SBJ/20080107/This Week's News

AAA puts the brakes on its national deals

AAA’s national motorsports sponsorships will hit the end of the road after the 2008 season.

AAA’s departure from motorsports could
open the door for Nationwide or another insurer.
The primary sponsor on Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 car and the official auto insurance for International Speedway Corp. tracks, AAA has decided that it will not renew those deals at the end of this season.

AAA’s exit at ISC could open the door for Nationwide Insurance, the new title sponsor of NASCAR’s No. 2 circuit, formerly known as the Busch Series. ISC tracks are the site for 19 of NASCAR’s 36 Sprint Cup events.

Sources say that ISC has reached out to Nationwide and possibly other insurance companies in an effort to fill that category beginning in 2009. Nationwide owns status as the official insurance company at Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks.

AAA’s status as the official auto club and auto insurance of the Indianapolis 500 also will end after this season. AAA made its decision this early in the year based on deadlines that were in its agreements.

The sponsorships, which began in 2006, were generated out of AAA’s national office in Orlando and represented the first time that all of its 60 regional clubs had come together for a sports marketing effort. They’d operated on a club-by-club basis in the past and will return to that method after this year, AAA officials said.

“We’re not necessarily getting out of motorsports, we’re just reconfiguring our program,” said Christie Hyde, manager of public relations for motorsports at AAA’s national office. “Because of the way we’re formed, we want to maintain the flexibility of what works best for our regional clubs,” meaning that future sponsorships will be the prerogative of the clubs, not the national office.

Clubs that weren’t geographically close to Sprint Cup events weren’t finding the national sponsorships useful, sources said, which contributed to AAA’s decision to let the clubs make their own sponsorship choices.

The Southern California AAA club, for example, title sponsors the Auto Club 500, the Sprint Cup event at California Speedway in February, while AAA’s Mid-Atlantic club negotiated the sponsorship for official motor club status at Dover International Speedway, which includes title sponsorship of the May Craftsman Truck Series race.

Hyde said that AAA won’t back off its national activation in 2008. Its “Celebrating 50” sweepstakes in 2007 was its first promotion from the national office — it awarded trips to the Daytona 500 — and one or two more promotions are planned for 2008, Hyde said. GMR Marketing is AAA’s motorsports agency.

In addition to increasing visibility, as well as using its drivers — Mark Martin (2006) and David Ragan (2007-08) — for safe-driving programs, AAA has been busy making business-to-business relationships within NASCAR.

AAA members now receive discounts at UPS Store locations and a DirecTV partnership launched last month. AAA also created a first-of-its-kind promotion with a manufacturer, allowing members in Florida to receive a $500 bonus toward the purchase or lease of a new Ford.

Each of these partnerships germinated from AAA’s motorsports program, officials said.

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