An attempt to dive into the very complex issue of NASCAR merchandise following a week of chatter on the topic.
So, what’s this all about?
On Tuesday, Kyle Larson tweeted something unusual. Someone noted Larson sold $13,000 worth of merchandise during an appearance at a dirt track, and the NASCAR points leader jumped on the comment.
More than I’ve made all year in NASCAR sales…. ???????? https://t.co/IWmsG93qpv
— Kyle Larson (@KyleLarsonRacin) July 3, 2017
Was that remark an exaggeration? Actually, probably not. According to NASCAR, Larson has sold more than $300,000 in merchandise this season, which is up 125 percent from 2016.
But drivers in today’s NASCAR keep only a small percentage of their sales — often 1-3 percent. A big-name driver I spoke to this week (who asked not to be identified) said he once sold $2 million of merchandise in a season and received just $20,000 as his share.
Driver contracts vary, but if Larson has a similar deal, then he’s perhaps made just $3,000-$6,000 this year off his NASCAR merchandise sales.
At the dirt track, though, Larson probably kept at least half the money. He has no overhead costs there (like paying a percentage to the track or employees) aside from the expense of producing the shirts.
I’ve talked to several people this week who say a T-shirt typically costs around $10 to produce — and Larson’s sprint car shirts sell for $25. So if Larson sold $13,000 worth in a night and kept approximately $6,500-$7,500 in profit, then that could certainly be more than what he’s made all season in NASCAR merchandise sales so far.
Are the drivers getting ripped off?
If you were a driver and saw hundreds of fans every weekend wearing your shirt at the racetrack, but only saw a couple hundred dollars in your paycheck for merchandise sales, you might be confused. A bit angry, even.
That was the tone of a meeting between drivers and exclusive trackside rights-holder Fanatics during the April race weekend at Richmond International Raceway, according to several people with knowledge of the gathering.
What was supposed to be a 30-minute briefing turned into a meeting of more than two hours, in which some drivers in attendance sought a detailed explanation as to why they receive such a relatively small amount of a sale.
As it turns out, the debate over whether the allocation is equitable has been going on since the mid-90s.
Here is the breakdown of a typical at-track sale:
— Fanatics gets 75 percent. There are numerous reasons cited for this: The overhead costs of bringing the superstore tent or haulers, the expenses of hiring people to sell the merchandise, the cost of producing the merchandise and the risk undertaken for an inventory that might not ultimately sell. According to people familiar with the business model, a hauler needs to sell $1 million of merchandise per year just to break even — and the tent costs were even more expensive. From a Fanatics standpoint, the company emphasizes it inherited the same percentage that has been used for more than 20 years.
— The tracks get 15 percent. The reason for this is the tracks are essentially assembling the customer base for the sale. A track executive noted without holding an event and bringing a crowd, there is no one to sell to. While 15 percent may sound like a high number, JR Motorsports vice president of marketing and licensing Joe Mattes told me that’s been the standard number since the late 90s — and some tracks used to take as much as 25 percent until his then-boss, Dale Earnhardt Sr., pushed back.
— The team gets 9 percent. But here’s where this gets tricky, because that “team” number is divided into many different slices. A typical arrangement over the years has been one third to the actual race team, one third to the driver and one third to the sponsor who appears on the shirt. Mark Martin told me that was the arrangement dating back to the prime of his career, and an agent told me that is generally reflective of today’s agreements. Of course, that one third can fluctuate depending on the driver’s bargaining power (Dale Earnhardt Jr. likely gets more than a young driver who is happy to sign whatever contract he can get).
— NASCAR gets 1 percent. The merchandise features the NASCAR logo bar and is sold at a NASCAR race, so most do not consider this to be an unreasonable amount.
Blake Davidson, NASCAR vice president of licensing and consumer products, told me the overall model hasn’t changed much in 25 years. But there has been one notable change, and it might be part of why drivers believe they should be getting more.
How we got here
Bear with me for a moment as we go through an abbreviated history of the NASCAR merchandise industry.
In the 90s, when everything in NASCAR was taking off, companies like Action Performance and Team Caliber had to compete for team rights (and even driver rights, after Dale Earnhardt Sr. secured the rights to his name, image and likeness in 1995).
During NASCAR’s boom years, souvenir companies ended up giving teams up-front, guaranteed money — in the millions of dollars — even though they didn’t necessarily sell that much in merchandise. In a scramble to secure the rights, they overpaid with the guarantees.
The companies merged into one (Motorsports Authentics) in 2005, but when NASCAR hit its slump last decade, the business proved to be unsustainable.
“If you want to sum it all up in one word, it’s ‘Greed,'” Martin said. “But if you want to point fingers at someone, you can’t. The fingers would point everywhere. Everybody got greedy.”
