By Virginia DeMoss
Sponsorship in racing has evolved to include a company writing a check for a few hundred dollars to help out a local racer up to multi-million dollar, high-profile programs.
In conjunction with the January 2011 issue of Performance Racing Industry, we covered the first part of how to work with sponsors to develop successful partnership programs. Following is more information about how sponsors and race teams can work together to provide a successful marketing and promotion program to meet the needs of each side.
Tailoring To A Sponsor’s Needs
General Sports Alliances, Denver, Colorado, is a sports marketing agency that specializes in sponsorship and sales representation for large teams, events, series, and venues in professional sports and entertainment. Most recently, the company was named the exclusive sponsorship sales agency for the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, which will be part of the Izod IndyCar Series in 2011.
“As we approach each project, we utilize the idea that today’s environment does not cater to standard, off-the-shelf packages,”
Chris Foy told us. “If you’re going to have success in sponsorship, you have to understand what the company you’re speaking with wants to achieve and what objectives they would like to see. If you don’t address those head-on and do your research, the results are going to be negative.”
Foy agreed that many teams could benefit from the know-how a motorsports agency provides. “We’re a very solid value proposition when it comes to what we deliver for our clients and the results we achieve,” he said. “If they are looking for expertise, not only in terms of connections and a networking standpoint, but also in how they market, how they package, and how they value sponsorship programs, companies like ours would be a suitable option.”
The clients at Performance Management & Marketing, Concord, North Carolina, are primarily aftermarket manufacturers, but the company also does sponsor retention for NASCAR series teams and grassroots racers. Todd Luckow told us his youngest driver just turned 10 years old, adding that the company starts working with kids and sponsorships in order to “bring them along the right way in terms of teaching them how to handle sponsors, do interviews, and all of the things they need to know.”
Aside from sponsor searches, Performance helps with team management, depending on what stage of the game the team is at. “If it’s a start-up team, we usually find ourselves pretty much working with them to set up a good management team with a good marketing strategy,” said Luckow.
He also told us the sponsorship market is very encouraging right now. “There are more people willing to look at sponsorship packages this year than there have been in the last five,” he said. “We’ve got companies that are basically looking at first-time ventures into motorsports. There is also a huge barrage of green products that are looking at utilizing motorsports to help get their names in front of a mass of people in a short amount of time. Right now we’re dealing with some solar panel manufacturers and a bunch of companies that are using recycled goods—everything from paper and plastic to tires that they grind up and use in asphalt and other surfaces.”
Indianapolis, Indiana-based Brand Acceleration is an advertising and PR firm that works primarily in three industries: racing, economic development, and construction. “Sometimes we’re fortunate and have clients that overlap in all three,” said Jim Walton, pointing to a company they worked with in Charlotte called Motorsport Construction, which specializes in building race shops.
Although it primarily represents industry suppliers, one of Brand Acceleration’s current clients is Hendricks County, Indiana, an economic enterprise zone trying to attract racing businesses to the area. Noting that many of the major drag racing teams are based there, Walton said, “We’re actively engaged in marketing the county to the racing industry, telling its benefits, relating why you should locate your racing business there. We develop marketing plans for them, including a series of ads targeted to different segments of the industry—drag racing, open wheel, stock car—to build awareness for Hendricks County.”
An important part of any race marketing effort is hospitality, and that is one of the specialties of Tysinger Promotions, New Bern, North Carolina, which puts on turnkey events for tracks, teams, and companies. “In reality, we’re a marketing and event planning company that can do pretty much anything,” said Katie Stewart, who pointed to such services as ad sales, merchandise programs, and data capture for clients like the ADRL.
We asked Stewart why so many racing teams and businesses are turning to experts for their promotional needs. “Mainly because we’re good at what we do, and they’re good at racing,” she answered. “Most teams don’t really have the internal infrastructure to pull off events like this. They’re busy, they’re on the road, they’re thinking about racing, not about building their brand or entertaining potential sponsors or managing existing sponsors. That’s where we come in.”
She said outsourcing those responsibilities also saves on the overhead involved in hiring a staff to do those chores. “It’s very efficient,” stressed Stewart. “We come in, we work closely with the client so we know exactly what they want, we plan everything from A to Z, so there’s no micromanagement needed. When the client shows up, everything is done, and they just enjoy the event and go back to doing what they’re good at: racing or putting on a race. We take care of everything and then wrap-up and head out. It’s kind of a one-stop shop.”
As the name implies, Mackey Motorsports Marketing, Marietta, Georgia, works exclusively in racing, representing the interests of drivers, teams, series, and industry suppliers. “It may be representing a driver in an endorsement opportunity, or helping a vendor produce an ad for a motorsports audience. We just finished producing a catalog for a motorsports apparel brand, and at the same time helped promote a driver at an IndyCar event,” offered Brian Mackey.
