Put Your Money Where Your (Interests Are): When Being Self-Serving Isn’t Selfish At All

A friend of mine has loved American auto racing since he was a boy. Stock cars, modifieds, dirt track… he loves it all.

Yet he complains constantly about how things have changed. How sponsors have left the sport, especially at the lower levels, causing teams to shut down and racing series contract. How some drivers get rides based more on their ability to atract sponsors instead of solely on talent.

I get it. He loves racing and is understandably worried about its future. But hearing the same complaint eventually gets old. 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 you’ve visited once or twice. The coffee is great but a little pricey, so you’ve only stopped in once or twice.

Then, one day, you see it’s out of business.  

That’s a shame, you think. Once again, big corporations and national chains have 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 peak convenience and take a chance on a new or struggling entrepreneur: Buying a few items from a local store, hiring that 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 formed 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, pro cycling is a tough business. Sponsors are incredibly hard to come by.

So every year I buy something: From a sponsor of a team, from a TV coverage advertiser… 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 U.S. 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, American Flat Track…

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 those 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.

And that’s exactly how it should be.

Because it means everyone wins.

Published on: Jan 16, 2020

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