The Michigan Inter­na­tional Speedway is only forty-minutes away from Hillsdale College. | Wikipedia

On Nov. 17, four drivers will contend to hoist the trophy and claim the title of NASCAR champion. As the field of cars thunders across the finish line of the Ford Eco­Boost 400 at Home­stead-Miami Speedway, it will bring an end to a season that has, in many ways, brought about a rebirth of the sport, and cul­ti­vated an excitement over what is next as it moves into the future.

In a new­found era of optimism for the sport, Hillsdale College should take advantage of spon­soring a NASCAR team. The college has the mar­keting budget to make the investment, and it would be one that would pay off immensely.

NASCAR began in 1948, but the sport gained pop­u­larity throughout the ’90s and the early 2000s. But the sport’s massive growth was in many ways unsus­tainable, and NASCAR did not help its cause by bringing changes like the much-maligned Car of Tomorrow — a major overhaul of the vehicle’s frame — into the sport. The loss of several major names from the sport in a short period of time cer­tainly did not help either: Jeff Gordon retired from full-time racing in 2015, and Dale Earn­hardt, Jr. fol­lowed suit in 2017. Declines in fan atten­dance and T.V. view­ership caused many com­men­tators to pro­nounce the sport dead.

But the 2019 season has quashed those pro­nounce­ments.
From a pure numbers stand­point, the 2019 season has clearly been a success. Fox, which broad­casts the first half of the NASCAR season, reported a 2% increase in total view­ership for their portion of the schedule com­pared to 2018. NBC also announced some impressive numbers: the second Michigan race saw a 14% view­ership increase over 2018, and the second Kansas race saw a 20% jump from 2018, leaving NBC with a 4% increase over their 2018 schedule at that point in the season. It will not be until after the cham­pi­onship at Home­stead-Miami Speedway that the full picture will be visible, but from the infor­mation available, the view­ership picture for NASCAR on tele­vision is looking good.

NASCAR has posted solid in-person atten­dance as well. While NASCAR does not release atten­dance figures, there have been sellout crowds at Daytona Inter­na­tional Speedway in Florida for the Daytona 500, Dar­lington Raceway in South Car­olina for the Bojangles’ Southern 500, and ISM Raceway in Arizona for the Can-Am 500. There have also been near sellouts at Tal­ladega Super­speedway in Alabama for the Geico 500 and the 500.

It is this era of optimism for the sport that Hillsdale College has the oppor­tunity to join.

In addition to the pos­itive growth for the sport, NASCAR offers Hillsdale incredible flex­i­bility and value as a mar­keting tool. Because NASCAR teams have moved away from using the same sponsor for every race of the season, sponsors have much more flex­i­bility in deter­mining how much of a com­mitment they want to make. The quality of the team being spon­sored also pro­vides another point of flex­i­bility.

Spon­soring a large, estab­lished team with a proven winning record like Joe Gibbs Racing, Penske, or Hen­drick Motor­sports will be more expensive than spon­soring a car that will run in the back of the pack, but a top-tier team will also gain more exposure. The fact that there are so many vari­ables is what makes spon­soring a NASCAR team such a great oppor­tunity. Spon­soring a vehicle in the lower series, the Xfinity Series or the Gander Out­doors Truck Series, is another option, pro­viding an even more affordable entry point into the sport.

Depending on the team, primary spon­sor­ships for the Cup Series usually cost in the mid-six-figure range for a race, and sig­nif­i­cantly less for an asso­ciate spon­sorship. While paying six-figures to put the Hillsdale ‘H’ on a car may seem like a lot, it is only a small fraction of the $8.5 million Hillsdale spent on adver­tising and pro­motion in 2016, the most recent year for which the infor­mation is available. With the under­standing that a full-season spon­sorship would most likely not be in the college’s best interests, a partial-season effort may be.

Addi­tionally, two races of the 36-race season are held at Michigan Inter­na­tional Speedway, located only 28 miles from the college in Brooklyn, Michigan. Nat­u­rally, Hillsdale would have the oppor­tunity to pick and choose between races in markets that they con­sider to be most ben­e­ficial for their mar­keting goals to target with spon­sor­ships.

Hillsdale would not be the first or only major edu­ca­tional insti­tution involved in the sport. Liberty Uni­versity spon­sored William Byron’s vehicles since his days racing late models, and in Sep­tember announced they were extending their 12-race primary spon­sorship of his No. 24 Hedrick Motor­sports Chevrolet Camaro in the Cup Series for two more years.

The market of viewers that Hillsdale would have access to is one that would be useful to the college. Demo­graph­i­cally, the NASCAR fan base tends to lean to the right. In a study con­ducted by Morning Consult in 2018, NASCAR was viewed second most favorably of all sports leagues in the United States by Repub­licans. Among Democrats, however, it was viewed the least favorably. During the 2016 election, then-CEO of NASCAR Brian France endorsed Donald Trump for the pres­i­dency — a move that would likely be unthinkable from the lead­ership of any other major sports league.

While many of the con­cep­tions of what the typical NASCAR fan looks like are based on unfounded stereo­types, it is clear that many of the markets where the sport is most popular are ones where the values of Hillsdale College would be met with reception and interest.

An insti­tution that seeks to grow and prosper by attracting more stu­dents and donors needs to con­stantly be reassessing its mar­keting strategy, thus Hillsdale should seri­ously con­sider the pos­itive ben­efits that a NASCAR spon­sorship could bring to the school.

Connor Kaeb is a George Wash­ington Fellow and junior studying pol­itics.