The ‘Television Exposure Equals Sponsorship’ Myth and Some Wondering

Recently I’ve had conversations with professional and semi-professional racers who are absolutely convinced that if they can just get their cars/series on TV that exposure will insure they’ll get the big money sponsorship they so badly want.

I would say that history shows that while television exposure cannot hurt a racing team, anything less than a TV show that airs on a major network in prime time will not deliver the kind of viewership (Nielsen ratings) that attracts major companies to sponsor race teams or series.

Over the past couple of decades the NHRA has delivered four or five hours or more of ESPN television programing for every one of their events yet despite that TV exposure very successful racers such as Don Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein,Gary Densham, Bob Vandergiff, Shirley Muldowney, Erica Enders-Stevens, Matt Smith and Warren Johnson have been unable to secure and/or keep keep major ($2,000,000-$3,000,000 yearly) sponsorships.

The 2013 season finds highly visible and successful NHRA racers Johnny Gray and Spencer Massey without Corporate America sponsorships despite much exposure on the NHRA ESPN2 broadcasts over the past few years.

I’m not saying that ESPN TV exposure doesn’t increase a race team’s or series’ odds of getting a major sponsorship, but I am saying that there are damn few examples of that actually happening.

The problem isn’t just limited to the NHRA’s “official” professional classes. Since Pro Mod became a professional category in the late 1980’s many of the classes racers and teams have been convinced that being on TV would bring sponsorships and increase the class’s popularity. In its heyday the old IHRA had the Pro Mod class as part of its TV broadcast. When Dave Woods sponsored the NHRA Pro Mod class he spent millions funding a network TV show for both the NHRA and ADRL series and to my knowledge doing so didn’t even get his own teams sponsorships.

Even the ADRL’s National Guard sponsorship came about more because of the direct contact the recruiters could make with young men and woman than the TV audience it delivered. I don’t know of any corporate sponsors the ADRL got that came on board as a result of TV.

When Roger Burgess came to the rescue of the NHRA Pro Mod series he also elected to fund a television program for the series, but evidently spending that money couldn’t even attract advertisers for the show much less sponsors for the race teams. As a result Mr. Burgess pulled the plug on that program after the first season.

Part of the problem is that TV has become its own version of AM/FM radio. No matter how many homes ESPN or any other network including NBC, ABC, or CBS are in the fact is that the home viewer has a hundred or more channels to chose from at any given moment. The odds that a viewer/corporate executive will watch a TV show about drag racing is, in my opinion, about 100-1 against at best.

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