Souvenir sales take big hit

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to be an overwhelming success in souvenir sales, but even he might not able to keep that industry from collapsing.

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Astrid Haldane (left) and husband, Sean Haldane, sport identical shirts in support of Dale Earnhardt Jr. on pit road at Daytona. Earnhardt Jr. souvenirs continue to sell well, but the industry as a whole has seen a dramatic drop in sales.  Morris News Service
Morris News Service
Astrid Haldane (left) and husband, Sean Haldane, sport identical shirts in support of Dale Earnhardt Jr. on pit road at Daytona. Earnhardt Jr. souvenirs continue to sell well, but the industry as a whole has seen a dramatic drop in sales.

Sales have dropped so badly during the past year the biggest vendor, Motorsports Authentics, is on the verge of filing for bankruptcy.

According to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, MA hasn't paid guaranteed royalties since the third quarter and is trying to renegotiate its contract with most of its vendors.

Television ratings and attendance both dipped more than 10 percent last year, but the drop in souvenir sales were so dramatic the company owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc. and International Speedway Corp. is close to going out of business.

SMI and ISC own all but two of the racetracks on the Sprint Cup Series schedule.

"MA is exploring other business strategies to turn its business around," the filing said. "If such efforts are not sufficient or timely, MA could ultimately purse bankruptcy."

Fans have complained for years about the prices in NASCAR. Since so many people are in line to receive a share of the profits -- the driver, car owner, NASCAR and sometimes the sponsor -- it often can cost more than $20 to buy a hat or t-shirt at the racetrack.

Another problem has been the way drivers switch teams and sponsors. Earnhardt Jr. sold more than $50 million in Budweiser souvenirs when he raced for his family's team, only to switch before the 2008 season to Hendrick Motorsports -- and new sponsors, AMP Energy Drink and the National Guard.

Last year Tony Stewart, the second-most successful driver at the souvenir stands, jumped from Joe Gibbs Racing and Home Depot to his own team and Old Spice and Office Depot.

In a bad economy, fans not only stayed away from the track, they limited their souvenir purchases.

According to NASCAR.com's Superstore, Earnhardt was the top-selling driver in 2009, followed by Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR-branded items and Kyle Busch.

Dale Earnhardt, who died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, was ranked 10th.

Although Stewart, Gordon and Johnson apparently closed the gap on Earnhardt, they know they probably won't catch him. They also know it's not easy to selling caps and shirts when so many Americans are struggling to pay their mortgage.

"He's the most popular guy out there, there's no doubt about it," Gordon said. "Has he taken a bit of a hit with the performance not being there? Sure but what happens is when somebody moves over to a new team and they get a new sponsor and they do well they spike? Tony (Stewart) is a guy that's always been solid in souvenir sales. So when you see a guy like him change teams, number, and sponsor and then do well then the souvenir sales are going to be there. They're all down.

"It's all taken a hit and we've got to be more creative to find out how we can grow that business and get it back hopefully to where it was in the late '90s and 2000."

Gordon believes the entire souvenir industry can be saved if Earnhardt can be competitive again. His fans are extremely loyal and passionate to the third-generation driver and his father.

"I think Junior has got a lot of staying power," Gordon said. "He's got a huge appeal but I do think it's a little bit different now that he's not at DEI and he's at Hendrick."

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com.

Comments (7) Add comment
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AJ1
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AJ1 01/07/10 - 07:50 am
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Oh, my... wait a minute...

Oh, my... wait a minute... there, I've wiped the tear from my eye. I do not feel sorry for NASCAR. When they started ripping races from traditional Southern tracks, they traded their core fans for the "la-di-da" crowds elsewhere (California, Chicago, etc.). When you pee on your Southern base don't expect them to say "thank you".

augustadog
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augustadog 01/07/10 - 08:50 am
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Absolutely........ I quit

Absolutely........ I quit going to races 8 years ago, and quit buying souvenirs. I used to buy1/24 scale cars all the time. Now I am going ton E-Bay all the stuff I bought over the years and get out...

ZoomLenz
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ZoomLenz 01/07/10 - 11:45 am
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Much of the decline in NASCAR

Much of the decline in NASCAR can be attributed to economy. However boring races with the "Car of tomorrow",boring driver personalities and ignorant commentators butchering the English language have impacted T.V. interest in the sport. M.A. sales were drastically impacted with Wal-Mart's eliminating one of the largest revenue producers display pallet promotions. Huge issues will need to be resolved before souvenir sales can recover. #1 Dale Jr has to win or a new series of heros will have obsoletence to emerge. Perhaps Danica Patrick will spur new sales. As noted in the article, the biggest issues are contracts i.e., payout high percentage of profit or flat guarantee to teams, constant turn of sponsors resulting obsolete inventory, slow approvals for new products, art,colors etc., a nightmare of too many experts in the loop.

M.A/ Action performance is a customer of mine.

AtlasShrugged
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AtlasShrugged 01/07/10 - 07:50 pm
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Zoom - you know your stuff!

Zoom - you know your stuff! NASCAR, golf, and most sports are in a decline with respect to attendance and souvenir sales. The Masters will never return to previous levels, such as Tiger's first win there. Corporations can't justify the excessive spending and most fans realize that most of these jock millionaires in baseball, football, racing, etc. don't give a hoot about them. NASCAR still suffers from being considered a goober sport despite their efforts to broaden outside the South.

corgimom
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corgimom 01/07/10 - 08:15 pm
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People finally got tired of

People finally got tired of spending $20.00 for a stiff, cheaply made, poor-quality tshirt that shrinks and fades, and that sells for $5.00 at Rose's.

southern2
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southern2 01/07/10 - 08:44 pm
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They paid Jesse, hired Magic,

They paid Jesse, hired Magic, and condemned the confederate battle flag. They shut down Rockingham and North Wilkesboro and almost killed Darlington. No sympathy from this former fan.

billybl
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billybl 01/07/10 - 08:57 pm
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"Gordon believes the entire

"Gordon believes the entire souvenir industry can be saved if Earnhardt can be competitive again." OMFG! Give me a break! I know jeff was just commenting, but you morons print it like it's the gospel. Like Jr don't already have enough on his shoulders. *rolls-eyes*

Even tho I'm a So.cal native I agree with AJ! But hey AJ, Don't forget about riverside! It was like 40 miles frm my house, and that was the only place I got to ever see Cup races.. late 60's early 70's. I watched the king win there.. and the win that means the most to me..Was Good ol Benny! god luv him. I so miss Ya BP!

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