Advertising makes NASCAR go round and round

NASCAR is a sport that has ample space. Look at the venues; Indianapolis Motor Speedway alone holds 250,000 people. The basis of the sport is driving around mile-long loops of track. The field of play is —so to speak —so large that they can let people watch the races from the area inside the track. NASCAR doesn’t let any space go to waste —and when you have tons of empty space what do you do with it? You fill it with ads.

NASCAR has taken that idea to the max. In sports, all eyes are on the field, and the basis of advertising is to get as many eyeballs to see your brand as possible; this really was a match made in heaven. Sure, there are company names on MLS or WNBA jerseys but they don’t come close to the amount you’ll find crammed onto the body of Jeff Gordon’s car. But that’s not really a fair comparison. When Jimmie Johnson steps out of his car he’s wearing a full body suit. When Clint Dempsey steps onto the field he’s in a T-shirt and shorts. NASCAR drivers just have more surface area to plaster with ads. There is also the matter of the car. No other sport involves the use of something as large as a car. Drivers are known more for their car number and sponsors than by what the driver actually looks like. I knew Jeff Gordon drove the #24 rainbow DuPont long before I could ever put a face to his name. And since the cars resonate so much with fans the space to advertise costs a premium.

Photo: Jared C. Tilton

Photo: Jared C. Tilton

The cost to advertise on the body of a car can run anywhere from $5 million to $35 million for prime placement. It costs between $250,000 and $2 million just to get your brand name on the driver side window! With NASCAR raking in the dough, obviously other sports have taken notice. The NFL has started putting ads on practice jerseys and the the new commissioner of the NBA thinks jersey ads are inevitable.

With ad spots so expensive it causes some turnover from year to year.  Within the armed forces there has been debate over sponsorship —the Army stopped it’s support back in 2012, but the National Guard is still committed to putting money into NASCAR. The National Guard has spent $32 million on sponsorships. Their aim was to find more recruits and they didn’t hold back —shelling out that money to get prime placement on fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr’s #88 car. Of course with the national debt such a hot topic, there has been criticism from senators over the use this money and it’s effectiveness in bringing in those new recruits the sponsorship is aimed at.

This does offer NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports (who Dale Jr races for) a unique opportunity for some positive PR. Why not give the National Guard and the Army some free ad space? It doesn’t have to be the $32 million type, but giving them some room on the car would be a great way to show their charitable side and patriotism. NASCAR isn’t held in the same regard as football, basketball, hockey and baseball in America, but this could surely help them close the gap. If you’re in need of an example on how this could work, take a look at soccer in Spain.

In Spain, soccer giant Barcelona previously gave the endorsement on the front of their jersey to UNICEF for free. It was a charitable donation that made them look philanthropic, not money-hungry. It worked perfectly along with their motto “more than a club”. They were the best team in the world; they won three world championships under the UNICEF crest. Many wondered just how much that logo on the front of the jersey was worth, and in 2013 everyone found out. They sold the space for $30.5 million Euros (roughly $41.5 million US dollars) to let Qatar airways occupy the coveted space. Since then they haven’t been the dominant team they once wear. A coincidence? Maybe, but it’s never a bad thing to have karma on your side.

In NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports is a team built on winning, and I’m sure they’re always looking for a leg up on their competition. There is no telling the impact that positive publicity could have on the team’s future.