Motorsports Authentics nearly went bankrupt in 2009 and had to renegotiate deals with teams and get them to forgive some of the debt owed from guaranteed money. Nevertheless, today’s drivers have heard tales from veteran drivers about the millions that used to roll in — and wonder what happened.
In the wake of the near-collapse of the merchandise industry, teams formed the NASCAR Trust in 2010 — which for the first time combined industry rights to create one party for licensees to negotiate with.
That ultimately led to a joint agreement with NASCAR to use Fanatics as the primary retailer in 2015, because Fanatics was the only candidate out of 14 companies that could really manage what NASCAR’s Davidson called “the most complex retail space in all of sports.” Fanatics knows what it’s doing; it’s also the official partner of the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL.
Here’s the thing, though: While exact financials are unavailable, even Fanatics isn’t exactly making huge money off NASCAR.
That’s because no one is.
“It’s not that drivers are getting screwed over, it’s just there are so many players involved in a watered-down market that at the end of the day, nobody is really making any money unless there’s a huge volume sold,” Landon Cassill told me.
Splitting a smaller pie
That lack of sales volume is another major factor in why drivers are making less. You know the well-documented attendance decline? Well, that leads to fewer sales at the track, because there are fewer people to buy gear. In addition, the people coming to the track have less disposable income.
It’s made a significant impact. Martin told me he made more money off trading cards alone in the late 90s than he did off all merchandise combined in the late 2000s.
In turn, that has created a lack of motivation for drivers to promote their merchandise in the first place — because they’re making small potatoes compared to their actual salary.
Larson hinted at that this week through another tweet, but many found it to be tone-deaf.
The thing is, why should we really want to when we get such a small cut from it? An hour of our time might make us 50 dollars. https://t.co/KTuvkRXri1
— Kyle Larson (@KyleLarsonRacin) July 5, 2017
Here’s a translation: According to one agent, some drivers can make between $5,000 and $25,000 for an hour of time by doing appearances at the track.
So if a driver goes to his NASCAR merchandise hauler or the Fanatics superstore and signs autographs for an hour while people buy his gear, even $5,000 of merchandise sold might only equal $100.
To a driver making millions per year, a couple hundred bucks is like seeing a penny on the sidewalk. It’s not even worth stopping.
So in the dwindling spare time a driver has at the track — between being in the car, team meetings, contractual sponsor obligations, media commitments and family time — the idea of using an hour to do something that creates so little tangible gain is hard to justify.
One driver I spoke to (who also asked his name not be used) acknowledged drivers could perhaps sell more merchandise if they put an effort behind it — but there’s simply not enough incentive to do so. Another driver said spending that time would just be lining the pockets of executives, not those putting in the work.
Drivers look at the bottom line and don’t feel they are getting their fair share.
“I’m pretty sure they’re not buying the shirt because it’s NASCAR; otherwise they’d just buy a shirt that says ‘NASCAR’ on it,” Danica Patrick told me last year. “I feel pretty screwed in that department.”
NASCAR, however, believes a driver making an appearance at the point of sale can have a tremendous impact on the future. If fans can have a conversation or interaction with a driver while purchasing the merchandise, NASCAR believes it can pay off with loyalty in the long run.
“If you can have even 60 seconds worth of interaction with a driver at a NASCAR event and you’re buying their gear, I don’t know there’s a stronger bond than that,” Davidson said. “That’s unbelievable you could have that kind of interaction with your favorite athlete — buying their gear right there, putting it on and having them sign it or get a picture? That’s an amazing experience you’re going to remember for a lifetime. We want a lot more of that.”
Drivers, though, feel they are already connecting with fans in different ways — whether through social media, trips into the infield or signing autographs on the fly. There’s also a disconnect, because fans might expect a driver to feel a sense of gratitude for putting money into their pockets with a merchandise purchase — but the driver knows the majority of the dollars went to other people.
Other sports, by the way, are not that different in terms of the athlete personally benefiting. For example: In the NBA, all jersey sales are pooled together and evenly distributed to all members of the players union. And in the NFL, players get a portion of their individual jersey sales — but it isn’t much, as Adrian Peterson tweeted in 2012.
#1 I’m in the top jersey sales! # 2 I see maybe 10,000 from those sales#3 I get paid under 1million a year#4 but I oder to change MY number
— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) February 1, 2012
There are two reasons for you as a fan to buy a T-shirt: First, you might actually like the shirt and want to wear it to show your allegiance. Second, you might be buying a shirt because you want to be supportive in a way where the driver personally benefits.
If the primary goal is the first reason, then you likely don’t care how much money the driver gets. But if you’re making the purchase based on wanting to help the driver make a living, then you should know your at-track dollars are likely not helping that cause very much.
A better solution in that respect is to buy from a driver or team’s online store. If you see a shirt that has no NASCAR logo or no sponsor image, the driver is likely getting much more of the proceeds.
