Could NASCAR be inching closer to permanently changing where the numbers are located on cars?
While sponsors, manufacturers and drivers have all rotated through NASCAR over the course of Cup Series history, one of the few constants has been where numbers are located. No matter the make, model or color, cars have always had numbers below the driver and passenger side window and on the roof.
That could be changing soon. According to the Sports Business Journal, NASCAR is increasingly discussing moving the numbers on the sides of the cars as early as next season when the new Cup Series car is set to debut.
The move isn't entirely unexpected. NASCAR telegraphed the idea during the All-Star Race in the summer of 2020 when it experimented with pushing the side numbers back toward the rear wheels. As you can imagine, that look took some getting used to.
The primary public motivation for moving the numbers on the sides of the cars is sponsor-driven. The change has been explained by noting that sponsors have more real estate to show off their brands and logos with the numbers in a different spot.
There's no reason to doubt the added space. As you can see in that picture above, the Discount Tire and M&Ms logos are even more in your face. But you could already tell those companies were sponsoring those cars without increased side logo placement. And would primary sponsors like those be willing to pay teams more money for those sponsorships with the numbers in a different position?
NASCAR needs to be transparent
The social media reaction against moving the numbers has been loud. That's understandable; basketball fans would be furious if the NBA said that it was moving the numbers on the front and backs of player jerseys to give jersey sponsors more room to advertise. Changing things that have always worked well and that everyone is used to isn't an easy sell.
And NASCAR needs to realize the difficulty of that sell to its fans if it goes through with this number move.
Social media reaction isn't always the best barometer of public opinion. Those who speak the loudest tend to be heard the most. And the majority of Americans are not on Twitter or commenting frequently on Facebook or Instagram. It's possible that the people who have expressed public disdain for the number move are in the minority.
If they aren't, then NASCAR is playing with fire. Major auto racing's continued struggle for national relevance doesn't leave it much wiggle room with the fans that are still watching. As television audiences have eroded over the last decade, NASCAR shouldn't be risking infuriating a majority of the people who continue to tune in and pay attention on a regular basis.
That's why this change should be accompanied by clear and concise justification if and when it happens. NASCAR should show fans why their concerns are unfounded and explicitly state how teams are going to benefit financially from the change. It's one thing to simply tell fans that a change is happening and that they should like it and get used to it. It's another to say how and why the change needs to happen so that the teams that are the lifeblood of the series can continue to be sustainable.
If NASCAR can clearly show fans why tradition needs to be bucked for the future of the series, then there's a much better chance of a quieter reaction among those who dislike the change. If NASCAR can't, then it deserves a lot of the backlash it will inevitably receive when the numbers are moved.
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