June 19, 2024

How Championship-Winning Racing Teams Succumb to a Slow Demise

Stewart-Haas Racing revealed on Tuesday its decision to cease operations at the conclusion of the 2024 NASCAR season following a 15-year run in the sport. The announcement from team owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas was met with little surprise by racing enthusiasts, given the ongoing speculation about the team’s future. Despite clinching two Cup Series championships in its first six seasons, Stewart-Haas has struggled to secure a victory in nearly two years. While this downturn is uncommon in traditional team sports, it is not unusual for successful racing teams to experience a rapid decline leading to closure.

Racing is not self-sustaining. It is highly uncommon for a racing team to solely rely on prize money for its operations. Sponsorships are the primary source of revenue for teams, with some also leveraging funding from external business ventures. Steve Newmark, President of RFK Racing, stated to NBC Sports in 2022 that sponsorships contribute between 60 and 80 percent of a Cup Series team’s finances. Notably, RFK Racing’s parent company, Fenway Sports Group, is the owner of the Boston Red Sox. Newmark also highlighted that sponsorships make up only a maximum of 12 percent of revenue for Major League Baseball teams.

Photo: Logan Riely (Getty Images)

In 2016, NASCAR introduced a charter system designed to mirror the franchise framework utilized by prominent professional sports leagues in North America, such as the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS. To participate in the Cup Series full-time, a team must possess a charter, of which there are only 36 available. New teams must purchase or lease a charter from an existing owner to compete in the series.

The value of charters has skyrocketed over time. For instance, in 2018, Spire Motorsports acquired a charter for $6 million. In 2023, Spire purchased another charter for $40 million, as reported by the Athletic.

Yet, a significant challenge persists. There is limited incentive for investors seeking long-term involvement in the top tier of stock car racing. Owners can only capitalize on the appreciating charter value by selling or leasing their entry to others, and charters do not represent permanent assets.

As NASCAR works towards negotiating a seven-year extension of the charter system, team owners have voiced concerns about its flawed economic structure, which primarily benefits the sanctioning body. The 16 teams holding charters are advocating for a larger share of the TV revenue, beyond the current meager 10 percent. Following new agreements with NBC, FOX, TNT, and Amazon, the series is poised to generate $1.1 billion annually.

Television revenue serves as the lifeblood of professional sports, with broadcast earnings distributed evenly among teams. Unlike traditional sports leagues, racing organizations do not typically contract or dissolve franchises; instead, teams may be relocated to more lucrative markets. For instance, Major League Baseball and the National Football League have not undergone contraction since 1903 and 1953, respectively.

Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 and the 2011 Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 20, 2011 in Homestead, Florida.

Photo: Tom Pennington (Getty Images)

Stewart-Haas Racing may be facing challenges on the track, but this is not the primary reason for the team’s closure. In recent years, the team lost several key sponsors that were not replaced, including Anheuser-Busch, Smithfield Foods, and Hunt Brothers Pizza. Despite boasting two championship titles, such as Tony Stewart’s victory over Carl Edwards in the 2011 Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the team will cease operations in December, leaving its current drivers and staff members without jobs.

**FAQ Section:**

1. **Why is Stewart-Haas Racing shutting down?**
The team is facing financial challenges due to the loss of significant sponsors and the evolving economic landscape in NASCAR.

2. **What role do sponsorships play in NASCAR teams?**
Sponsorships are the primary source of revenue for teams, contributing a substantial portion of their operating funds.

3. **How has the charter system impacted NASCAR teams?**
The charter system has led to a significant increase in the value of charters, posing challenges for new entrants and existing teams alike.


In conclusion, the decision by Stewart-Haas Racing to shut down at the end of the 2024 NASCAR season sheds light on the complex economic dynamics at play in professional racing. As the sport grapples with evolving revenue models and the charter system, teams face mounting challenges in sustaining their operations. Despite the team’s storied history and past successes, the shifting landscape of NASCAR sponsorship and financial structures has ultimately led to the closure of Stewart-Haas Racing. The future of the sport remains uncertain as stakeholders continue to navigate the intricate balance between competition, revenue generation, and sustainability.

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