I was unwrapping the latest addition to our die-cast car collection last week Ð yes, it is a Dale Earnhardt Jr. piece Ð and I started thinking about all the other NASCAR collectibles we have, especially those bearing the names, numbers and sponsors of drivers who have since changed teams and circumstances. What happens to all that diecast, the apparel, all those souvenirs that race fans collect after a driver makes those changes?
Last year NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., announced the unfathomable; he was leaving the team his late father started (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) for Hendrick Motorsports (HMS). DEI wouldn’t release rights to Junior’s car number Ð 8 Ð and his primary sponsor, Budweiser, decided to sign with another team. That meant Junior needed a new car number and sponsor(s) for this season. Fortunately he got both (the #88, sponsored by the National Guard and Amp energy drinks). Junior wasn’t the only driver to make that kind of change and more are in the works for next season; Tony Stewart and Home Depot come to mind.
So I called a friend in the biz and asked him to explain the merchandising market surrounding driver and team changes. Chris Williams, Director of Trackside for Motorsports Authentics (which handles merchandise for a majority of the drivers on the NASCAR circuit) surprised me with his answers. It’s a lot more complicated than just selling off remaining stock.
The process starts with a contract to produce a product line for teams, such as DEI, Joe Gibbs Racing and HMS. Those ideas are sent to each team and presented to sponsors for approval of every detail until the design is ready for production. Those items are then offered for sale at race tracks and other authorized locations. “We have 17 distribution channels at Motorsports Authentics,” Williams said. Those include K-Mart, WalMart, convenience stores and QVC’s home shopping channel. Those product lines have to be approved by September 15th in order to have merchandise available for the next season.
When a driver announces a change in his/her circumstances, it causes an upset in the merchandising market, which has a lot of money invested in products held in inventory, according to Williams. “Dale Jr., for instance, we may hold $6.8 million dollars (in merchandise) at cost at any given time,” Williams said. Some of that inventory gets discounted in order to reduce the amount of stock on hand. Much of it becomes collector’s items because it will never be produced again. Either way, Motorsports Authentics ends up with a warehouse full of merchandise that must be moved before one contract ends and another begins.
Some of the teams sign licensing agreements that prohibit the sale of products beyond a certain date. Such was the case with DEI and Dale Jr. parting ways last season; Motorsports Authentics couldn’t carry any products detailed in the contract with that team after December 31, 2007. Williams said they have to get more aggressive in pushing the sale of those products before the contract deadline so as to reduce the amount of product on hand for a very good reason.
“If we don’t get rid of it by December 31st, we bury it. We burn it and take it over to the county dump,” Williams said. They also give away apparel to military personnel and people in need, but what isn’t sold or given away is destroyed. Yes, I shed a tear thinking about all that die-cast, those red Budweiser #8 jackets and tee-shirts and caps, incinerated and buried deep in a North Carolina landfill.
But other contracts do not contain that sell-or-destroy clause and that’s where a savvy collector can pick up a bargain. Products left over from the previous season are often discounted and sold by a variety of retailers, such as QVC, and on-line sources, such as GoMotorbids.com. Those trackside vendors often offer last year’s merchandise on sale alongside this season’s newest product.
Every little bit helps and Williams, whose fuel budget for moving those souvenir rigs across the country nearly tripled this year, has had to be creative in order to reduce costs and keep merchandise prices from rising. That’s why you’ll see fewer trailers at each race track and more than one driver’s merchandise for sale on some of those rigs. “I don’t want to go to the fans to get it back,” Williams said. “It’s not their fault.”
With drivers like Tony Stewart, Mark Martin and Ryan Newman changing directions next season, it’s a good time for fans to get a bargain on a collectible, according to Williams. “It creates what they call ‘back in the day’, a carny atmosphere, because you feel like you can get up and give a deal without having to bargain.”
NASCAR Notes: Carl Edwards won both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races last weekend at Michigan International Speedway. He is now second in the driver points standing in each series.
Eric Holmes, with Antelope’s Bill McAnally Racing, is hanging on to a slim lead in the Camping World West series, with two races to go. The last race of the season will be held at All American Speedway on October 25th. The series’ opening race there was a sellout, so plan early if you want to attend!
Don’t forget the car show at Eskaton Village in Grass Valley this Saturday. Proceeds from the show stay local and benefit the Alzheimer’s Association. More info is available from Joan Davis at 530-273-1778.
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