NASCAR running on empty

JOE DUARTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's a sport that counts heavily not only on fan dollars, but also sponsorship dollars in order to put on a show every week and it can't afford either one of those pillars to crumble due to the erosion of the dollar.

"We are a sponsor-driven sport, more so than any other sport in the country," says Kerry Tharp, director of communications, NASCAR competitions. "We have the most Fortune 500 companies involved in our sport and because they've felt an impact in the economic downturn, we've felt the impact of the economic downturn.

"But our sponsors have been very resilient. We've had sponsors that have not just renewed commitment for next year but even beyond, so the sport is still strong and will come out very strong once the economy starts picking up."

On the sponsorship side, some companies are cutting programs in which they would otherwise participate, while others are jumping into the opportunities opening up.

"For Shell, this is the perfect environment in which to be sponsoring because other companies are holding on so closely to those dollars, so here's our chance to get our name out when others are pulling back," says Heidi Massey-Bong, senior business adviser for sponsorships, Shell Oil. "Our NASCAR involvement is interwoven among our existing marketing programs, so it doesn't stand alone anyway and we have not changed our strategy."

That involves making use of the various special privileges NASCAR makes available to sponsors. Those include pit passes to further engage fans and dedicated entry gates for quicker access to the site.

"We've had a year in which we've had to be a little smarter in the way we market the product, by adding value for our sponsors and our fans so they can also market and promote the sport," Tharp says. "It's been a little difficult for maybe some of the fans to be able to go to the races like they always have because this is their discretionary income and there's not as much of it going around."

Massey-Bong sees it at the track: "There are more empty seats than there were before but I think fans are still spending money on tickets. But that means they may not have the money on the merchandise at the track."

"We're still averaging about 150,000 fans per race weekend; that's still a huge crowd. Where we're seeing the difference, though, is in advanced sales. I think we're seeing our fans wait until perhaps a week or two before the race to decide as to whether or not they're going to actually come to the race."

---

x4 - Hotels located near tracks have historically quadrupled room rates for race weekends.

11.5% - Nielsen ratings on Fox are down 11.5% from 2008 numbers.

75% - Sponsorships can account for up to 75% of a race team's budget.

19.1% - Admission revenue down from 2008

107.4 (2008) - NASCAR admission revenue (millions of dollars US)

86.9 (2009) - NASCAR admission revenue (millions of dollars US)

12% - Merchandising, concessions, broadcast revenue down $28.9 million (-12%)

14.2% - Overall revenues down $49.4 million (-14.2%) from 2008


Videos

Photos