On Nov. 17, four drivers will contend to hoist the trophy and claim the title of NASCAR champion. As the field of cars thunders across the finish line of the Ford EcoÂBoost 400 at HomeÂstead-Miami Speedway, it will bring an end to a season that has, in many ways, brought about a rebirth of the sport, and culÂtiÂvated an excitement over what is next as it moves into the future.
In a newÂfound era of optimism for the sport, Hillsdale College should take advantage of sponÂsoring a NASCAR team. The college has the marÂketing budget to make the investment, and it would be one that would pay off immensely.
NASCAR began in 1948, but the sport gained popÂuÂlarity throughout the â90s and the early 2000s. But the sportâs massive growth was in many ways unsusÂtainable, and NASCAR did not help its cause by bringing changes like the much-maligned Car of Tomorrowâââa major overhaul of the vehicleâs frameâââinto the sport. The loss of several major names from the sport in a short period of time cerÂtainly did not help either: Jeff Gordon retired from full-time racing in 2015, and Dale EarnÂhardt, Jr. folÂlowed suit in 2017. Declines in fan attenÂdance and T.V. viewÂership caused many comÂmenÂtators to proÂnounce the sport dead.
But the 2019 season has quashed those proÂnounceÂments.
From a pure numbers standÂpoint, the 2019 season has clearly been a success. Fox, which broadÂcasts the first half of the NASCAR season, reported a 2% increase in total viewÂership for their portion of the schedule comÂpared to 2018. NBC also announced some impressive numbers: the second Michigan race saw a 14% viewÂership increase over 2018, and the second Kansas race saw a 20% jump from 2018, leaving NBC with a 4% increase over their 2018 schedule at that point in the season. It will not be until after the chamÂpiÂonship at HomeÂstead-Miami Speedway that the full picture will be visible, but from the inforÂmation available, the viewÂership picture for NASCAR on teleÂvision is looking good.
NASCAR has posted solid in-person attenÂdance as well. While NASCAR does not release attenÂdance figures, there have been sellout crowds at Daytona InterÂnaÂtional Speedway in Florida for the Daytona 500, DarÂlington Raceway in South CarÂolina for the Bojanglesâ Southern 500, and ISM Raceway in Arizona for the Can-Am 500. There have also been near sellouts at TalÂladega SuperÂspeedway in Alabama for the Geico 500 and the 1000Bulbs.com 500.
It is this era of optimism for the sport that Hillsdale College has the opporÂtunity to join.
In addition to the posÂitive growth for the sport, NASCAR offers Hillsdale incredible flexÂiÂbility and value as a marÂketing tool. Because NASCAR teams have moved away from using the same sponsor for every race of the season, sponsors have much more flexÂiÂbility in deterÂmining how much of a comÂmitment they want to make. The quality of the team being sponÂsored also proÂvides another point of flexÂiÂbility.
SponÂsoring a large, estabÂlished team with a proven winning record like Joe Gibbs Racing, Penske, or HenÂdrick MotorÂsports will be more expensive than sponÂsoring a car that will run in the back of the pack, but a top-tier team will also gain more exposure. The fact that there are so many variÂables is what makes sponÂsoring a NASCAR team such a great opporÂtunity. SponÂsoring a vehicle in the lower series, the Xfinity Series or the Gander OutÂdoors Truck Series, is another option, proÂviding an even more affordable entry point into the sport.
Depending on the team, primary sponÂsorÂships for the Cup Series usually cost in the mid-six-figure range for a race, and sigÂnifÂiÂcantly less for an assoÂciate sponÂsorship. While paying six-figures to put the Hillsdale âHâ on a car may seem like a lot, it is only a small fraction of the $8.5 million Hillsdale spent on adverÂtising and proÂmotion in 2016, the most recent year for which the inforÂmation is available. With the underÂstanding that a full-season sponÂsorship would most likely not be in the collegeâs best interests, a partial-season effort may be.
AddiÂtionally, two races of the 36-race season are held at Michigan InterÂnaÂtional Speedway, located only 28 miles from the college in Brooklyn, Michigan. NatÂuÂrally, Hillsdale would have the opporÂtunity to pick and choose between races in markets that they conÂsider to be most benÂeÂficial for their marÂketing goals to target with sponÂsorÂships.
Hillsdale would not be the first or only major eduÂcaÂtional instiÂtution involved in the sport. Liberty UniÂversity sponÂsored William Byronâs vehicles since his days racing late models, and in SepÂtember announced they were extending their 12-race primary sponÂsorship of his No. 24 Hedrick MotorÂsports Chevrolet Camaro in the Cup Series for two more years.
The market of viewers that Hillsdale would have access to is one that would be useful to the college. DemoÂgraphÂiÂcally, the NASCAR fan base tends to lean to the right. In a study conÂducted by Morning Consult in 2018, NASCAR was viewed second most favorably of all sports leagues in the United States by RepubÂlicans. Among Democrats, however, it was viewed the least favorably. During the 2016 election, then-CEO of NASCAR Brian France endorsed Donald Trump for the presÂiÂdencyâââa move that would likely be unthinkable from the leadÂership of any other major sports league.
While many of the conÂcepÂtions of what the typical NASCAR fan looks like are based on unfounded stereoÂtypes, it is clear that many of the markets where the sport is most popular are ones where the values of Hillsdale College would be met with reception and interest.
An instiÂtution that seeks to grow and prosper by attracting more stuÂdents and donors needs to conÂstantly be reassessing its marÂketing strategy, thus Hillsdale should seriÂously conÂsider the posÂitive benÂefits that a NASCAR sponÂsorship could bring to the school.
Connor Kaeb is a George WashÂington Fellow and junior studying polÂitics.