For example, Joey Logano’s store has his “JL” logo without any NASCAR, Team Penske or Shell marks.
We’ve got free shipping on all #TeamJL items along with great deals on some of our newest gear! -> https://t.co/ULZ7LbBvb1 #CyberMonday pic.twitter.com/VeBnRBHBDX
— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) November 28, 2016
Some drivers don’t have a team of people helping them, though, and have to sell merchandise by hand. Landon Cassill launched a social media campaign last year to sell a package for $38 (his then-car number) which included a vintage T-shirt, sticker, signed hero card and sunglasses.
He then packed and shipped all the shirts himself.
“Of course I want people to buy my Fanatics stuff — it’s not that I don’t endorse those items,” Cassill said. “But if people want to know they’re supporting me because I don’t have millions of dollars in backing, then when you see stuff on my site, I’m going to make a bigger royalty on it.”
That may be the direction the industry is headed, according to someone who handles driver contracts. Drivers will look to personal merchandise online, because even if they wanted to invest in bringing a hauler, Fanatics has exclusive on-site rights.
In the meantime, Fanatics indicated it is doing everything it can to make the at-track experience better for fans — including starting to sell more merchandise inside the tracks themselves.
The best course of action
So what should drivers do? The issue blew up on social media this week, with drivers like Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin chiming in. But in general, is it worth caring about if they could spend energy elsewhere — particularly in an ever-changing industry?
Mattes, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, has always followed Earnhardt Sr.’s mantra: “Take care of our sponsors, take care of the race fan.”
That attitude, he said, results in an intensely loyal fan base that is built over the course of many years. And a loyal fan base translates into sponsorship, which he described as “the heartbeat of what we do.”
So if drivers have to undertake additional obligations with the big picture in mind, Mattes said, “that’s just smart business.”
“You have to give back to the fans,” he said. “The money is the gravy. The loyal fan base is the whole entree.
“T-shirts will never be the focal point. I think you’d piss off a lot of drivers, but the truth is, I know how hard it is to run the damn thing, and I’m not running it on T-shirt revenue — I’m running it on sponsor support.”
65 Replies to “Merchandise in NASCAR, explained”
I’m now a smarter man on the subject,thanks Jeff
Awesome article Jeff. This sounds like a problem in futility where no one will get rich of merchandise with less fans at the tracks.
Good write up. Thanks for the insight.
The other thing I’ve seen happen is a lot of the employees steal the merchandise and it’s employees that have been there for years ! I’ve seen it happen so maybe they need to check out some of their employees theft is a huge loss to them as well
I owned a NASCAR Store back in the 80’s to early 90’s. In those days, the driver’s controlled most all of their products. It wasn’t uncommon to go to the track and find their families, mom and dad etc. running the trailer.
Dale Sr. and Hank Jones started Sports Image and with that company they started the more professional appearance.
Like everything in NASCAR the merch business fell to greed. Shops like mine closed as Walmart took over the business. Selling the product for what I was paying for it. Now try to find any NASCAR products in Walmart!
Maybe I’ll open a new store just selling driver products and go back to dealing directly with them!
Amen brother! More of Everything Car Collectibles, Springfield Oregon. Since 2001
I’m an old fan ( my first souvenir was a Harry Gant jacket bought at N. Wilkesboro). I miss the days of you guys out there manning those trailers. It was just more fun interacting with people that knew the drivers. Thanks for what you did back in the day!
Hey Dan, I have been wanting information on how to get my products into the NASCAR scene but, from this article (Great info by the way) and your comment, I may start looking for other avenues. I could use some advice on how to get started.
Great comment Thanks
That was when every souvenir was unique to the driver, not the same shirt in different driver colors.
You are right they carried nothing after 2011 at Wallmart.My favorite shop is close at Daytona Beach right next to the track.
I’ve spend more dollar at raceshop & shop outside the track nationwide.Nothing like buying product from family member.The fanatic experience isn’t for me.
Many shop closed across the country staff with passion & knowledge of the sport.Thanks Jeff
If you’re talking about the one beside the sunoco gas station over by turn one they have moved the shop and it’s now down on a road that runs adjacent to the waterway. Had trouble finding it last summer while we were on vacation.
Great article!! Didn’t Big E start his own marketing company later taking on other drivers?
Thanks for putting in the work to educate us. It’s good for us fans to know what does and does not support our favorite drivers & teams.
Fascinating. Thanks for some insight to how things work.
I’m lucky in that I am only about 75 minutes from Concord. I can get to my driver/team store for merchandise there. However, I will say that most things in the Fanatics tent are $5 to $10 more than at the shop! So even online with shipping direct from the shop would be a save.
Great read. After reading it I went and bought a shirt off of Larsons site to show my support I didn’t realize the drivers were getting such a low cut of the souvenirs sales.
Much ado about nothing. The drivers earn money from: race car driving, sponsor events, endorsement deals, special appearances.
