Motorsports lives off of sponsorship – we don’t have to necessarily like it but it’s how the sport became as big as it is. To that end, a few more sponsorships were announced recently in preparation for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Are these positive signs?
The NASCAR season is down to its last three races with the finale coming November 17th in Florida at Homestead. Many of the decisions relating to marketing partnerships have been made by now with three major announcements coming this past few weeks.
Last weekend, the National Guard (source: AP) announced it would continue its collaboration with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his Hendrick Motorsports #88 Chevrolet for the 2014 season as a major sponsor. Marcos Ambrose added a nice associate sponsorship for the entirety of next year to the Richard Petty Motorsports #9 Ford with Twisted Tea. Also, High Ridge Brands has decided to continue sponsoring with Roush Fenway Racing and the #17 Ford driven by current rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as a part-time major sponsor.
Certainly renewals or additions like these are positive signs for the sport in the obvious sense. However, when you dig deeper into these particular sponsorships, you can come to a more clearer understanding of how the sport is holding up.
When National Guard said last week that they would extend their sponsorship, it was good news in more ways than one. First, there are some in the U.S. government who have complained loudly about the sponsorships and the cost to the taxpayer. All well and good but here’s what the marketing chief for the Army National Guard said, “NASCAR fans in our target demographic are twice as likely to consider the military as a career option, and the overall fan base strongly advocates for military service.” Recent research suggests that,
“85 percent of those who enlisted or re-enlisted in the National Guard since 2007 agree that professional sports are beneficial to its overall efforts to attract and retain soldiers.”
Remarkable numbers to say the least. Next up was an announcement earlier this month from High Ridge Brands – which owns many name brands – that they will extend their Zest brand relationship as a major partner for six events in 2014 aboard the Roush Fenway #17 Ford with Stenhouse driving. Impressively, the partnership has helped the Zest brand immensely these past couple of years, with “brand growth of more than 20 percent since we acquired Zest after a history of double-digital sales declines,” said the companies CEO Jim Daniels.
To top things off here, a couple days ago, the Boston Beer Company announced they would become a full-time associate sponsor of Ambrose’s Ford next year using their Twisted Tea brand (hard ice tea). In addition, they will be the major sponsor on the car for the Dover race next fall. Current primary partner on the #9 is Stanley/DeWalt who will maintain that relationship next season as well. Said Twisted Tea Director of Brand Development Jon London, “We think that Marcos and NASCAR are just a great fit for the Twisted Tea brand.”
Simply stated, sponsorship works in NASCAR because of a high brand loyalty factor coupled with integrated activation of advertising and marketing. In other words, if race teams understand what Corporate America needs and works diligently towards branding and sales goals, they can have successful partnerships and continue to grow the sport back to where it was a decade or more ago.
Race teams finally getting it
As a longtime marketer who with my father Ron created an innovative “Marketing First” campaign about two decades ago, I understand how these successful partnerships work and why. We felt as businessmen and racers, we could actually help corporations build their sales. When the race teams realize they can’t race without funding, then it’s imperative to appreciate and comprehend that marketing relationships must come first. Daniels admitted that Roush Fenway was assisting their company. Said Daniels,
“They give us advice on optimizing our marketing efforts.”
High Ridge has been so happy with the results regarding their Zest brand, they are now looking to add other brands to the Roush Fenway partnership.
Economic concerns with a continuing Recession present obstacles for any motorsports organization. Sports attendance is down in general as people, even with season tickets, are declining to go to sporting events due to the other overriding costs (gas, food and beverages etc).
Fans engaged with passion
Differentiation is key for brands and getting the most bang for the buck is a necessity. For those reasons and more, motorsports and in this instance, NASCAR, are ideal for business, as long as the race team fully integrates itself with the brand. Engagement, including the use of social media (which goes without saying in this day and age) combined with the huge passionate fan base that NASCAR has; well, it just makes sponsorships work better than ever before.
So yes, these and other significant sponsorship renewals are a good sign for NASCAR as the sport moves ahead. Brands like Zest and the National Guard need the exposure and engagement with these emotionally charged fans; and naturally race teams need the investment to put forth a good product on the race track. Awareness is great, but companies are looking to energize their customer base and using NASCAR as their strategy of engagement is invaluable to the ultimate goal of sales and retainment. The sponsorship renewals are a good sign and the future looks brighter in NASCAR.
Additional source: NASCAR, Eagle II Motorsports Marketing