DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 20: A general view of the start of the NASCAR Cup Series 64th … [+] Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Few could argue that 2022 wasn’t a big year for the sport of NASCAR. After being delayed a season, 2022 saw the debut of NASCAR’s new Next Gen racecar in the top-tier Cup series. That new car helped deliver a terrific product on the track and the numbers seem to back that statement up.
This past season in the Cup series saw 19 different race winners for the first time since 2001 and set records for green flag passes for the lead (1,544), the number of first-time winners (5), and had the highest percentage of lead lap finishers in NASCAR’s modern era, which dates to 1972, just to name a few.
Fans watched all this unfold in-person at the tracks, there were eight race sellouts, and the number of fans attending their first race grew by 11%. And from afar: overall TV ratings increased by 4%, and the total share of fans whose TVs were tuned into a race grew by 10%. Online, NASCAR Digital had its best season statistically since 2015, including a 10% increase in unique users year over year.
All this positive news didn’t go unnoticed by the business world. Many of the sponsors who power the wheels that help turn the sport extended their partnership with NASCAR: longtime partner Goodyear Tire & Rubber re-signed, and several former sponsors even returned to the sport. Craftsman tools, the entitlement sponsor in the Truck series starting in that series’ inaugural season of 1995 until 2008, will return to that role in 2023.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 06: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, paces the field … [+] prior to the start ofthe NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on February 06, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Among the teams, the news on the sponsor front was mostly positive as well, much of it helped by the Next Gen car.
One of the changes this season was the space for sponsors on the Next Gen car itself. NASCAR shifted the numbers on the cars forward from the center of the doors; this allowed for a bigger area for sponsors to display their branding and messaging. This change led to an overall increase of 15% in sponsor value in 2022, according to the Sports Business Journal based on data shared with the teams. That data provided by Nielsen
jumped to 36% when adding in an increase for sponsors of cars that typically are not running in the top 10 positions during races.
To sum it all up: NASCAR ended the 2022 season on quite a roll, both on the track and with its bottom line.
“We’re thrilled with kind of the direction and momentum this sport has right now,” said Daryl Wolfe, an executive vice president, and the chief revenue officer for NASCAR. “It’s an exciting time to be involved. To your point, we’ve had some really good metrics and results the last couple of years.”
NASCAR executive Daryl Wolfe has been with NASCAR since 1995 (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Wolfe is one of the longest tenured executives in NASCAR. Starting in the sport in 1995 he’s seen a great deal of change as NASCAR has ebbed and flowed through the years. Among the sport’s most recent changes, in addition to the Next Gen car, has been the updates to the schedule and the focus the sport is taking when it comes to engaging fans, both at the track, and at home.
“I think the sport continues to make really smart, bold kind of decisions, investments across various areas of the business,” Wolfe said. “I think our existing partners as well as prospects are taking notice; they kind of like the direction of this sport.”
A big part of Wolfe’s job is to not only attract new partners but work with existing partners.
“It’s part of our DNA to work with partners to understand what their objectives are, to understand how they’re measuring return and to deliver against those results,” he said. And in the last several years NASCAR has certainly been able to deliver those results.
“Whether it’s increases in attendance, whether it’s signing up new partners, it creates momentum,” Wolfe said. “Whether it’s the competition on the racetrack, the Next Gen car, schedule variation, there’s a lot of exciting things happening in our sport right now.”
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While brands such as Goodyear signed extensions this season, and others like Columbia Sportswear
re-upped with driver Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing, the news hasn’t been all positive.
Prior to the end of the 2021 season, longtime sponsor Mars Incorporated announced that after 32 years 2022 would be its final year in NASCAR. As a primary sponsor of Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing primarily with its M&Ms brand for 15 years, the departure left a void that may have contributed to Busch seeking his fortunes elsewhere. Busch will race for Richard Childress Racing in 2023 with some sponsorship coming from Cheddar’s restaurants which extended with that team.
Wolfe acknowledged Mars contribution to the sport but isn’t concerned about the departure.
“If I had new partners signed up right now, and I’d say they’re going to have a 30-year run, I’d take that,” he said. “They had a 30-year run as a primary sponsor, a significant activation partner at retail, did a lot of very creative promotions.
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“Things happen, whether it’s a change of strategy, it’s a leadership change. You know, we’re fortunate that they had a very long run in this sport.”
And though he has no inside information, Wolfe said the door for Mars return to the sport is still very much open.
“Candidly when Mars said they were not going to continue their relationship, and I think JGR would say the same thing… it’s not goodbye forever. I fully expect them one day to come back to the sport.”
Just like Craftsman is returning after a 14-year absence, with his nearly 30 years in the sport, Wolfe knows all about the ups and downs not only the sport, but also the brands that support it.
“You know, things happen in business,” he said. “The way I look at this; they have said goodbye temporarily, and they’ll come back one day. I’m fully confident of that.”
NASCAR has worked on creating a greater fan experience at the track for fans. (Photo by Jared C. … [+] Tilton/Getty Images)
As 2022 ends, NASCAR is focused on the future, and with the momentum of one of its best seasons in recent years the sport continues focusing on several fronts, including one of its biggest revenue generators, the money made from race broadcasts. The TV rights deals last negotiated in 2013 and signed in 2015 with NBC and Fox Sports, brings in billions of dollars a year. That money is spread out among the sanctioning body, the tracks, and the teams.
