Souvenir haulers may return to some NASCAR races as merchandise program evolves

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. raised a few eyebrows when he said on Periscope after Sunday’s race at Talladega that team souvenir trailers could be returning to NASCAR.

“I heard a little rumor that the big souvenir tent’s going away and the trailers are coming back,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know if anyone heard that. That’ll be cool.”

Adam Stern of SportsBusinessDaily.com reported that driver souvenir trailers are coming back – but not in the way they had previously spread out at tracks.

Stern wrote Monday that Fanatics, which signed a 10-year agreement with NASCAR in August 2015 to host a trackside superstore tent that carries driver merchandise, will make modifications to its business model in the coming weeks and months.

A NASCAR official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, exclusively told NBC Sports: “We’re not going to see the tent replaced by haulers. That’s not going to happen. It’s going to be different based on every track. You may see more haulers at the track, at some tracks it may be a different configuration, but it’s always been from Day One that (how merchandise is sold at tracks is) going to evolve and change over time based on the shopping habits of our fans.

“They’re basically adjusting to the marketplace. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach with the tent, they’re going to say that on a road course, it may make sense not to have the tent at all, that it may make more sense to have just in-venue or we’ll just bring haulers to this one or we’re just testing it out. They’re working with the tracks to find the what that right mix is, just like any store is.”

Ergo, the 60,000-square-foot tent, which hasn’t been popular with fans who liked the old driver souvenir hauler stands better, will be replaced with smaller satellite sites both within and outside of various racetracks.

Said the NASCAR official to NBC Sports, “I don’t think you’re going to see the big tent anymore, but you’re going to see a mix of maybe smaller tents, in-venue stores, haulers, other things and other ways – who knows what Fanatics is going to come up with.”

Changes are already on the near horizon for both this weekend’s races at Kansas Speedway, and the following two weekends at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the NASCAR All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600.

It’s possible that fans will see additional trailers dedicated to specific drivers at Charlotte, but the NASCAR official cautioned to NBC Sports, “I wouldn’t read into what you’re going to see at Charlotte or Kansas or wherever as the new thing.”

According to the NASCAR official, Fanatics is working on revised business plans with individual racetracks, but the sense is that instead of a one-size-fits-all tent at all tracks, the kind of merchandise tents, trailers and satellite booths will vary from track to track.

There also may be more driver-specific merchandise offerings at certain tracks that correspond to the drivers being from the surrounding area. For example, there may be more (Illinois native) Danica Patrick or (Wisconsin native) Matt Kenseth merchandise at Chicagoland Speedway when this year’s playoffs begin.

Or another possibility – and pretty much a no-brainer – will be to flood Homestead-Miami Speedway with Dale Earnhardt Jr. merchandise to mark the final NASCAR Cup race of his career.

Stern noted that “despite lower overall sales, sources said that NASCAR has seen upticks in merchandise sales for some key up-and-coming drivers this year, including Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney.”

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