The merchandise people incur all the costs as noted in your article.
Buy from the drivers personal store if you want the drivers to earn a bigger cut (Lord knows Logano and Larson are damn near penniless). Or buy from a merch trailer at the track. The small business people and their employees need to earn a buck.
Problem with your final statement is.. it’s not a small business or small business owner that’s doing the selling at the track. It’s almost all controlled through Facebook, or through NASCAR marketing
Fanatics is hardly a small business.
I agree with you. Fans shouldn’t need to worry about who is getting paid for merchandise anyway. We are paying enough for tickets and extra TV packages if you want to watch all of the races as it is. Sick of them crying about the time they spend working. Most of us work more and certainly aren’t making millions for the fancy crap they all show off on social media.
I’ve been to 3 races at track in 1998 then 2006 and this year. In 1998 it was a smorgasbord and haulers everywhere selling stuff. 2006 wasnt bad but not as good with some drivers not represented. This year in March I had two granddaughters with me and it was pathetic. I could not find a race event tee in XL. I got the last race event hat I could find. The girls wanted 10 gear but only found a hat each they liked, no tees and a limited selection in youth sizes, most in a outdated sponsor. And nobody around to help or talk to or make them smile. I was ready to spend much more $ than I did but a line was forming to pay. It was NOT a good experience. Next I will shop online before going and hope they like the choices…..
Great article Jeff, Thank You.
Stewart S …you hit the nail on the head. I am as avid a NASCAR fan as you will find and go to multiple races a year. I’ve all but stopped purchasing merchandise at the track…or off track even while being fortunate enough to have the means to buy if I wanted. The merchandise trailers used to be part of the experience, they generated keen fan/customer interest. We’ve all fought the lines before and especially after the race. It was part of the event, the pageantry ! NASCAR ruined that part of the fan experience with the Fanatics tent. Children to older folks DO NOT have a fan experience in the Fanatics trailer versus buying from what used to be the beautiful “personal” merchandise haulers. Even the physical appearance of the walk to the track through the driver merchandise haulers is gone…only a big white tent that requires bag search every damn time you leave it. Who wants the hassle?
I used to point out that the average NASCAR fan at an event was wearing at least $25-$75 worth of merchandise. There’s a noticeable decline in recent years.
Percentage splits is a debatable subject, what isn’t debatable is that NASCAR and the Teams ruined a major part of the on track experience with the Fanatics tents. It’s a fan experience failure and they wonder why sales are down? Really?
NASCAR and the Teams…GET A CLUE….you’re not selling t-shirts, hats, etc….your selling FAN CONNECTION to the DRIVERS. The Fanatics tent has killed that experience ! Your merchandise sales are falling because you’ve substantially reduced the desire to purchase by eliminating the fan/driver connection with the Fanatics tent. How many little kids or adults are having their pictures taken next to the Fanatics tent versus what used to occur in mass next to the merchandise trailers?! You are NOT selling hats, shirts etc…. it’s the fan connection people want to buy, the merchandise is just the item..
I agree the Merchandise trailers are a major part of the race experience! When I began going to qualifying day in 2004, I almost considered it a NASCAR yard sale! It was great seeing all the merchandise trailers lined up. Parking lots open at 6am, track opens at 8am, and by 9am the trailers would pretty much be open. As you walk past driver trailers to your favorite, something may catch your eye (for yourself, neighbor, or friend). I have NO idea how many trips I made between the M. Trailers and the parking lot! The M. Trailers also gave you time to kill until events began happening at the track. Another great thing about the trailers is the sellers KNEW what they were selling. No remarks like something MAY be over there or the box says…
Then as the years went by, fewer and fewer driver trailers showed up; kind of disappointing. Many drivers of the same team would combine their trailers.
It also depends on what part of the year you go to the track. Beginning of the season, perhaps more choices or some things haven’t come out yet. Mid season should be in full swing. End of season you can come across deals of unsold merchandise (some of the things which you wanted in the first place!).
Give me ten trailers over the white tents any day!!!
You are spot on Rob. I’ve taken many a picture with my driver’s face on his hauler. Felt PROUD & COOL. More importantly, I took, or had taken, FREE OF CHARGE, a picture that became a PRICELESS MEMORY. Been in many a white tent, some being ‘VIP’, at various functions. Pictures of the white tent, umm, BORING!
We, as fans, pay big $$ for a Nascar event/weekend:
Tickets, travel, lodging, food & souvenirs. If fortunate enough, pay for headphones, Pit Passes, ANYTHING that may enhance our experience & possibly gain us access to our drivers for pictures/autographs. Why? Because just like the drivers, WE LOVE THIS SPORT!