The new contracts will be finalized in 2023, and Wolfe said that he and NASCAR have been focusing on delivering the results that will help leverage the new contracts, and when they are signed, give the sport, teams, and the industry more revenue that ever before.
“We are very bullish on those ongoing conversations and upcoming conversations,” Wolfe said. “The broadcast partners wanted to see growth in the sport. They want to see viewership increases; they want to see ad sales increases. They want to see share increases. They wanted us from a competition standpoint to put a compelling race product on the racetrack each and every weekend.”
Wolfe added that even the exhibition events such as the Clash at the Coliseum and All-Star Race delivered viewers and helped drive ad sales.
“The broadcast partners are obviously very, very appreciative of our collaboration on those types of things,” he said. “That’s a long way of saying yes, we are very bullish, we are very excited about those conversations that are ongoing.”
FORT WORTH, TEXAS – MAY 22: A general view of racing during the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at … [+] Texas Motor Speedway on May 22, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Looking ahead to 2023, NASCAR will continue to focus on keeping the momentum going. However, there are still a few challenges.
There were some safety issues with the new car. Two drivers missed races with concussions after seemingly minor crashes. After the first crash at Pocono Raceway in July, NASCAR immediately began working on safety improvements, and is continuing to do so.
In October the Race Team Alliance, a group of team owners said they want more from the TV rights deal and in 2023 will renegotiate the Charters, a sort of franchise agreement the sport adopted in 2016 that helps protect a race teams’ investment. By some accounts those Charters have doubled in value from $6 million to $12 million thanks in large part to the Next Gen car’s debut and the increase in viewership.
NASCAR has acknowledged those issues and has been meeting with the RTA to address them.
LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA – JULY 23: Kurt Busch, driver of the #45 McDonald’s Toyota, spins after an … [+] on-track incident during qualifying at Pocono Raceway on July 23, 2022 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. He would suffer a concussion from what seemed to be a harmless crash (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
In a statement issued in October, NASCAR said: “A key focus moving forward is an extension to the Charter agreement, one that will further increase revenue and help lower team expenses. Collectively, the goal is a strong, healthy sport, and we will accomplish that together.”
Daryl Wolfe’s job isn’t about safety, or negotiating Charters and TV contracts, but bringing in new partners and keeping existing ones happy. And that helps keep the entire sport moving forward.
“At the end of the day, what we are focused on is growing revenue for the entire industry,” he said. “That’s what needs to be our focus.”
And that focus has seemed to work very well for the sport in the last few years, especially last season.
For 2023 NASCAR will hope to carry the momentum from 2022 into the new season. The goals will remain putting a great product on track that will set even more records attract new fans to races, and keep seasoned ones happy both at the track and while watching from home.
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NASCAR will again start the season with the Clash at the L.A. Coliseum, hold their annual All-Star Race at historic North Wilkesboro Speedway, once a staple on the schedule that is being reborn for that race, and add a new twist in June: a street course race through the streets of Chicago. All while celebrating NASCAR’s 75th Anniversary. The sport held its first race in Daytona Beach on a beach road course in 1948, only months removed from the first meeting founder Bill France Sr. held at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona on December 14th of 1947.
“I was there last week. I was on that top floor of the Streamline hotel, on December 14th last week, at the same time that Bill France Sr. and that group were there founding the sport,” Wolfe said. “What a visionary, what a compelling day that was, what a compelling day it was last week. When you think about celebrating the actual moment the sport was founded 75 years ago.
“I’ve been around the sport most of my life, and I’ve been with NASCAR for almost three decades. I’m one of the few people around the sport today to have personal memories of interacting with Bill France Jr. Right?
“The growth of the sport, where the sport is heading in the future, the expansion opportunities, and to think that we’re celebrating 75 years this coming season, and all of the activations and celebration activities that we’re going to have in 2023… It’s a special time for our sport. And I just can’t wait for 2023 because I know it’s going to deliver a lot of great moments for all of our industry stakeholders and most importantly, for the best fans in all sports, it’s going to deliver a lot of very memorable moments for those fans in 2023.”
DAYTONA BEACH, FL – 1947: NASCAR’s early leaders meet in the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach. … [+] Seated (L-R): Bob Richards, Freddie Horton, Jack Peters, Ed Bruce, Chick DiNatale, Harvey Tattersall Jr., Tom Galan, Alvin Hawkins, Bill Tuthill, Bill France Sr., Mildred Ayres, Joe Littlejohn, Jimmy Cox, Eddie Bland, Joe Ross, Sam Packard, Bill Streeter, Lucky Sauer. Standing (L-R): Larry Roller, Fred Dagavar, Bob Osiecki, Jimmy Quisenberry, Ed Samples, Marshall Teague. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)
ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images
Those who are custodians of the sport that has now grown into a multi-billion dollar a year industry, like Daryl Wolfe, are well aware it’s up to people like him to keep the sport moving forward and growing to heights the founders probably never dreamed off.
“I just can’t wait to see all of the hard work and effort and the momentum that we have right now coming out of 2022 and how that’s going to manifest itself in 2023,” he said. “It’s going to be a fantastic year and a very special year in the history of our sport.”