SBD/August 12, 2014/Marketing and Sponsorship

Most Stewart-Haas Racing Sponsors Withhold Comment Following Tony Stewart Incident

Stewart could begin to lose sponsors even without any criminal charges
NASCAR team Stewart-Haas Racing yesterday said it is in "close communication" with its 17 official partners and sponsors, and most are "refraining from commenting beyond offering condolences to the family of Kevin Ward Jr.," according to Max Willens of AD AGE. A Bad Boy Buggies spokesperson said that the brand still "is committed" to driver Tony Stewart. Animal rescue firm Code 3 Associates also said it will "remain firmly in support" of the race team. SHR Exec VP Brett Frood said of sponsors, "While they are all thinking about the family and friends of Kevin Ward Jr., they also care about the emotional well-being of Tony, and they are very supportive of him during this difficult time" (ADAGE.com, 8/11). Marketing firm Leverage Agency Founder & CEO Ben Sturner said that it is "likely only a matter of time" before sponsors "start jumping ship, even if Stewart is never criminally prosecuted." Sturner said that while "expressions of loyalty from Stewart’s impressive array of blue-chip sponsors must be comforting ... many would ultimately leave." But Sturner said he thinks they will "wait a bit." He said "blue-chip sponsors are going to have real issues." Sturner even "expects some sponsors to invoke 'morals clauses' likely contained in their endorsement agreements" (N.Y. POST, 8/12).

RETURN TIMETABLE: USA TODAY's Gluck & Ryan report a timeline for Stewart's return to racing "remains unknown." SHR Dir of Communications Mike Arning said that Stewart's sprint car schedule was "indefinitely suspended and he was mulling whether he would return" for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan Int'l Speedway on Sunday. Arning said, "The decision ... will be Tony's, and he will have as much time as he needs to make that decision" (USA TODAY, 8/12). In L.A., Jim Peltz writes "a lot is riding" on whether Stewart decides to race Sunday, as he is in 21st place in the standings and "is in danger of missing" the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Also, if Stewart "misses more NASCAR races, it could mean continuing reduced exposure for his main sponsors." ExxonMobil spokesperson Christian Flathman in an e-mail wrote it is "ultimately a decision for Stewart-Haas Racing" (L.A. TIMES, 8/12).

TIME TO STAY OFF THE DIRT? In N.Y., Viv Bernstein notes the accident on Saturday night was the "third serious sprint car crash for Stewart in about a year." Although the three sprint car accidents were "very different, they raise the question of whether Stewart should be racing in that series, if his presence affects other drivers who may become more aggressive to try to beat the Nascar star in their midst." Bernstein: "After Saturday night, it would not be surprising if he stepped away, at least for a while, and reassessed his involvement" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/12).
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