BURK'S BLAST w/editor Jeff Burk

Is the NHRA the best motorsports series for corporate advertisers?

The lifeblood of any motorsports sanctioning body is multi-million-dollar sponsorship courtesy of Corporate America. Without corporate sponsors for the series and the racers no major league motor racing series can survive for long.


For at least a couple of decades Corporate America has spent most of it motorsports advertising dollars with NASCAR and its programs and with good reason. NASCAR on television had huge ratings and the tracks had huge crowds on race day. Twenty million-dollar race team sponsorship wasn’t uncommon and sponsor RJ Reynolds pumped millions of dollars into NASCAR for over 25 years. Basically, NASCAR sucked up around 90 percent of Corporate America’s advertising budget for motorsports. Other series like IndyCar, IROC, World of Outlaws, ADA and even the NHRA couldn’t compete with NASCAR’s unreal reach to its fans.


Then around 2008 the bad economy combined with a generation of American men and women who weren’t car crazy like previous generations. NASCAR spectator attendance started declining and eventually so did the TV ratings.


NASCAR  - Average Attendance - Compared to Prior Year


2012                    99,051                        -0.55%


2011                    99,602                        -2.49%


2010                  102,149                        -9.50%


2009                  112,877                         -8.25%


2008                  123,029                        -5.58%


2007                  130,305                             N/A


These figures are as announced by NASCAR. The sanctioning body no longer provides this information.


Along with live attendance, NASCAR TV ratings have been steadily dropping with decreases in the double digits this year, some as much as 30% down.


In fact, 2008 marked the start of a decline in race attendance and TV ratings in almost all professional motorsports.


Executives in the advertising world are almost always bottom line oriented. They are tasked with getting the most results for the least amount of money. What they and their clients spend for advertising is directly tied to not only product sales but how many eyes will see their ads. For a very long time NASCAR and their TV partners were able to name their price when selling advertising time on TV or at the track.


But with attendance at the races and viewers on TV for NASCAR events sagging, national advertisers are going to demand a reduction in their rates from NASCAR and will do so each time the average TV ratings keep dropping although their TV numbers and attendance will always dwarf any other motorsport

So why could NHRA drag racing a better advertising buy for Corporate America?


First, NHRA drag racing unlike many professional motorsports is apparently holding or even gaining fan base, not losing it. I say that because for the last seven years the NHRA gross receipts have remained at just about $99,000,000 a year. That is an indicator that the NHRA fan base that buys tickets and yearly NHRA membership remained steady over that time period; their fan base is healthy.


In 2017 the NHRA announced that six of their races sold out of spectator tickets for at least one day of an event. This year NHRA sold out 30,000+ seats at their Gainesville race. Last week at Las Vegas NHRA announced sellouts on Saturday and Sunday. A feat unheard of in contemporary times.


On the other hand, NASCAR national event tracks like Daytona and others have been removing grandstands because they simply can’t sell enough tickets to their races. Whole grandstands that look empty on TV are not only “bad optics” for NASCAR but proof that its popularity is on the wane. In addition, in my opinion their fans are rapidly ageing beyond the preferred 18-35 age group for advertisers.


Make no mistake, NASCAR’s 36 televised races on networks get good ratings guarantee and is still the first motorsports advertising and sponsorship buy for Corporate America. But the television numbers have been dropping and the NHRA is making inroads in NASCAR domination. NHRA can challenge NASCAR for corporate spending on race teams and series sponsorships if they can show that NHRA TV delivers an equal bang for the buck that NASCAR does. I think today’s NHRA does.


Although NHRA has a great media package to offer advertisers and sponsors including National Dragster magazine, NHRA’s Facebook, and four hours of FOX or FS1 coverage of every NHRA event, they do have one problem. NHRA’s only real issue getting more financial support from Corporate America is the low Nielsen ratings for NHRA national events. That number is often below a single Neilsen point while NASCAR often will have many times the numbers that NHRA does.


NHRA is painfully aware of this problem and since taking the production of the show in-house has spent much time and money trying to develop a race broadcast format that will satisfy their hardcore drag racing fans and attract viewers fans of other types of racing to NHRA drag racing.


Up to now the content of the TV broadcast the NHRA production team offers has failed to do that. NHRA continues to hire new people in an effort to develop a show format that will appeal to more than just drag racing fans and get those Nielsen numbers up.


Until that happens the NHRA is a more affordable alternative for Corporate America. NHRA currently offers a TV broadcast that delivers a big enough viewership to attract Corporate advertising if the price is right.


Based on published facts including the NHRA’s tax returns, a case can be made to Corporate America that the NHRA offers advertisers a sport in which literally anyone can compete in a race schedule that goes from coast to coast and border to border. NHRA is financially stable, has a loyal fan base, a network TV contract for all national events and a Fortune 100 company (Mello Yello’s parent company is Coca-Cola) as a long-term sponsor.


The stars of the sport of drag racing represent the entire spectrum of the population. Participants range in age from single digits to octogenarians. Drag racing has women and men as Top Fuel and Funny Car World Champions. Drag racing is the most diverse and non-racist of all professional motorsports with African-American and Mexican-American competitors and champions. Those assets and benefits alone ought to appeal to Corporate America but my guess is that in the end corporate sponsorship of NHRA drag racing is going to boil down to how much exposure a Fortune 500 company can get for a good price. After all, in the end it is always the money. 

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