This week, listener Jason Poppy writes, "NASCAR has a huge problem with the separation of the sanctioning body and the teams. The almighty dollar that NASCAR wants for these sponsors to have exclusivity is costing the teams that put fans in the stands. I have gone from a rabid fan to not watching races from flag to flag, and not even caring if I make it to the track or not unless they are free tickets.
Greed is going to be the death of NASCAR, not the rise. SPRINT, SUNOCO and whoever else NASCAR is going to allow exclusive rights to need to be exclusive to NASCAR, and not the teams that show up to race. NASCAR...needs to tell the sponsors, `Hey we will give you rights to naming and usage, but these teams are separate individual entities.' NASCAR is bullying guys that just want to race and compete for a championship in what was the last sport for the common man. It is now becoming an elite sport that is controlled by and will ultimately followed by the rich and selfish that don't care about the little man.
I thought the idea was to fill the stands not just pockets. If your fan base grows, the pockets will follow. I feel that they are losing just as many fans as they are gaining and the quality of fan is diminishing. They are fair weather fans, not the rabid fans as I USED to be. That is not what the sport needs in my opinion."
Jason, your letter represents the views of a vocal group of fans that I hear from daily, and I am glad to be able to offer you my viewpoint.
NASCAR is far from the only major league sport to operate this way. The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL all have "Official Products," and teams are precluded from signing conflicting sponsorship deals. Look around, do you see your local NFL team playing with sponsor patches on their uniforms? No. Do you see an AT&T logo at the 50-yard line? Absolutely not. That's not because the teams couldn't make those kind of deals if they wanted to. It's because the league doesn't allow it.
Companies like Nextel are not going to sign 10-year, $70 million major sponsorships without receiving something in return. Part of what they receive under the current agreement is product exclusivity. You are correct when you say that Motorola produces phones for Nextel. However, they also produce phones for Nextel's competitors, meaning that when you buy a Motorola phone, you are not necessarily purchasing a Nextel product. Robby's Motorola deal was made through Verizon, a direct competitor of Nextel. Under those circumstances, put yourself in Nextel's shoes. If you had signed a binding contract limiting the ways in which your competitors could participate in the sport, would you simply "turn your head" and let your competition into the garage? I sincerely doubt it.
You're right when you say that NASCAR is a business. It is no longer a group of moonshine runners, testing their cars in the dirt on Sunday afternoon. The sport has evolved well beyond that. The "little man" has not bee able to run at the front of the NASCAR pack for roughly 40 years now. I'm surprised you haven't noticed that fact, considering that today, you can watch every Nextel Cup, Busch and Truck Series race on nationwide television. You can listen on both terrestrial and satellite radio, and find NASCAR-related programming all over the TV and radio dials, seven days a week. You can also attend NASCAR races all across the country -- from coast to coast -- if you so choose. None of these statements were true even a decade ago, and all are a direct result of NASCAR's businesslike approach to growing the sport.
I continue to marvel at people who categorize today's NASCAR fans as "not the rabid fans I used to be." I talk to hundreds of fans every week; both on Sirius Speedway and in person at racetracks around the country. I hate to burst your bubble, but they ARE real racefans; equal (and in many ways superior) to "oldtimers" like you and I. They love the sport as much as you and I ever have, they support their drivers as loyally as you and I ever have, and unlike some "veteran fans," they resist the urge to jump ship every time they disagree with something the sanctioning body does. In fact, they pay their hard-earned money to support the sport they love, unlike others who don't care if they make it to the track or not, "unless they are free tickets."
The quality of fans is not diminishing, in my view. In fact, it may be improving.
Today's fan seems to understand that nothing stays the same forever, and that change inevitably occurs, both for better and for worse. They see that NASCAR racing is bigger, stronger and more popular than we ever could have imagined in the "Good Old Days," and accept that resisting change, simply for the sake of resistance, is suicidal.
Like the dinosaurs, we either evolve or die.