Find racing sponsorships getting harder - just ask NASCAR - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Find racing sponsorships getting harder - just ask NASCAR

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While a lot of hydroplane racing purists hate the comparison to NASCAR, there are lessons to be learned there.  And even the hard-core fans would love to see Unlimited Hydroplane racing to be embraced publically the same way NASCAR is.

But even with the big reputation and all the exposure that NASCAR gets, sponsorships are still hard to come by.  It's hard to think about top names like Dale Earnhart, Inc. and Michael Waltrip Racing being unable to find a sponsor that will support the team for an entire season.  But that's what's happening.

"There's certainly a lot of concern. You understand how fragile it is. You look at the business model and look at the summary of what it takes to compete. If you don't have a sponsor, you don't race. It's not like the sponsor is a bonus. It's a necessity."

- Michael Waltrip as quoted on

Kyle Busch with Joe Gibbs racing also finds himself without a season-long sponsor, according to ESPN.  And in the Nationwide Series, almost half the field is without sponsorship from for the entire season.

Read more from ESPN on NASCAR's sponsorship situation >>

In the NASCAR ranks, it can costs tens of millions of dollars annually to field a team.  While it's not quite that pricey to run an unlimited team for the season, it's still expensive.  And sometimes that means teams have to make tough decisions.

Ed Cooper's U-3 team stayed home instead of traveling to San Diego last year after the race site announced it was unable to find a title sponsor - and unable to pay the appearance fee for the unlimiteds.  The team found itself in the position of not being able to afford to make the trip.  "This might be doable with a sponsor," said U-3's Rick Bowles last year; "but without, it leaves us no choice but to stay home this year. Hopefully are fans will understand the problem we are facing."

It's been no secret that teams and race sites have had increased difficulties in recent years coming up with sponsors.  San Diego has gone two years without title sponsorship and was in danger of cutting out the Unlimited Hydroplanes from the line-up.  Tri-Cities was in severe financial trouble before a new group took control and struck a deal with Lamb Weston.

"As usual, Madison will not have a title sponsor.  As of now, we have no bites," said Madsion Regatta President Crystal McHargue.  "We approached several new sponsors this year," she said.  "In many cases what they heard was the local market isn't big enough for them to make it a worthwhile investment."

Read more on Madison Regatta's financial situation >>

That means teams and race sites have been increasingly turning to smaller sponsors to help underwrite the costs of putting the boats on the water.  "We never turn our nose up at anything," said McHargue.  "It can be tens of thousands or a hundred dollars."

It's meant re-evaluating how things have been done in the past.  Mark Weber and his team have had to make some difficult decisions about running the Detroit Regatta races, but the team's got the event back on stable ground. 

Read more on Detroit Regatta's financial situation >>

The same goes for the Tri-Cities races.  With a difficult financial situation, the Water Follies board dissolved a partnership with an outside marketing firm that had been putting on the event for several years.  They took responsibility of the entire event back in-house and in the hands of the Board and volunteers.  Cutbacks last year put the Water Follies event back in the black, but at the expense of the Unlimited Lights in 2007.  A better financial picture has led the Water Follies to invite the Lights back for 2008.

"Every single decision we made in the Tri-Cities had to fit our agenda - maximize revenue and minimize cost," said Kathy Balcom, a past-President of the Water Follies association who was brought back in with two other past presidents to take a fresh look at the organization. "Just because it had been done that way for 42 years, that alone didn't hold any clout," she said.

Read more on Tri-Cities' financial situation >>

As for San Diego, a group led by Unlimited hydroplane owner/driver Dr. Ken Muscatel has partnered with the event to find additional sources of funding to keep things alive.  "Together with the great team at Thunderboats Unlimited, this new partnership has a fortified commitment to continue and expand the vision Bill Muncey had," said Dr. Muscatel.

Read more on San Diego Regatta's partnership with Dr. Ken Muscatel and his group >>

Whether you're a high profile motor sport like NASCAR or you're racing Unlimited Hydroplanes, sponsorships are tough to come by.  Talk of a recession isn't likely to help.  That will likely lead to companies re-evaluating their marketing and advertising plans.  When times get tough, companies often cut back on sponsorship dollars, either not spending the money, or investing it instead of more traditional advertising.