For many, this may be their one & only time to have the chance to attend a race. It may be their yearly vacation. No matter the reason, the fans should be afforded the opportunity to have that experience be as enjoyable & memorable as possible without jumping through tons of hoops to make it possible. Then, after jumping a hoop, find that something, such as a hauler, is no longer there. Or, the fan is left on their own to find what they need/want. No happy, knowledgeable assistance, in some cases.
Nascar is an expensive sport, as are many others. Sponsers pay millions to promote a team. Team owners do the same to make winning possible. The list goes on. However, MOST fans don’t have millions, but many pay tremendous amounts to enjoy & support their sport.
I understand each party wanting/deserving their fair share of the pie. I don’t have the ability to decide what is fair for each. That is something those parties NEED to continue to work on but, WITH THE FANS IN MIND, NOT THEIR INDIVIDUAL POCKETS! As attendance diminishes, & lessening interest in the sport grows, can’t we all find a way to get along before we see this sport we have LOVED for decades disappear? Those fighting over who gets what & why, will find their pockets becoming empty as fans sadly disappear. No happy fans equals no Nascar racing. What a tragedy for ALL!
Well said Jerry W.
This is so true and well said.l have been bitching about this since they brought in the BIG BOX TENT, WOULD LOVE to see the drivers haulers back, just more personal to have them and talk to the people running them.You could look up and tell them what shirt,hat what ever you wanted,not now you have to pick through all the crap they have hanging just to find your size…TOTAL BS. I know a lot of my race fan friends that will NOT SPEND A DIME in the BIG BOX TENT. To me the Drivers haulers are the
NASCAR experience at the races…
No surprise here. Fanatics is only going to make a very limited amount of “event” product because anything they don’t sell is worthless on Monday. But the merch has been out there since Thursday, so fans showing up for the main event are in the backend of the sales curve.
In the early 2000’s drivers wanted guaranteed salaries instead of small salary, 40-60% of prize money and one or two thirds of the team merch royalty. The guarantees made drivers, at least half the field, recipiants of multi-million dollar a year compensation plans. These salaries are unsustainable with falling sponsorship, dwindling attendance and rising costs of competing.
Sorry, but I have a hard time feeling sorry for guys sleeping in million dollar coaches, arriving by private jets and helicopters and then they cry about promoting the sport by selling t shirts with their images on them. Its plain short-sighted and tone deaf. Mattes is right, take care of the folks in the stands and the rest will fall into place. Drivers need to think about their total compensation as part of the big picture and what they do to earn it compared to how a fan earns their living. Drivers are very, very well compensated, if they don’t do more to show their appreciation to the avid fan base, think about the bigger picture in respect to the overall health of the sport, their way of life will disappear, probably a lot faster than they think.
I’ve worked around this sport since 1986, beleive me, Mark Martin, Dale Sr, Ernie, Schraeder, Sterling and the rest worked at least 3-4x harder for their money, and they had to earn it week-by-week, race-by-race with very few guarantees. Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards.
You nailed it with this comment.
The at-the-track presence is a whole lot less critical than it once was, too. When I was a kid, you could buy at the track, or you could hope the local souvenir shop (if you had one) would have something in stock. I’m sure there was mail order, too. With apologies to Smash Mouth, allow (if you’re still alive) six to eight years to arrive. Now, order whatever you want online – you have plenty of options – and you don’t need to worry about shopping at the track. You can if you want, and this diecast collector will probably spend too much money on little metal cars next week in Loudon…but it’s no longer the only option.
Something I noticed a few years ago was that drivers were starting to use personal logos more and more. It used to be the driver’s likeness was bound to the team, except maybe for a stylized signature like Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt. As I was shooting hauler photos a few years back, I noticed a lot more of the younger drivers – Austin and Ty Dillon, Justin Allgaier – had their own brand, their own logo as opposed to a stylized signature. I suppose it’s easier to market that stuff on your own terms; it’s something the team can’t really take title to in the same way.
Thanks for great article. The Wood Brothers have encouraged fans to but off their website store. I got a diecast from their site this year. Even more glad I did now from their site. I have not purchased anything ever from the Fanatics tent or their trailers.
Explains why I can never find Larson gear at Target. Silly me for looking there
Why not cut Fanatics and consider having team or their own merchandise tents/trailers. I feel that many at NHRA do that, I realize that may be a smaller scale but at least it’s still an option for the fan that just must get a shirt at THE track.
The NASCAR Trust (sanctioning body, teams, drivers) just signed a 10 year deal with Fanatics starting in 2015. This business model is going to be around for the better part of the next decade. At least they have done away with the big Fanatics tent (as of the Coke 600 in Charlotte).
Another problem with NASCAR merchandise is that most of it is hideous! They need to tone it down a bit.
While the drivers aren’t as accessible, at least we can still get something to make us feel like a fan. Whether it’s a $4 die-cast from Walmart or something more elaborate (multi-hundred dollars plus), it’s available someplace. On the die-casts, what sucks is when Lionell pre-sells cars and later decides not to produce particular ones. That hurts us who collect. Then again, maybe if there weren’t so many trinkets available, companies like Lionell would be forced to produce.
