The Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins skillfully intertwines sports and economics today in his week Business World contribution — Toyota v. USA? (subscription required). He surveys the mirror images of what’s going on in NASCAR and what has gone on in the auto industry. (In my view, Jenkins is the best non-economist economist in the media. For that matter, he’s a better economist than some of the economists turned journalists! He combines sound economic insights with extensive knowledge of legal and business issues). Here are a few excerpts from today:
Nascar constantly rejiggers the rules in the name of sharing the marketing wealth …
In fact, the reason stock cars stopped being “stock cars” in the first place is that, since the 1960s, Nascar has increasingly been designing the cars itself to ensure advertisers a “level playing field.” This marketing imperative will culminate later this year in a new, Nascar-designed “Car of Tomorrow” to provide safer, more competitive racing. Yes, the cars will still be called Fords, Chevys, Dodges and Toyotas, but for purposes that finally are purely promotional. A question then becomes: How much longer will Detroit throw megadollars at Nascar merely to mythologize the names of its cars?
In the meantime, what’s not illusion about Nascar is its near-monopoly on oval racing, a genuinely interesting variant of motor sports.What’s not illusion are the high speeds and risk of serious injury or death, which strangely help to rescue the sport from terminal phoniness.What’s also not illusion is that cars, beer and other products these days are increasingly sold by the images and reputations of Nascar’s drivers, who are better known, more accurately judged and provoke stronger fan attachments than performers in any other sport or realm of show business.