The National Hot Rod Association’s (NHRA) title rights partner, Camping World, recently informed the organization that it does not intend to renew its agreement after the 2024 season, the NHRA’s Jeffrey Young confirmed to DRAGZINE contributor Susan Wade last week in a report published by Autoweek.
“Our contract expires at the end of next season. They let us know that they’re not going to renew that at the end of 2024. They said they’re going to invest that (money) in their employees, Young told Wade and Autoweek. “Our team’s out looking for a new sponsor. They’re out, pitching for the future and having a lot of conversations. We expect to make an announcement soon.”
Camping World’s decision to step away leaves the NHRA in search of a new naming rights partner for just the fourth time in its 72-year history, and the move has certainly initiated cries of “the sky is falling,” but that’s all a matter of perspective.
Camping World, led by business mogul and television personality Marcus Lemonis, was the right partner that came along at the right moment for the NHRA. The series, in the midst of a crisis — as were all live entertainment businesses, acts, and performers during the no-crowds-allowed height of the pandemic — was left high and dry in late 2020 after its longtime partner, Coca-Cola, terminated its agreement more than three years before it was to end. The NHRA and its racers, unable to race or host large crowds and produce income, were left dizzied, their always-on-the-go livelihoods brought to an unnerving standstill by all that had taken place, and they needed something positive — some stability, if you will — at the most difficult of moments.
While live entertainment was suffering, however, the outdoor industry — and particularly, camping — was thriving, as families flush with saved-up cash and pent-up desire to break free from lockdowns and work-from-home solitude, invested heavily in campers and recreational vehicles. Camping World, already familiar with the motorsports marketing space via its backing of the NASCAR truck series, saw an opportunity to expand its promotional footprint, and the NHRA, though a now-famous exchange on social media network Twitter, had just that.
Since partnering in October of 2020 — when the NHRA and its racers were only just returning to a moderate sense of normalcy and wrapping up a very non-traditional and abbreviated schedule — the racing organization has roared back to life. A whole swath of sellouts have been recorded at multiple venues across the country, television viewership records have been set, what are considered to be some of the largest crowds in the history of the sport have assembled, and there’s been an uptick in participation at the professional level, all since those nail-biting days when no one knew if motorsports as a whole would even survive the economic turmoil of 2020. The series is, arguably, on a stronger growth trajectory than any of its major domestic motorsport counterparts, and should bode well for it in its bid to sign a top brand to marry to the NHRA name.
It is for those reasons — combined with Lemonis’ continuing support and stability through the next season and half and his provision of almost two years notice to the NHRA of its decision not to renew — that should sow confidence that the series can and will land a solid new partner for the 2025 season and beyond.
In the world of marketing, naming rights agreements tend to deliver diminish returns as time goes on. Coca-Cola worked to reinvent its partnership with the NHRA three times over 18 years, transitioning from PowerAde, to Full Throttle, to Mello Yello, to keep its investment fresh with new activations. Any look over a historic list of sporting series or venue naming rights agreements will show that more partners don’t renew than do. Brands come in, they accomplish what they hoped to accomplish over a certain numbers of years, and they move on to other opportunities. Camping World itself ended a 13-year run as the title sponsor of the NASCAR truck series in 2022, and some might say it had gotten all the mileage out of that partnership that it could.
“Marketing and sponsorships continue to build and expand our Camping World business. But it’s the people that work in the business every day that make it go and grow” Lemonis said of leaving NASCAR. “In acknowledging what matters most, our people, we have made the decision to reallocate those marketing dollars towards increasing the income and benefits of our people.”
Young added, “We’re still working closely with Camping World this year to make sure we do things in our contract. We continue to push (that) they’re the great partner they are and they’ve been.”
For Lemonis’s part, arriving when the NHRA needed he and his company most, believing in the sport enough to invest in it at a time when many companies were tightly clutching their bags, he and Camping World deserve the respect and gratitude of the drag racing audience. It is, after all, their support during these years of revitalization and growth that will likely lead to a bigger and better new era of NHRA drag racing.