A friend of mine has loved American auto racing since he was a boy. Stock cars, modifieds, dirt track... he loves them all.
He also hates how things have changed. How sponsors have left the sport, especially at the lower levels, causing teams to shut down and racing series to decline. How some drivers get rides based more on their ability to attract sponsors than based solely on talent.
In short, how money seems to play such a huge role in racing. (Even though it always has).
I get it. He loves racing and is understandably worried about its future. But hearing the same complaint eventually gets old and one day, to my discredit, I let my frustration show.
"If you're that worried about it," I said, "maybe you should put your money where your mouth is."
He stared. "I can't afford to sponsor a team," he said.
"I don't mean that," I said. "But you can afford to buy a product. Or a service. Or a hat or t-shirt. Or in some way support a company that supports racing."
"That wouldn't matter..." he said.
Of course it would.
Picture a small coffee shop on the corner. The coffee is great but a little pricey. So you've only stopped in once or twice.
One day you notice it's gone out of business.
That's a shame, you think. Big corporations and national chains have once again crushed the little guy, you think.
And maybe that's true.
But maybe you helped.
If you want a small business to stay in business, you occasionally have to support it. (If you don't, that's okay, too. But you can't have it both ways: I know people who rail against Amazon's impact on small brick-and-mortar retail... but who also haven't made a purchase from a mom-and-pop in years).
If you want a small business owner to stay in business, you occasionally have to put aside price/value calculations and rational market theory and exceptional convenience and take a chance on a new or struggling entrepreneur: Buying a few items from a local store, hiring a small restaurant down the road to cater a non-critical event or calling a new vendor and asking for a quote.
Granted, you might spend a little more. Or the meal might not be great. Or the quote might be a little high.
That's okay. At least you tried.
And became a small part of a larger solution.
I like professional cycling. I like to watch the Tour de France on TV. Unfortunately, like auto racing, running a pro cycling team is tough. Sponsors are incredibly hard to come by.
So every year, I buy at least one thing: From a sponsor of a team, from an advertiser on TV coverage... from someone who directly supports the sport.
I don't spend a lot.
Nor is my doing so noble, or charitable, or altruistic.
I'm not doing it for them. I'm doing it for me. I want the sport of pro cycling to stay a sport – and to stay a sport I can view through television or streaming. (My concerns aren't unfounded; the flagship race on the US road racing calendar, the Tour of California, has gone on "hiatus" after a 14-year run).
I like motorsports. So I subscribe to TrackPass, NBC's streaming service that offers NASCAR, IMSA and American Flat Track.
I like Spanish soccer (Vamos Leganes), so I added beIN to my cable package. (beIN also carries MotoGP. Win-win.)
Audiences for "niche" sports aren't huge. If enough people don't pay for coverage – or don't support sponsors who expect a return on their marketing investments in those sports – then the services that carry them will decide purchasing the rights is not worth it.
And those sports will disappear from virtual viewing.
And maybe disappear entirely.
Just like that coffee shop on the corner.
Again: Don't get me wrong. Buying a product from a sponsor, subscribing to a streaming service... doing so doesn't make me special or wonderful or in any way worthy of praise.
It's pure self-interest.
Just like supporting a small business you hope stays in business.
You aren't doing it for the owner. You're doing it for you.
Which, by extension, is good for the owner.
Which is exactly how it should be.
Because that means everyone wins.