SBJ/March 28 - April 3, 2005/Marketingsponsorship

Sponsors racing to catch driver Edwards

Carl Edwards’ stunning start to the NASCAR season has his sponsors, all of whom started the year as limited partners, snatching up his team’s remaining unsponsored races and standing in line for a long-term relationship with NASCAR’s newest star.

“I would sign up for the entire next year if I could,” said Susan Davies, who heads motorsports for World Financial Group, which will sponsor Edwards in two races this year. “You can’t compare him to anything else.”

A virtual unknown before joining Roush Racing’s No. 99 Nextel Cup team midway through last season, Edwards started the year with race-by-race sponsorship from four co-primary sponsors — Scotts, Office Depot, Autoclub Group/AAA and World Financial Group. Those deals didn’t even account for the entire season, with sponsorship for 12 races unclaimed heading into the season.

But going into last weekend, one month into the season, Edwards was third in the Nextel Cup standings, was leading the Busch Series standings and already had scored debut victories in both divisions — all virtually unheard of for a driver with only two dozen starts combined among NASCAR’s upper echelon.

On top of that, the 25-year-old has a Midwestern, golly-gee genuineness, along with a trademark backflip off his car after winning, that has quickly made him a fan favorite.

Scotts, which was on Edwards’ car for his Nextel Cup victory in Atlanta, had planned to be the primary sponsor for 11 races this season but would like to add four more, said Jennifer Hanley, director of consumer promotions for Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.

The remaining open spots are going fast, a problem unfamiliar for Roush Racing last year when the No. 99 went much of 2004 without a primary sponsor.

Geoff Smith, president of Roush, said the team is “waiting on paperwork” from Office Depot that would give the company the hood of the car for an additional nine races, giving the company primary sponsorship for a total of 17 events this year.

Bryan Feuerberg, manager of sponsorships and strategic alliances for Office Depot, confirmed that a deal was close but wouldn’t offer further details.

“From a business perspective, it looks like it’s making sense,” Feuerberg said. “So far, so good.”

In addition to the 28 races that Scotts and Office Depot will then have combined, Autoclub Group/AAA is the primary sponsor for three races, World Financial Group for two and Pennzoil and Aegon for one apiece.

Sources pegged a one-off primary sponsorship at $300,000 to $400,000, depending on the team and the race location.

Hanley, who is in charge of the motorsports program at Scotts, said the company is “looking at every possible way to capitalize on Carl’s popularity and success to drive incremental sales,” noting recent conversations she has had about using Edwards in branding and media messaging as early as this fall. Plans were not yet complete at press time.

But because media planning is done far in advance and all but the two New England races have been swallowed up this year, sponsors interested in associating with NASCAR’s new hot star have begun focusing on 2006.

“We’re at the point where we are oversubscribed for 2006 with sponsors beyond this group,” Smith said.

Full-season primary sponsorship of a top-tier Nextel Cup team ranges from $10 million to $15 million, with exceptions on both the low and high ends.

Hanley said she could foresee Scotts increasing its level of involvement next year by building a program in which Scotts and Office Depot split the 36 races in half, but Smith said his goal is focused more long term.

“My goal is to eliminate this year-at-a-time business so that we can get some stability into the program,” Smith said.

That will not be a problem, he added, if Edwards continues to excel.

“I’m not going to have any problem,” Smith said of landing long-term sponsors. “I’ve got parties lined up that are willing to do that right now.”

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