The surge surprised industry experts, who believed sales of Earnhardt's red No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet merchandise would dip while he searches for a new team, number and maybe even a new sponsor.
"I was a little concerned about his sales after the announcement, what the reaction would be, but it looks like it's terrific," Mark Dyer, NASCAR's vice president of licensing, said Wednesday. "It looks like there's an affinity for that No. 8 car. There's been a lot of great moments, the fact that its a DEI car, and the whole Dale Jr. thing."
I think its indicative of the fact that people aren't ready just this moment, they want at least one last souvenir before they move on to the next chapter with him." Earnhardt's selling power is tops in NASCAR, which does about $2 billion in annual retail sales.
Dyer said Earnhardt owns between 25 and 30 percent of the market. Jeff Gordon, the No. 2 driver in sales, is "in the mid-to-high teens," Dyer said. Sales of Junior merchandise has likely brought in at least $30 million a year in revenue for DEI, the company formed by his late father and now run by his stepmother, Teresa. Drivers work out individual deals, so its not clear what percentage of the licensing revenue Earnhardt himself pockets. The money is typically divided between the driver, car owner and sponsor. In addition to Budweiser's sponsorship of his car, Earnhardt has a personal services deal with the beer company. Budweiser is expected to follow Earnhardt wherever he goes, but is not guaranteed to be the primary sponsor of his next ride. Budweiser officials have been silent on the issue all season, and said in a statement following Earnhardt announcement last week that it planned to discuss its future opportunities with both Junior and DEI. Earnhardt is taking a week or two to decompress before diving into the free agent process, but he's not expected to have a shortage of suitors. But he will need to get a deal done fairly quickly to get the ball rolling on his 2008 merchandise sales. "It's a very long process to get these things done," Dyer said. "The car number and sponsor has to be decided, the paint scheme has to be designed and approved by Dale Jr.'s people, the team, the sponsor and then NASCAR's competition committee. "Then it all has to get made. The very latest production can start to guarantee die casts for the Daytona 500 is early-to-late fall." Dyer did not rule out Earnhardt merchandise being ready for Christmas, assuming a deal is completed rather quickly.