Explaining NASCAR’s Silly Season
As the 2020 NASCAR season draws to a close and the weather starts to change, the time of the year referred to as “Silly Season” in the sport ramps up. You may be asking, what is Silly Season and what does it mean for sponsors, drivers and teams?
Origins of Silly Season
The first use of “The Silly Season” dates back to 1861, when an article under that name appeared in the Saturday Review, speaking about the demise in quality of the editorial content in The Times, a British daily newspaper.* Since then the term has been used in various arenas, from news to politics and most commonly, the world of sports. Other leagues, including Formula One, the NBA and the NFL have their own version of Silly Season. However, these seem to pale in comparison to NASCAR’s.
This could quite possibly be due to the fact that NASCAR’s season is one of the longest in professional sports, spanning over 10 months of the year. The long season leaves more time for predictions of where a driver is going to land at the end of their contract year. The buzz and speculation that ensues is called Silly Season.
The length of a driver’s contract can vary. Not unlike other professional sports, NASCAR drivers can be with a team anywhere from one year to multiple years. While driver talent and race wins have some impact on this, the bigger piece of it is based on the team’s sponsorships and the opportunities that creates for new drivers to come on board. It was once common for a single primary sponsor to be with a team for an entire season. In today’s fast-paced landscape, most teams utilize multiple primary sponsors throughout the season.
Sponsor & Fan Impact
Die-hard fans and sports media start Silly Season chatter long before NASCAR crowns the series champions in November. Unlike other sports whose Silly Season happens during the offseason or during a free agency period, part of what makes NASCAR stand apart is that Silly Season typically falls right in the middle of the NASCAR Playoffs. This provides a somewhat unique situation for drivers who are at the end of their contract year, as they have a commitment to their current team and sponsors but are having conversations about driving elsewhere for the upcoming season. As a result, drivers will often remain tightlipped about their potential opportunities and wait as long as possible to make an announcement.
This period of time can prove to be beneficial for several reasons. One, it allows drivers to “shop” around so-to-speak, brushing up on their resumes and building connections with teams as they seek out the best opportunity. There are a lot of dynamics that go into what makes a team a good fit for a driver, and vice versa, not the least of which are the team sponsorships. A sponsorship is much more than a decal on the car, but an investment and relationship between a team and the organization. A sponsor’s financial commitment enables teams to compete, so it is important that the driver behind the wheel has a good relationship with the team and the brand(s) they are representing.
During Silly Season, drivers continue to compete for a chance to earn points and race wins. A team partnership does not rely solely on a driver’s success on the track; however, it does have a hand in where the driver competes in the upcoming year. It also builds a more compelling case for teams to make optimal connections between sponsors and drivers.
Lastly, Silly Season creates an arguably healthy buzz for the sport of NASCAR. It is the time of year that gets people talking about the drivers, excited about the Playoffs and eager to cheer on their favorite cars in the upcoming season. It opens the opportunity to turn nonfans into fans, if for no other reason than that they like the brand with which the driver is associated.
No matter how silly the remainder of the NASCAR season is, Silly Season serves as a powerful reminder of how sponsorship plays a tremendous impact in our sport.