But the point is the driver trailers vs. the tents. I’m sure there are some people who prefer the tents where they can see/get everything under “one roof.” For people with disabilities, the tents are an advantage.
Thanks, Jeff, for taking the time to explain this to us–one more reason we love this site!
The June Michigan race had haulers there instead of the dreaded white tent. Makes the whole experience much better. They also had the “gypsy” vendors across the street. NASCAR tried to force them out but they are hanging around. I make purchases from both sides of the street. If they force the gypsy vendors out, or return with the white tent, I won’t bother going to the races. I will just listen to them on the radio. PS Great article!!
Does the name Lisa Frantz Kennedy ring a bell… A NASCAR genius that helped drive nails in the souvenir sales business coffen… NASCAR Greed is another part… This article is spot on!
I’m curious what that Fanatics contract is worth. Nascar is definitely not paying Fanatics…
Here’s the biggest problem I see – and it’s what boils down to both poor fan attendance and eventually ratings, when the rights are renegotiated and NASCAR will be eating up purses soon.
Drivers are mad they aren’t seen the penny on the dollar for THAT EXACT SALE.
They’ve forgotten fans are an investment. Maybe they don’t realize that many, kids and adults alike, have in the past, sought up drivers they felt were accessible.
To this end, I got my husband to go to Atlanta when we were engaged. I told him, to make it fun, to get him into the sport – pick a driver, ANY driver, invest in their win. He just happened to meet Jimmie Johnson, in his rookie year.
You know what that has translated to? Around $25k of our own money purchasing Jimmie gear, and/or track tickets and expenses because if he didn’t care, it wouldn’t have been a spot we stopped on our honeymoon (Brickyard, 2004) and it wouldn’t be the place I take my kids twice a year to Daytona. (That’s not to include my own Jeff purchases of probably around $40k lifetime or the extra costs in tickets and gear Kyle Busch now sees due to my and my children being a fan of his – just last weekend, we bought a third FanVision (or whatever they are calling them now), we spent $800 for an RV spot, I took my parents for the first time (an additional cost for wristbands plus fan zone tickets, which were held hostage from us and we never got to go as we sat at the gate for over 3 hours while they tried to figure out how to give us tickets).
Hell, we even bought an RV to do all this.
Literally, over the time in our 15 years together, we spend more on NASCAR than anything else but our mortgage. (Yes, even more than our cars when you considered gas, travel, tickets, fan zone, merchandise, a junk RV to fit our large family, food, at track purchases, experiences, hauler purchases.) Actually, for the first time to an event, this last race was the first time we bought zero merch (why bother? All the women’s clothes are straight junk and sized down 4 sizes, the kids stuff is two shirts if there is any even in stock and I already have 14 bumper stickers for various cars.
All because of 2 minutes my husband had with Jimmie.
And that’s before considering our low buying in the last few years because of how awful as a whole Fanatics is.
(And unfortunately, with the points here there and everywhere and no one knows where their driver stands, a couple of my kids are quickly losing interest anyway.)
You, dear Mary, are part of a breed nearing extinction. It’s interesting to know there are still some of you around.
We’re out there. Trying hard to hang onto our families, to keep that feel of a sport that we love, get our kids interested and hope that somehow, someway – NASCAR makes a giant leap back before our kids are lost to boredom and nothingness of track experiences but climb up, climb down, climb up, climb down of an RV.
Man, the first few races I dragged them to Daytona, they played games, came home with massive bags full of stuff, Michael McDowell’s crew say them watching and handed them practice used lugs (which are carefully preserved!), free snacks, drinks, matchbox cars, 8×10 photos, while Mommy and Daddy got some drink samples.
One of my favorite NASCAR kitsch items is some cans of FlexSeal signed by Ross Chastain. I mean, where else can you get that? 😀
What was at the last few races? A Toyota truck experience my kids couldn’t participate in (due to the waiver and age limits), a Ford “spin and win nothing” wheel (what’s a little kid going to do with a 4 cent paper keychain?), and a nearly 2.5 mile away Fanatics Tent (by the time you actually go from infield to outside the track and then down from the tram to the tent) that usually ended with them upset they didn’t have any children’s merch or toys.
I got season tickets this year to my local NFL team. It’s a weird world indeed, where my local NFL team actually has more free experiences for kids than NASCAR. (Free media day slots, practice, kids events that have them up against the players, and even a free summer camp.)
Funny, when NASCAR brass told us all how we just really, really, really needed to make them like other sports, who’d have thought the really, really big money sports would be taking the NASCAR model, while NASCAR goes blackout with fans?