Mackey agreed that the sponsorship landscape in motorsports has changed dramatically over the past few years, making the services of an agency that specializes in the sport and stays on the cutting-edge of new marketing strategies more a necessity than a luxury today.
“For companies utilizing motorsports as a marketing tool, there is no substitute for experience, and no better way to extract the most benefit from a promotion than using the services of a specialist. We have the experience and the focus to properly sift through the options and help gain the needed perspective to properly align a motorsport theme to a targeted buyer,” he stated. “It takes a massive amount of time and research to do the job properly, and few teams, drivers, vendors or even series are properly positioned to do it effectively.
“It used to be much simpler: motorsports marketing was predominantly limited to the passive exposure of branding on the car,” Mackey added. “Today, a much more complicated array of marketing strategies is required, which is why we have developed new methods of motorsports marketing and activation and developed partnerships with companies that offer services that have never been tried in racing before. Motorsports marketing has to be much more interactive than in the past; it must communicate with consumers, aka fans, on multiple levels, and must be relevant, attractive and beneficial in order to get them to respond to the promotion.”
Race Host, Orlando, Florida, is a full-service marketing/advertising agency that also works exclusively in the motorsports industry. “We work primarily with racing companies, race teams, drivers, and sponsors, using our marketing and communication expertise to help them increase their visibility and brand value by targeting their marketing effort to the racing demographic,” said Trey Piccard, who told us the company’s clients include TRG Motorsports in NASCAR, PortaTree Racing in NHRA, Big Spot Racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and Riley Technologies and The Racers Group in Grand-Am.
A good example of the kind of marketing savvy required in today’s market is the wireless technology that Race Host developed for the TRG team. Explained Piccard, “Team members are able to shoot trackside video and photos then upload them directly to the TRG website, allowing fans to get insider information from TRG in real time. The fans love getting trackside information from the team, and it’s a great way to introduce new sponsor products and offerings.”
Piccard told us the importance of maximizing visibility, brand recognition, and value has never been greater, yet most teams and companies “simply do not have the personnel in-house to manage marketing at this level. As a result, they hire firms like ours and rely on us to manage their marketing effort. It gives them a distinct advantage over their competition, because they can concentrate on their business, which is racing and winning, and let us handle the marketing.”
Growing the Grassroots
Chris Ragle of Tex Motorsports Marketing & Management, Concord, North Carolina, works predominantly in asphalt short track racing. His main objective is helping grassroots racers raise their profiles through publicity and marketing.
“Whether it’s a series, a race, or a driver, it’s only as big as you make it out to be,” he said. “The more you build yourself up and try to make your name known, the easier it will be to attract sponsors and move up to the next level. It’s harder to set up a meeting with someone if they don’t know anything about you. I’m a big fan of PR campaigns and being involved in anything that’s in the public eye, whether it’s a show car appearance for a sponsor, a charity event, or any type of promotion that the series does. People know they can call on me and my clients; we’re always obliged to do those things.”
Ragle provides all of his racers with profiles, promotional videos, and proposals to present to prospective sponsors, and uses his own motorsports photography and video service to get their image out there and get them used to talking on camera.
At the grassroots level, local and regional businesses are ripe for sponsorship opportunities, according to Ragle. “At this level, you’re not asking for a lot of money, so you can get some help and promote their product or service. If we go race in Nashville, and there’s a business based there, it does no good for them to be represented in Florida. I’ve built a lot of relationships with companies based in a specific area.”
Once a grassroots racer himself, Brian Lillie at eCreative Group, Independence, Iowa, is on a mission to bring higher-level sponsorships into this arena. “That’s where it all starts,” he said. “Without grassroots racing, there would be no higher levels of racing.”
And he makes a compelling case for this market. “When we talk to prospective clients about this, they just don’t believe us until we show them the numbers. There are close to 800 dirt tracks in this country, and if you figure 1000 to 1200 fans at least one night a week for 22 to 24 weeks, it’s huge. And, demographically, the fan base is very similar, if not better than NASCAR fans in terms of household income and things like that. The bang for the buck is huge.”
Among other clients, eCreative has developed the Team Wix program for Wix Filters. “The goal of that program is to directly connect with teams and drivers all over the country in grassroots racing scenarios,” explained Lillie. “We sign them up to be part of Team Wix; it’s kind of a sponsorship program where they get something for being part of the team—discounts on products and things like that. Our goal is to put the product in front of the people who actually use it.”
Lillie had a bit of advice for small teams trying to maximize their own sponsorships. “Put something together that doesn’t cost you much that can help your sponsors activate. Go buy a 10x10 canopy, have a banner made, and have your wife sit behind the grandstands and hand out coupons and fliers at five or 10 events throughout the year,” he suggested. “It gives your sponsor some ability to track the value and say, ‘Oh, look at these coupons we got back from this guy we sponsored.’ You have to do something that the fans can actually touch and feel, that will drive them to your sponsor, rather than just expecting the logo on the car to do all the work for you.”