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Jeff Gordon won't be shopping at Wal-Mart

by Dave Grayson
Sunday, September 05, 2010

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Jeff Gordon won't be shopping at Wal-Mart after the retail giant rejected him and NASCAR
The hunt for team sponsors for the Hendrick Motorsports racing stable hit a high and low point last Saturday in Atlanta. First off Rick Hendrick announced that Quaker State Motor Oil was returning as an associate sponsor on all four of his Chevrolet teams and would be the primary sponsor for Mark Martin's #5 team during four races next year.

On the down side Hendrick announced that Jeff Gordon will not be shopping at Wal-Mart next year.

All through out the 2010 racing season Hendrick Motorsports has captured our attention for a variety of reasons. There was Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team who scored five wins in short order only to develop a tail spin that now has them ninth in the championship standings. This is despite the prospects that says he still favored to win five consecutive titles.

Then there was the concern over the performance levels of the Hendrick #88 team and Dale Earnhardt Jr. This was followed by equal performance concerns regarding Mark Martin and the #5 team which is a factor that still surprises many observers.

Let's not forget about several months of trying to find the company's new hire, Kasey Kahne, a ride for 2011 while waiting for him to join the #5 team full time in 2012.

Somewhere in the middle of these dramatic moments we all had a tendency to overlook another surprising element from Hendrick Motorsports: four time series champion Jeff Gordon, for the first time in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career, seems to have sponsorship issues.

Out of 36 Sprint Cup points race, plus two special non points events, Gordon is fully sponsored in 2010.. The National Guard signed on as the primary sponsor for eight races, the Pepsi Cola Corporation products signed on for two races and Gordon's long time sponsor, DuPont Automotive Finishes, signed on as primary for the remainder of the schedule.

However, in recent months, DuPont indicated that wanted to scale back their NASCAR sponsorship program for the 2011 season. Their current contract with the team ends at the end of this year. This is, of course, another testament to the current state of the nation's economy.

In late July came rumors that Wal-Mart could be the answer to the #24 team's 2011 sponsorship profile. Yes, Wal-Mart the nation's number one retailer. The one major corporate entity who, in their illustrious history, has never really expressed much interest in a marketing partnership with major league sports in America. When you think about it, Wal-Mart’s exposure level has been just fine without the wide world of sports.

Typical of their status as the nation's number one retailer, Wal-Mart interest in NASCAR racing began with a project much larger than just team sponsorship. They are reported to be in negotiations with NASCAR for a direct license agreement. Simply put, Wal-Mart would become NASCAR's exclusive retailer in the mass market space. Such an agreement could find Wal-Mart using the direct license to select suppliers and set prices on NASCAR themed souvenirs such as hats and T shirts. In effect, the result would be a NASCAR located inside of a Wal-Mart store. It appears that, at this point in time, negotiations for a direct license agreement are still ongoing.

From all this came rumors that Wal-Mart might also be interested in direct team sponsorship. Their Executives reportedly visited many NASCAR Sprint Cup shops in late spring-early summer. Granted, Wal-Mart will need the cooperation of these major teams for the direct license program to work but it was also an opportunity to get an up close look at the teams as individual entities in case an individual sponsorship program was an area they wanted to further explore.

The rumor mill hit a fever pitch and said Hendrick and Wal-Mart executives were in serious talks regarding Gordon's team. That actually turned out to be true. But on August 25th a statement surfaced indicating that a business relationship between Wal-Mart and the #24 team wasn't going to happen. The statement came from what was described as an in house company newsletter and stated "while we continue to employ a range of marketing initiatives to deliver our message of Save Money Live Better to our customers this is one we will not be doing."

During a press conference, held last Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hendrick acknowledged that a sponsor opportunity with Wal-Mart wasn't going to happen. "You talk to a lot of people, and they were someone we talked to," he said adding "we got down the road a bit but timing is one of those things, possibly we'll do something down the road with them but it won't be next year."

Hendrick also expressed optimism that the open sponsorship issues for his entire racing stable would be resolved soon and pointed out that many of the companies that he's dealt with in the past will be returning next year. "We'll be announcing details in the next 60 days. In the past, you would announce mid year but companies are waiting longer and longer. We plan to have everything done at the end of November."

Hendrick has every reason to remain optimistic regarding his #24 team. After all, he will be presenting sponsor opportunity for Jeff Gordon: a four time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, a driver who clinched his 2010 berth in the Chase three weeks early and someone who truly has a good chance of making that "drive for five" championship theme a reality. It's also well known that, when it comes to representing the goodwill needs of a sponsor, Gordon is one of the best ambassadors in the business.

All this means is: he won't be shopping at Wal-Mart next year.

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