After five years in existence, we learned via Jenna Fryer on Monday that Red Bull Racing will be no more after this season. There are a lot of rumors and speculation about the future of the organization, but plan A at this point appears to involve manager Jay Frye and the hope of attracting outside investors. Only time will tell if Frye can actually put a deal together to keep the doors open of their Lakeside shop.
Exactly why Red Bull is getting out now remains a mystery. Speculation has hinged on everything from their performance issues to business reasons. NASCAR has struggled in recent years with the key male 18-34 demographic, and that is Red Bull’s target market. With fewer of their target consumers tuning in, this would seem to be a plausible explanation. I’m not sure I buy that however.
To me, this move appears to be Red Bull cutting their losses. They’ve sunk millions into this race team over the last five years and they have very little to show for it. Brian Vickers has the organization’s lone Cup Series win, which came back in 2009. At the time, it appeared Red Bull was on their way, but performance has been a disappointment since then. The outlook for RBR was positive coming into 2011, but the season hasn’t panned out to this point. Kasey Kahne is currently 19th in the standings and Brian Vickers is 24th. Kahne is their top threat to win every week, but he’s leaving at season’s end for Hendrick.
It is my belief that regardless of NASCAR’s demographic issues, if Red Bull was winning and a regular contender, they’d stay. Let me remind you that this is a company that has spent well north of $600 million on it’s Formula 1 teams since 2004. The difference being that Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are contenders.
I also want to point out that I don’t think Red Bull’s departure is some sort of drastic sign about the health of the sport. NASCAR is still a very viable avenue for companies looking to spend marketing dollars, and recent deals like the one HMS struck with Farmers Insurance show that. It may not happen immediately, but Red Bull’s spots on the grid will be filled.
Moving forward, even though Red Bull appears to be giving up their ownership stake, their NASCAR involvement may not end completely. Becoming a regular sponsor of either a driver or races could be an option. Here’s to hoping this is the case.