Michael Jordan’s NASCAR Team President’s Radical Solution to Ensure Sponsorship Assurances Riles Up Fans

Published 10/25/2023, 7:45 PM EDT

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NASCAR was once a sport deeply rooted in its colorful history of iconic driver-sponsor pairings. However, the sponsorship landscape has evolved significantly over the years. Gone are the days when a glimpse of a race car with a familiar sponsor was all you needed to identify a driver. Now, it’s a revolving door of sponsors, changing almost every week. Steve Lauletta, team president of the 23XI Racing team owned by Michael Jordan, recently shared his concerns about this ever-changing sponsorship scenario, labeling it “unacceptable.”

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Legendary drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon formed indomitable partnerships with sponsors that became synonymous with their names. Dale Jr.,  Budweiser, Jeff Gordon, and DuPont—these pairings are etched in the collective memory of racing fans. DuPont remained Gordon’s primary sponsor for nearly two decades. From 1993 to 2010, a continuity rarely seen in today’s NASCAR

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In modern-day NASCAR, sponsors enter the scene for a brief stint. And then the teams scramble to secure new partnerships, often on a race-by-race basis. A confluence of factors, including the surge of social media marketing. The desire for more flexible spending and an overflow of sponsorship opportunities across sports have made securing long-term partnerships an uphill battle for NASCAR teams.

According to Sports Business Journal, Jacob Wyne, vice president of partnership sales at RFK Racing, captured the essence of the situation. He remarked, “The state of sponsorship and sponsorship sales [in racing] — I think it’s harder than it’s ever been because there’s so many options in the marketplace.”

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Sponsorship dynamics have shifted from the giants of Fortune 500 companies to a more fragmented landscape. These days, challenger brands are becoming frequent partners. In 2005, approximately 60% of the primary sponsors in the Cup Series belonged to the Fortune 500. By 2023, that number would have plummeted to around 20%.

NASCAR still boasts the commitment of 25% of Fortune 500 companies. But the ever-increasing competition for sponsors, combined with declines in TV ratings and attendance, has led to high-profile exits and cutbacks. Even established sponsors have scaled down their involvement in recent years, such as Miller Lite’s reduced presence at Team Penske and FedEx’s diminished season-long sponsorship at Joe Gibbs Racing.

In this challenging sponsorship landscape, Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin’s NASCAR team president, Steve Lauletta, has proposed a radical shift in approach. Speaking at the Racers Forum organized by the Race Team Alliance in Charlotte. Lauletta urged fellow team executives to refrain from selling sponsorships on a per-race basis. His argument centered on the belief that this approach leads sponsors to make subjective decisions. And potentially undervalue the broader marketing assets and activations that extend beyond the race weekend.

Lauletta’s vision calls for a more comprehensive view of sponsorship value. Considering the long-term impact and branding opportunities rather than just the immediate race-by-race arrangement. According to Stern’s tweet, “@23XIRacing president Steve Lauletta has called for NASCAR teams to stop selling sponsorships on a per-race basis, saying it leads brands to under-value certain aspects of a team’s marketing platform.

 

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While Lauletta’s proposition might sound like a step towards stability in the tumultuous world of NASCAR sponsorships, it has ruffled the feathers of many racing fans.

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As soon as Stern broke the news on Twitter, aggrieved fans took to the comments section to express their discontent, questioning the feasibility of Lauletta’s vision.

One fan pointed out, That’s easy to say when you have Michael Jordan pitching to sponsors.”

Another fan argued that while they may agree with Lauletta’s opinion, it’s not a luxury that many teams can afford. “I agree with his opinion, but I don’t think NASCAR teams have much leverage. It’s easy to tell other teams to stop acting desperate for sponsorships when your team is owned by Michael Jordan and has Bubba Wallace as a driver.

The debate continued as fans questioned the practicality of seeking long-term sponsors in the current climate. One fan inquired, “So, are you just supposed to sit around and wait for a sponsor that wants to sponsor 30 races?

The sentiment of survival was also expressed, with another fan stating, “Teams should be able to do what they gotta do to make it through the season.

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The discord in opinions culminated in a fan’s assertion that Lauletta’s proposition doesn’t align with the reality faced by smaller teams. “Won’t work for smaller teams that live on a race-by-race sponsor,” they remarked.

Another fan aptly summarized the situation, saying, “In other words, just as his co-owner talks. It’s not working for him. So every team should comply with his opinion. Like which team is going to turn down a per-race sponsorship? None of them. Get real.”

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NASCAR finds itself at a crossroads in its sponsorship journey. “Enduring partnerships have defined the sport’s past, while fleeting associations mark its present.”

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Written by:

Veerendra Vikram Singh

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Veerendra Vikram Singh is a NASCAR Author at EssentiallySports. A Motorsport fan at heart, he has been following NASCAR and Formula 1 for over a decade now and has covered the on and off-track life of some of the best in the sport. He is a big fan of Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch but never lets that get in the way of authentic and fact-based reporting.
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Edited by:

Shivali Nathta

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