Former NBA Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordon high-fives the crowd during pre-race ceremonies prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 22, 2010 in Concord, North Carolina.
John Harrelson | Getty Images
It’s been an interesting few weeks for Michael Jordan.
On Monday, Jordan announced his racing ownership after the purchase of Germain Racing’s team charter. Jordan is the first Black majority owner of a full-time racing team in the NASCAR series since legendary driver Wendell Scott.
Longtime driver Denny Hamlin is a minority owner of the unnamed single-car team, and Wallace agreed to become the team’s driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. Terms of Jordan’s purchase and Wallace’s multiyear pact were not made available.
“You saw younger people get interested in golf,” Boyle said, referring to PGA Tour’s diverse fan growth when Woods dominated the sport.
“When somebody sees somebody like them in a sport, then they start thinking about themselves playing that sport,” said Boyle. “This may increase minority interest in [NASCAR].”
Boyle said Jordan’s move could be critical for NASCAR as the organization continues to overcome denouncing the confederate flag and continued attempts to diversify its fan base.
“They’ve been struggling for about 20 years to expand beyond just Southern white males,” said Boyle, also the executive director of SportMetric, a sports marketing and research consultancy firm.
“To have Michael Jordan’s brand and his personality behind a team, I think it’s going to draw not only younger fans but also African-American and other minority groups,” he said.
Bubba Wallace, driver of the #43 Victory Junction Chevrolet, waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Organics 325 in partnership with Rodale Institute at Pocono Raceway on June 27, 2020 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images
In a press release announcing the move, Jordan expressed excitement in becoming a NASCAR team owner and mentioned its struggle with diversity.
“The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change,” following the death of George Floyd on in May, Jordan said.
Wallace was the key figure behind NASCAR’s move to ban the confederate flag. In June, he sent shockwaves through the sport after requesting officials stop spectators from bringing the flag to races.
Wallace, who recently parted ways with Richard Petty Motorsports before joining Jordan, became the face of NASCAR’s movement to combat social injustices and helped grow awareness of the sport.
NASCAR has suffered steady TV viewership declines over the years and suffered departures of notable drivers including Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. It drew more than 6 million viewers to its Darlington race in May won by driver Kevin Harvick but has still struggled as consumption habits change.
With a prominent Black driver in place, mixed with a notable sports icon and one who carries with him a “degree of credibility in that he’s from North Carolina and has grown up a NASCAR fan,” Boyle labeled Jordan-Hamlin-Wallace team “a game-changer” in NASCAR’s pursuit to expand.
Connections in place
If successful, Boyle said Jordan’s impact would also “bring in new sponsors that have not invested in NASCAR” in previous years.
Jordan already has brand relationships in place via top companies, including his Jordan brand, Nike, Pepsi, which owns Gatorade, and now DraftKings, too. That could only help his NASCAR team solicit other sponsorships.
One person familiar with NASCAR’s plans who spoke with CNBC said Jordan’s new team “checks a lot of boxes” for sponsors looking to align with social change. The person discussed the matter on the condition of remaining anonymous as they weren’t allowed to speak publicly about the new team.
“If you’re a corporation, wouldn’t you want to support Michael Jordan and Bubba Wallace as they try to promote positive change?” the person said. “What better thing can you invest in?”
To field a competitive car in NASCAR, yearly costs could exceed $20 million. Sponsorships can help as building a top car can run $400,000 or more. Between paying for a crew, travel, tires and other vehicle maintenance, a team could spend $1 million per race. Boyle said the yearly costs could even reach $30 million.
But Boyle mentioned Jordan’s competitive nature when discussing why funding wouldn’t be an issue.
“If you know anything about Michael Jordan as a business person, he doesn’t just go for the cash grab or go for something that is going to put his name out there,” said Boyle. “He would only do a project like this with the intention of winning.”
Also, Boyle projected top brands would be “first in line to be a sponsor of [Jordan’s] team. When he endorses a product, he’s very loyal to that product. I would imagine that loyalty is going to be returned.”
Bubba Wallace, driver of the #43 Victory Junction Chevrolet, and NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Richard Petty look on after NASCAR drivers pushed Wallace to the front of the grid as a sign of solidarity with the driver prior to the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on June 22, 2020 in Talladega, Alabama.
Chris Graythen | Getty Images
Money aside, to those familiar with the inner-workings of NASCAR, Hamlin will be essential to Jordan and Wallace’s quest to dominate the sport. Hamlin, who currently races the No. 11 car for Joe Gibbs Racing, brings a ton of knowledge and racing expertise.
Hamlin’s minority ownership in the team while racing with Gibbs shouldn’t come with any conflict, either. The agreement was compared to legendary driver Dale Earnhardt’s decision to start his team – DEI racing team – while still racing for Richard Childress Racing.
And Hamlin will be needed to recruit crew talent and navigate the regulations and politics of NASCAR for Jordan’s team.
“It just makes sense now to lay the foundation for my racing career after I’m done driving and also help an up-and-coming driver like Bubba take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said in a statement. “Plus, Michael and Bubba can be a powerful voice together, not only in our sport, but also well beyond it.”
But forming a NASCAR team will bring its challenges. Unlike the NBA, Jordan isn’t king of this sport and will run up against more experienced and knowledgeable teams.
Competing against the Childress, Roger Penske, and Rick Hendrick-led teams will “take time,” said Boyle. But with Jordan’s iconic status, attracting crew talent may not be a difficult task.
“I don’t want to be out there to be just another car,” said Jordan in an interview with the Charlotte Observer. “I feel like Bubba feels the same, and Denny has definitely done that this year. We’ve got the right people involved. Now, we need to get the right equipment. The right information and data. Give Bubba his best chance to win.”