Under a new points system for the 2004 season, Nascar has implemented what many are calling the "26-10" plan. At the end of the first 26 races, the top 10 drivers and any other driver within 400 points of the leader will compete for the Nextel Cup championship in the final 10 races of the season. All drivers can race in those final 10 events, but only the top drivers are eligible to win the championship.
That has sponsors of teams not eligible for the title concerned that their media coverage and visibility over the last two months of the season will decrease dramatically, threatening a decades-old synergy that has existed between Nascar, its corporate sponsors and drivers.
"We've made a commitment to our team for this year," said an executive for a marketer that sponsors one of the 42 Nascar drivers. "But if our guy isn't one of the 10 drivers competing for the championship, then maybe next year we do look at [sponsoring] the first 26 races and then seeing what happens."
Yearly sponsorship surrounding Nascar approaches $1 billion. That includes Nextel's $70 million annual sponsorship fee; the $360 million spent on the teams; $200 million minimum in sponsorship activation in other ways from team sponsors; and at least another $200 million minimum in track and event sponsorships (i.e. The Coca-Cola 600, or the Sharpie 500). Just over 100 of the Fortune 500 companies sponsor Nascar in some way. But drivers of some teams are already seeing some of the sponsorship money dry up-with less than two weeks to go before the season-opening Daytona 500, six of the 42 drivers were still without primary sponsors. Sirius, Harrah's Hotels and Casinos, and Friendly's restaurants have not re-upped with their drivers.
Other drivers, no matter where they finish, don't have much to worry about. UPS, for instance, has sponsored the No. 88 car of Dale Jarrett for four years.
"A sponsorship is so much more than a mark on a car," UPS spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg said. "Look, our driver did not perform well last year. And, yes, there may be less visibility on broadcast this year ... But that's just one reason to have a broad-based program."
"We're having a dialogue with our sponsors right now," a Nascar spokesman said. "Our view is that we believe there will be a significant build-up in coverage and attention in the first 26 races, and in the last 10. And whether a team's driver is in the top 10 or not, there's significantly more attention on Nascar."