I love me some Jeff, but frankly, a few years ago when he stated, “I wish I’d never signed so many autographs, because they aren’t worth anything now” – meaning he couldn’t charge as much, I was just really, really sad. An experience to “meet” him is $624 a person (i.e. a mass Q&A with all other purchasers, a quick photo). Dude has made nearly a billion bucks in his career. And he’s mad he can’t charge a few more bucks for autographs?!?!?!
I don’t want to think about the dollars we have spent attending races, buying merchandise, RV camping and thousands of miles. I no longer need merchandise and am not making any plans to attend races. The reasons are too numerous for here, but after 45 years I’m done.
Example: in 2016 Clint Bowyer made $7,000,000 driving for a third-tier team. (3 Top 10s in 36 starts, all the while, treating his crew like crap.) That is more money in one year than I will ever make in my lifetime. Bowyer and the like don’t have to worry about T-shirt sales, or diecast sales, or even how he treats crew members. He’s got plenty of money. Therein lies the problem. There’s no motivation to connect with fans (or sometimes, crew).
I find it repulsive that Danica Patrick would cuss out a fan that wanted her autograph. Even if she didn’t have time, there are better ways to handle those occasions. Such is the elitist attitude displayed by so many of this era.
BTW–her net worth is somewhere between $30,000,000 and $50,000,000 depending on which sources you go by.
Some drivers (Ryan Blaney comes to mind, though he’s not the only one) have realized the need to interact with fans. The likes of Blaney may actually save this version of the sport, though he can’t do it alone.
I often hear people talk about how Richard Petty used to stay after a race and sign autographs until the last person left. Then I hear some modern broadcasters say “But a driver just can’t do that these days.” Hogwash!! The magic elixir that made NASCAR so great in days past is the driver’s willingness to meet and interact with the fans. The drivers, teams, and sanctioning body need to rediscover this formula if they want to keep this version of the sport going.
Did you actually watch the Danica exchange? She did NOT “cuss out” the fans. She USED a cuss word in a discussion with them. It was not directed at them. Though she may have been out of line, the exchange was totally blown out of proportion.
Agree. Great comments.
Danica didn’t curse out fans, she hit her limit that day because some creeper adult guy had been stalking her all day, and had even rushed the secure area trying to shove stuff in her face. And she still didn’t “curse out” fans, she said a curse word, when making her case that she’s a human being.
“But a driver just can’t do that these days.”
What’s funny is the crowd sizes are smaller than they had when they DID meet with fans. I give them a lot of slack, because all these sponsor obligations, media junk that NASCAR is shoving down their throats and the new TMZ/”gotcha” reporting (see: Kyle Busch getting irritated after giving more than an hour’s worth of media, when the same reporter asked the same question 4 different ways of “how does it feel to suck and lose?”).
But that doesn’t absolve them of 100% interaction and NASCAR themselves could easily lighten up on the at-track obligations freeing them up for fans.
You mention Blaney, who is one, but Chris Buescher went and hauled fans out of a flooding RV area. During rain delays, hit up the infield. Then you have “security” of an infield area, on the scene guards, but still get interaction, especially to those paying the most.
Hell, make it a new TV spot. “Riding out the weather”, and have reporters hit up a golf cart that takes drivers around in there. Something. ANYTHING, at this point. It’s infuriating looking at pit road, to passes most fans can’t even get anymore (unless the corporate sponsor sells them, as they often do), as the only place you can come within 50 feet of a driver.
Whew….well done article. So, as the person who has negotiated and signed daddy’s contracts , I can really relate to the info given from the business stand point. As well, I can relate to the responses. I hope for the time when there can be a happy medium. Thanks for this wealth of info and all of the heartfelt shared experiences. Awesome article and feedback……
So if I buy my stuff from Amazon who gets the most profit? Or Hendrick?
“According to people familiar with the business model, a hauler needs to sell $1 million of merchandise per year just to break even — and the tent costs were even more expensive. ”
Weren’t we told that they needed to move the business model to the tent in order to reduce costs? Or am I misreading the statement above.
I always loved walking the “midway” at Texas Motor Speedway before and after races. What used to be the midway is now just a bunch of empty asphalt you have to walk across to get to the stupid tent by gate 4. There’s no question that the fan experience at the track has been reduced.
I’m going to the websites for my favorite drivers now to see what they have for sell there.
I caught that too about the costs of haulers/tents; figured a misprint. Unfortunately internet sales have hurt local businesses. Also disappearing are the sponsorship tents/areas. Times change.
I don’t really care if the drivers are making money off the track merchandise. I get the principle, but hard to feel sympathy with the regular money they make. However, I would prefer to buy from them, like the Team JL example, because it won’t matter if they change teams over the next 10 years, I can wear that shirt.
There is no way a shirt costs $10 to produce, I don’t care how many people “agree.” Fanatics is inflating their costs right off the top thereby reducing everyone else’s cut right off the top.
