Two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart loudly condemned the tires Goodyear, the sport's official supplier, used for the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motorways earlier this month. While other drivers, such as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon, also commented that the tires were not optimal, Stewart blasted Goodyear saying its product was "the most pathetic tires I've ever been on in my professional career."
Stewart questioned the tire's safety, and even alleged that Goodyear had lost deals with other car circuits because of poor quality. Goodyear responded after one day, categorically denying the validity of the comments and also calling attention to Stewart's prior lack of interest in participating in tire tests of the product. Stewart has since met with Goodyear, and apologized for insulting workers, not corporate decision makers.
Why does it matter?
Stewart admitted his criticism was intended to grab Goodyear's attention, which he claims never listened to his comments when handled internally. In racing, criticizing a corporate sponsor is a serious PR snafu, since sponsorship is necessary to sustain it.
Keith Kreiter, president and CEO of marketing firm Edge Sports International, said that as a beneficiary of the sponsorship, Stewart might not have been contractually obligated to keep his frustration to himself, but common sense should have dictated not to discredit the name on his tires.
Even though Stewart is not Goodyear's brand spokesman, as a pro driver, his comments could be seen as a call to consumers to question the safety of the Goodyear tires. NASCAR fans are well known for buying products that sponsor their favorite drivers.
According to Kreiter, this issue should be handled with better communication amongst the event coordinator, sponsor, and the drivers, with protections put in place as to the kinds of sponsor comments addressed to the media.
1. In 2005, ESPN/ABC signed an eight-year television deal with NASCAR. The agreement is estimated at $280 million per year.
2. NASCAR, established in 1948, is the number one spectator sport in the US, garnering 17 spots among the top 20 most attended sporting events.
3. NASCAR has 106 Fortune 500 sponsors, such as Coors, Ford Trucks, and UPS, with 75 million fans buying more than $2 billion in annual licensed product sales.
4. NASCAR, which is rated the second- highest regular sporting season on US television, is also broadcast in more than 150 countries.
5. In July, Stewart was fined $25,000 by NASCAR for cursing during a television interview. In addition, he was docked 25 points, with another 25 forfeited by
car owner, Joe Gibbs.