovation and style, which is also our vision for the LG Electronics brand”. Obviously, this is an image NASCAR would love to adopt. With their already expressed and exemplified interest in technological partnerships, this kind of interest goes both ways. It would make for a relatively smooth transition out of Sprint without too much shock to the sport’s presentation or associations.
A major red flag is the short time period in which LG remained a major F1 sponsor. This partnership lasted from 2008 to 2013. With such a large price tag on the NASCAR brand, this is not a short-term opportunity. If LG stepped away from Formula 1 so quickly, the same is entirely possible with NASCAR. Although they are impressive machines, NASCAR is not exactly an obvious example of “technological innovation and style”. The basis of stock car racing is simple, publicly available cars pushed to their limits. Although NASCAR has become far removed from simple family cars, they maintain that image and spirit of stock car racing. It’s easy to see why LG would consider a Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 car to be the pinnacle of technological style and innovation in motorsport. A Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry? Maybe not.
Kentucky-based Yum! Brands has also expressed interest in becoming a NASCAR title sponsor. Although the company name may not be as immediately recognizable as others, its companies sure are. Companies that fall under Yum! Brands include KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, among others. These companies have seen their fair share of exposure through NASCAR sponsorship. KFC has graced the hood of Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and served as a primary sponsor for David Ragan. Taco Bell has had similar representation in the sport, often going where KFC does. Not unlike how these companies operate under the Yum! brand.
This NASCAR title sponsor prospect is a tricky one. It could cause major issues for some teams. Jamie McMurray has a longtime primary sponsor in McDonalds. Having a Yum! Brands title sponsor could compromise contracts such as these. Aside from this issue, the name paints a weird image of the sport. The NASCAR Yum! Brands Cup Series is hardly an appetizing title. Of the restaurants that fall under Yum! Brands, KFC would be the most likely sponsor. The NASCAR Kentucky Fried Chicken Cup Series proves its own odd circumstance. Such a title moves NASCAR directly and firmly back to a ‘deep south’ identity that the sport has long been trying to move away from. Such a name would come across as almost a parody of NASCAR as a sport.
Returning to technological sponsors, Panasonic has their name in contention. Panasonic is another sponsor that seems very obviously beneficial to the sport’s presentation. The company makes everything that falls under NASCAR’s previously stated desire to reach fans through technology. Making phones, audio equipment, headphones, televisions, cameras, etc. Panasonic embodies sports presentation, and having such a title sponsor has massive opportunities. NASCAR’s television presentation is of the utmost importance. Having the NASCAR title sponsor being a company that makes televisions is a match made in marketing heaven.
Couple this with the fact that Panasonic already has sponsorship experience in NASCAR through Jeff Gordon, they seem like an obvious choice. In this pros/cons format, Panasonic offers very few cons. The NASCAR Panasonic Cup Series is not nearly as offensive to the mouth and ears as the NASCAR Yum! Brands Cup Series. They outdo Sprint in media and presentation opportunities and are more widely recognizable. Ultimately, the biggest concern would be with seriousness and longevity, as with LG. If NASCAR wants a long-term title sponsor, commitment to the sport must be made a primary concern.
With the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Comcast already has its foot in the door. Not only that, but the company owns NBC, one of the major presenters of NASCAR. In this case, the company’s commitment to and experience with NASCAR cannot be questioned. This kind of seriousness and stability is what the sport needs in a time of constant sponsor changes. This could allow for greater emphasis and focus on the presentation of the sport with the company more directly engaged with NASCAR.
This would not be welcome news for Fox Sports, who have been covering the first half of every NASCAR season since 2001. With the duties split between Fox Sports and NBC, this could create tension and result in Fox being denied NASCAR presentation rights. Comcast has also come under great scrutiny for their internet and cable services. So much so that the name Comcast is often met with disgust on web forums. If the NASCAR title sponsor is to be the representation and major association to the sport, Comcast could reflect the sport negatively.
Chinese electronic company Hisense is another brand to fall under NASCAR’s technological wants. The company shares many pros with Panasonic in terms of how the sport is presented. With their phone services, this similarity to Sprint could also be beneficial to the sport. Having a simple transition into the new sponsor without heavily changing the view of the sport through title sponsor. Such a transition would be considerably smoother than Winston to Nextel.
Unfortunately, Hisense is just not that recognizable a brand name. Although it is a large company, it does not stand up to Panasonic, Comcast, and the like. Especially when they offer services so similar to Panasonic and LG. Although their intention could be to raise brand awareness in the United States, NASCAR is already very established. Chances are, they are going to want another established brand to be associated with. Ultimately, the best chance that Hisense has to become the NASCAR title sponsor is to offer up more money than the competition. They fall under the technological wants of NASCAR, so it is still very possible.
Perhaps the best is saved for last, as the Coca-Cola Company is also in the race for the NASCAR title sponsor. Coca-Cola is among the most recognizable brands internationally and has had a longtime association with NASCAR. When it comes to branding and marketing, few companies, if any, can compare with Coca-Cola. Their iconic image coupled with their second-to-none advertising means they could put the face of a NASCAR driver in nearly every home. Already considered the “Official Soft Drink of NASCAR”, drinks under the company’s umbrella would make great primary sponsors on many cars that need them.
The biggest obstacle that Coca-Cola would face is NASCAR’s already established soft spot for technology companies. However, with Coke’s unbeatable marketing and deep pockets, they may be willing to look past such preferences. A major issue would be Pepsi’s involvement in NASCAR. Pepsi became something of an iconic presence in the sport through association with Jeff Gordon. Their brands are equally iconic throughout the sport, such as Mountain Dew and Gatorade. Where NASCAR currently has great support from both the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, they may not be willing to part with one for the sake of the other.
Ultimately, the new NASCAR title sponsor could come down to the depth of each company’s pockets. Panasonic and Comcast best fit the technological and presentational aspects and wants of NASCAR. Whereas Coca-Cola Company and Goodyear have the strongest ties to the sport and could provide the best representation for fans. Until we know for sure, the remainder of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will bid farewell to a well-serving title sponsor, and usher in the NASCAR title sponsor from 2017 onward.