Tuesday, July 08, 2008


The first big economic shoe fell last week in NASCAR. No, I'm not talking about the dismal sales numbers out of Chrysler, Ford, GM and Toyota. Or, even, Starbucks closing 600 stores.

It was the shuttering of Dario Franchitti's No. 40 Dodge Sprint Cup team. Even Franchitti's international star power couldn't generate sponsorship in this economy. The loss of 70 jobs is a very real blow. But so is the psychological hit for those within the Cup garage, whether or not they carry a briefcase.

Despite the recent lucrative contracts Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle negotiated with Roush Fenway, there is no serious "new" money coming into the sport. This, at a time, when NASCAR itself needs a fresh title patron for the Truck series. In relative terms, that's an "inexpensive" buy, but there are no easy dollars to be had these days. That series was born in the wake of the truck sales boom . . . could it go bust for the opposite reason? Will NASCAR operate it without a sponsor? With overall sales in that vehicle category (including the F-150 and Tundra) tanking in the face of near-$5 a gallon gasoline? Stay tuned.

I'm keeping this brief for a good reason: I would like you to scroll down and read -- or re-read -- last week's post. Oh ye sponsor managers who are brain-dead about what your PR reps are -- or, more accurately, aren't doing -- wake up! Demonstrating to corporate executive management a tangible ROI has never been more important. If you aren't getting the message, let me be blunt: Your own SELF-INTEREST, employment-wise, demands nothing less than professional and pro-active publicity representation. In this business environment, paying for helmet carriers, who don't even know enough to visit the media center, are too lazy to build good one-on-one relationships with journalists, or who are too weak or inexperienced (or even AFRAID) to tell their drivers to "get with it" PR-wise, cannot in any way be justified.

Whose job will be the next to go? Many of these sponsor managers -- especially the ones who, like their PR people, don't return calls or reply to E-mails (I have a list of names) -- rightly should be afraid. Very afraid . . .
Here's a link to last Friday's Arizona Republic notebook:
A rare -- and most welcome -- bit of good news in the media world: Ed Hinton has joined ESPN.com as a senior writer. This, in a week when it was announced the Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Tampa Tribune will have job cuts.

With the exception of Dorsey Schroeder, sports car race coverage on SPEED is (to be polite) weak. Leigh Diffey put a bow-tie around that statement last Thursday night with his mis-call of the Rolex Series finish. With about a quarter-lap to go, Diffey started calling Alex Gurney as the winner . . . except Scott Pruett made a brilliant pass in the closing yards for his Driver of the Year-contending fifth victory of the season. If Diffey had ever bothered to learn a little about American superspeedway stock car racing, he should have been able to anticipate Pruett's move, using the outside line to gain momentum coming off the banking. There was a time in TV production when Diffey would -- quite properly -- have been taken to the woodshed for his mortal sin of announcing. These days, when too many producers have given up their correct role as teacher/coach/boss, Diffey was probably told, "Great Job!"

When Will They Ever Learn?: It's an embarrassment to ESPN each time it allows Bumbler Pedigo to pick up one of its microphones. Somehow, the producer of Sunday's Watkins Glen race decided it was a bright idea to give Bumbler the prestige winner's circle assignment. Bumbler started off by saying to Ryan Hunter-Reay, "Welcome to victory lane." It's NOT the Bumbler's JOB to "welcome" anyone to victory lane. And that wasn't a question, which IS the Bumbler's job. Then, the Bumbler followed that up with a typically inane "How big a win is this for you?" I wish Ryan had told Bumbler, "Oh, it's not that big at all." But I doubt the Bumbler even would have noticed. Lisa Guerrero on Monday Night Football looks like a Hall of Fame performer in comparison -- and Guerrero was fired after ONE season. Makes me think the network doesn't put much priority on the IndyCar Series. Meanwhile, once again, the IRL -- which supposedly is out selling series sponsorships -- allowed sponsor logos to be covered over with a wreath. Now, that's the way to sell! Any sponsor manager worth half of his/her salary would go directly to commercial division boss Terry Angstadt and inform him that covering over the logo they PAID for -- to get TV and photo visibility -- constitutes at least a quasi- breach of contract and, if it happens again, they are gone. And don't tell me that is a Glen "tradition," because it began back in the days of almost no commercial ID on uniforms. I know, because I started going to the Glen in the 1960s. When Gil de Ferran finished third at Motegi in 1998, they put a wreath around him on the podium. Fortunately, we had discussed this issue ahead-of-time -- now there's a concept for today's PR people, advance planning! -- and Gil quickly looked at me and, as we had talked about, I signaled him to respectfully remove it and hold it up as if a trophy. Valvoline, Cummins, and others got their clear-in-focus exposure. Others didn't. We were paying attention to the details. Others weren't. If IRL officials troubled themselves to learn the lessons of history, they would discover CART team sponsors voted unanimously at the 1985 winter meetings against any victory lane wreaths. I would call that good business. And common sense!

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]