The view from my couch

What's That Thing Called Again?
by Desmond Hobson
September 12, 2004

Over the last four years, NASCAR fans have noticed a disturbing trend. The major sport that is more dependent on sponsor mentions than any other has taken the names of many sponsors off their weekly telecasts.

Have you heard of the Food City 500, the Pop Secret 500, the DHL 400, or the Sirius at the Glen? If you watched the telecasts, you rarely if ever heard those names.

For many years, title sponsors of races were assured that the race names would be on the broadcasts. That's when race tracks sold the rights to various networks. (This is why, one week you'd watch a race on ABC, the next week on TNN, the next on ESPN.) When NASCAR centralized the rights in 2001, this changed. Fox/FX and NBC/TNT paid $2.4 billion to NASCAR for the rights and have tried to make that money back ever since.

One way to do it is to withhold the names of race sponsors unless they pay these networks an extra fee. Sometimes, those names slip out of the mouths of Mike Joy and Allen Bestwick. Sometimes.

Another way the networks get their money back is by selling presenting rights to the telecast. More often than not, this happens on the Busch Series telecasts, and most presenting sponsors are official something-or-other of NASCAR. For example, last week's race was called the Target House 300, but the NBC coverage was "presented by Best Western." Best Western is the official hotel chain of NASCAR. I understand that, to buy a presenting sponsorship, a company must buy a sizable block of ads from the network.

Needless to say, race sponsors are in a no-win situation. They know coming in that their exposure would be limited, and a few companies like Cracker Barrel have stopped supported races.

I haven't kept track numerically, but I think that about half the Nextel Cup races and only a handful of the Busch Series races are called by their correct names.

At a time that tracks and race teams are struggling for support, this is just another way the deck is stacked in favor of NASCAR.

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