SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/Forty Under 40
Published November 10, 2003
Last December, Brett Yormark, NASCAR's vice president of corporate marketing, got a call from his boss. It was a quick discussion of a few opportunities, as bosses invariably describe tough assignments, which would soon become Yormark's focus.
The biggest was a doozy: Searching for a new corporate name to put on the stock car league's top tier, known for three decades as the Winston Cup.
Yormark's boss, NASCAR chief operating officer George Pyne, described the plight of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., as well as the company's desire to leave its five-year sponsor agreement as soon as a new corporate backer could be enlisted.
No problem, right? RJR was only spending an estimated $50 million to $60 million a year at a time when every form of sports sponsorship was being slowed or halted by a sliding economy and uncertainty over a potential war in Iraq. Yormark's task was made even more difficult by the charge to win a higher annual investment from the new corporate partnership.
With typical bravado, Yormark went to work. As head of NASCAR's 40-person corporate marketing offices in New York, Yormark sets the tone — and brutal pace — for the sport's relentless growth. The new task, arriving at the same time a new gasoline sponsor was being sought, put Yormark's discipline to the test.
Staffers divvied up corporate categories and sifted trade publications, sports-advertising spending and industry analysis to get a better grip on prospective targets.
All along, Pyne and Yormark preached the mantra of finding companies capable, and willing, to invest in a marketing tie-in viewed as what they called "a game-changer." That is, a marketing relationship capable of putting an ascending company in front of a mainstream audience.
"We ultimately got it done," Yormark said, several months after the late-June announcement that cellular phone firm Nextel Communications had agreed to a 10-year, $750 million deal transforming the Winston Cup Series into the Nextel Cup starting next year. "It was challenging. I certainly spent a lot of nights awake, thinking, 'How the hell are we going to get this done?'"
Less than eight weeks later, Yormark and NASCAR put the lid on a deal with Sunoco to become the sport's official gasoline supplier. That deal, also for 10 years, is worth a combined $8 million to $10 million a year in barter and cash and includes all three main NASCAR circuits.
The deals are the latest in a long line of accomplishments for Yormark. He came to NASCAR five years ago from the New Jersey Nets. Since then, armed with stock car racing's zooming popularity, growing TV audience and enviable fan loyalty, Yormark has helped push the sport into bigger and broader corporate sponsorship deals.
Nextel, he said, was an atypical deal in size and scope, but typical in methodology. The corporate sales staff in New York used Yormark's strategy of comprehensive analysis and aggressive courting.
"They were very responsive to making it happen and to getting us everything we needed," said Michael Robichaud, Nextel senior director of sports and entertainment marketing. "Not just on the sales side, but in competition, licensing, promotion — all the facets of their business."
In fact, the entire courtship of Nextel took a mere 15 weeks from start to finish. At the same time, Yormark met and negotiated with a number of other prospects for the deal. "The last thing I wanted to do was go through 80 days or whatever and come away empty-handed," he said. "I couldn't have lived with that."
Yormark is not given to disappointment. His main hobby is work. He rises at 4 a.m. most days, getting ready in a specially built dressing room at his house separate from the master bedroom so he won't wake his wife. After catching the 4:50 bus, Yormark is at his desk by 5:30 a.m. He heads home, most nights, at 8:20 p.m.
That pace, per Pyne's orders, will have to be lessened. Yormark is willing to cut back a bit and focus more on long-term strategy, but he harbors few regrets.
"I don't want this pace for the rest of my life," he said. "At the same time, though, we started with three people in 1998. We had to build a business, and I think we're building a pretty good one."
Which leaves one tantalizing question: What's next? "I'm not sure," Yormark said, "but it will be exciting."
Erik Spanberg writes for The Business Journal in Charlotte.