This has been one of my biggest complaints for years. The merchandise is overpriced so everyone gets a cut and the guy whose name I’m actually buying is getting the least. Shameful. I don’t care how rich they are, the iniquity is disgraceful.
Also why the tracks get a cut is beyond ridiculous, “tracks are essentially assembling the customer base for the sale. A track executive noted without holding an event and bringing a crowd, there is no one to sell to.” Seriously?? Without drivers attending, there is no “event”!!
I honestly have no problem with a track getting a cut and that cut seems relatively fine. They provide staff, security, bathrooms, food, and some tracks also free Wifi.
I’m also not sure who pays the local ambulance/doctor services, but I’d assume the track has to provide that, as well as their own track crew that does the painting (especially those doing it overnight).
I’m cool with them taking a cut – it’s no different than consignment really.
Excellent article Jeff! I have been trying to explain this all week myself. Instead I will just share this!
And I have truly enjoyed reading the comments as well.
So again Brian France GREED. He was the one that made Motorsport authentics by buying out Action and Team Caliber and the he sold the drivers out by selling to Fanatics. I’m sure there was some money exchanged and again the drivers didn’t see anything. And if the drivers do sign at the Fanatics tent you have to spend 50 or more just for an autograph. Then the fanzone they charge on race day 99.00 to have a chance to get to see a driver or even try to get an autograph. Again France greed. The truth is that Brian France GREED has ruined the sport.
I haven’t spent the first dime at the SuperStore Tent. I just don’t like the whole supermarket feel of it. I usually buy straight from the online website, especially if it’s something that benefits the driver’s foundation efforts. I have purchased from the driver haulers in the past, but not so much since the online has been available.
Great article and comments! Squire/Econamaki quality! This story is one of the reasons so many no longer attend events. The quality has diminished over last decade. Some of the newer drivers are understanding fan base, but can’t change the stress of multitasking there lives. Placing themselves in a fish bowl. NASCAR has tried to make races more interesting by changing rules, but has regulated themselves away from traditional competition. There is now 3 races(segments) to each race that allows a reset at the end of. I have no problem with points, but find it ridiculous too throw caution. Monster Energy is new sponsor for cup series and will be attending race soon (Pocono). Sprint tapered off track participation last 2 years. This as well as Fanatics change left much less interactions at track. I am reserving until after attending event as to whether Monster is right sponsor for series. The traditon of Winston is long gone.
It’s interesting that you mention Winston. Winston’s involvement in the sport went much deeper than the top Nascar series. They had a huge involvement in and pumped a bunch of money into local tracks that were Nascar sanctioned. The short track series was known as the “Winston Racing Series.” The same goes for Goody’s. They put money on local short track races, too.
Winston was a special circumstance, though. Tobacco companies were limited in terms of how and where they could advertise, even back in the ’70s. They had a pretty substantial budget to spend in racing because they couldn’t spend it elsewhere. (For perspective, RJR first approached Junior Johnson to sponsor a team; with the budget they presented, he suggested they turn to sponsoring the series instead.) NASCAR’s top series, weekly racing, I think NHRA drag racing at one point…all were under the Winston umbrella.
The Master Settlement Agreement changed a lot of that. So even if Winston had stuck around longer than 2003, they would have had to start curtailing their involvement to some capacity – and by 2010, per FDA regulations, tobacco companies had to withdraw advertising from sporting events altogether. The MSA and the further repercussions of the tobacco lawsuits meant that those halcyon days were doomed to some extent, no matter what.
Racing owes a tremendous debt to the good fortunes of RJR, because they were able to sponsor pretty much the whole shebang for so long. There’s no company that would or could shoulder that kind of burden today. It’s a much different world in terms of money, marketing AND regulations.
I gotta say, I dont get the hero worship. I have never spent a dime on Drivers shirt or any other NASCAR stuff. Plus its mostly so gaudy, I would be embarassed to wear it.
Good article, only thing is that we recently visited a top teams shop and it’s not even 1/2 way through the season and no inventory, and the lady was so busy on Facebook or texting we had to ask for help. There is so many small printing companies that could help drivers with printing and I’m not a printing company. Just someone who supports them at tracks where I can buy merchandise from them knowing it’s not going to big executives
You really can’t emphasize the online store effect enough. For one, race attendance is down. That means less fans at the track. For another, the fans that do walk into the Fanatics tent and see $30 for a T-shirt do a double take. Finally, the super tent model has drawbacks at tracks like Martinsville where real estate is at a premium and they can’t carry as much merchandise. (I could count Kasey Khane items on one hand at Martinsville.)
All of that means that fans are increasingly more likely to log onto an online store and find gear for the favorite driver. And by the way, that includes Amazon (including Prime eligible items), so there is little Fanatics can do to compete in this climate. Hence the risk they take on.
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