Friday, June 22, 2007

Keeping the deal real: Authenticity should be among aims for Earnhardt Jr.

We’ve moved to the next step in the Dale Earnhardt Jr. saga, wherein people will begin trying to read the tea leaves to see whether he’s going to take Budweiser with him as a sponsor when he
moves to Hendrick Motorsports.

I am going to be totally honest with you. I don’t know which company will be his primary sponsor in 2008.

But I do know that no deal for that was revealed Thursday at the Nickel & Nickel Winery in Oakville, Calif., where Earnhardt Jr. announced that he’s signed a personal services deal with Sony to endorse that company’s electronic products.

Earnhardt Jr., in fact, was on to us as we tried to pin him down on whether Budweiser would move with him. "I know what you’re getting at," he said, "but I am not going to be able to help you, not tonight."

Oddly, that didn’t prevent The Associated Press from moving a story on the wire that said Earnhardt Jr. had announced he would leave Budweiser for Sony in his new ride. That story was picked up by several major internet sites and, for much the day on Friday that’s what people were reading.

Sony might very well wind up being the primary sponsor on whatever car number Earnhardt Jr. drives next year. But Darrell Waltrip said last weekend he thinks it will be a beverage company, but not one "with a red can."

That would let out Budweiser and Coca-Cola, leading some to speculate about Pepsi or perhaps some kind of energy drink.

There’s also this Adidas clothing deal that’s supposedly in the works, which would give Earnhardt Jr. his own clothing line – more than just T-shirt and ball caps, mind you – in the Tiger Woods/Nike vein. Could blossom into a full-blown deal with his car, too?

Just like what happened when he was deciding on what team he’d be going to, it seems like everybody has a theory. What nobody seems to actually have, though, is a clear idea of what’s going to happen.

That, actually, is not true. I think there are at least two people who know exactly what they’re going to do. That’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister, Kelley Elledge.

They may not know yet which company’s name will be on the side of Earnhardt Jr.’s car, but they do know exactly how they want to do business going forward.

The setting for Thursday night’s Sony announcement could not have been more elegant. The Nickel & Nickel Winery is in the breathtaking Napa Valley, and there was plenty of good food, fine wine and wonderful weather.

Several classic cars, all of them Chevrolets, were parked around the grounds to add ambiance.

One of them, a classic Corvette convertible, was enough to make any car enthusiast drool.

Was it what you would have expected from Earnhardt Jr.? No, but that doesn’t mean he was sending an "I want to be viewed as more of a grown-up" signal, either.

The site was picked for him, and it was aimed at impressing the people who’ll now be paying him and also giving him use the kinds of computers, high-definition televisions and cameras he already uses.

During the Q&A session, Earnhardt Jr. did make one startling revelation. He has at least two songs on his MP3 player by Barry Manilow, "Weekend in New England" and the "American Bandstand" theme.

We’ll pause for a minute here to let that sink in.


And we’re back.

Look, the reason Dale Earnhardt had so many fans for so long is that he found ways to project who he really was through the products he endorsed and the companies he worked with.

Earnhardt never seemed like a phony because he never was. He never pretended to be anything he wasn’t, and that meant he always came across as authentic.

That’s all Earnhardt Jr. has to do in picking the directions he’ll move in. It’s not about the money. Rest assured that when he decided to drive for Hendrick Motorsports he didn’t take the highest salary he was offered, and the decision about which company he’ll have as a sponsor won’t be all about the bottom line, either.

If he wanted to go for the most cash, the last number he’d want is the No. 8. He’s already sold a gazillion dollars worth of that stuff. If he changes numbers, his fans will buy more stuff. That’s simple math.

Whatever happens, he’s going to get paid. Handsomely.

Everybody knows that, even me.


Anonymous said...

I think Junior is becoming more of his own man....hopefully he will keep being Junior...speculating over who he will sign with as a sponsor is fun but somewhat meaningless as there a few people who know exactly what's happening behind the scenes ..everyone has an opnion or preference but the only ones that count are Junior and Kelly's

Anonymous said...

I don't think really for the bucks, cause he raced for TEI as long as he could take it and according to Darrell he was by far the lowest paid driver in Nextel Cup,I do know when he raced Busch he got 350.00 a race win or lose and that came direct for Dale Sr.I thought he was kidding but he wasn't. I would like JR. to keep the 8 if possible , cause I have every diecast ever produced with that number.

Anonymous said...

There was an earlier article talking of how Hendrick would like Jr. to dress us a little more and look a little more businesslike. I don't think that's a good idea. People like Jr. because he wears jeans and lets his shirt hang out. That is who he is and that is how he should stay. Hope they don't try to make him out to be someone he isn't. His appeal is that he is an everyday guy not a bigshot racing star.

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Anonymous said...

The question isn't who gets him the most money - it's which company gets him the best complimentary swag.

Granted, having Bud as your sponsor is pretty cool - can have the truck just show up at the house to change out kegs. But Sony's got to be attractive as well.

I wonder what kind of comps Sterling Marlin gets for driving the Waste Management car.

Anonymous said...

My dad is in his sixties and followed racing almost from the beginning. He always told me Earnhardt Sr. would not be nothing without Teresa ,,but I am wondering what his daughter Kelley could have done for her dad. She seems to be doing pretty good for Dale Jr.

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