SBJ/20090907/This Week's News

New B2B event draws tracks, teams, sponsors

The wealth of business-to-business opportunities is one of the attractions to NASCAR sponsorship, but accessing those 400-plus sponsors across the industry can be daunting.

The sanctioning body has been running its B2B Council for official partners for five years, and NASCAR teams have grown more sophisticated in pairing their sponsors for business-to-business opportunities. What’s been absent, though, is a more inclusive platform for all team, track and league sponsors to mingle.

That was the idea behind a business-to-business forum in Atlanta on Aug. 27 that invited sponsors and other NASCAR stakeholders to the Airport Marriott. GMR Marketing organized it with input from other sports marketing agencies, teams and sponsors.

“Several years ago, this wouldn’t have happened,” said Mike Boykin, GMR’s executive vice president, referring to the turf battles and rivalries among the agencies and teams in NASCAR. “But in this economy, we’re all being challenged to deliver more value and I think that’s why everyone was so responsive. It made sense and everybody said, ‘Let’s find a way to do this.’

UPS and Stanley Works were among the
players in NASCAR who took part
in the business forum.

“We told NASCAR what we wanted to do. They weren’t going to endorse it, but they understood it.”

Andrew Giangola, NASCAR’s director of business communications, wrote in an e-mail, “We believe the two major ingredients for (B2B) success are having non-competing partners working together toward their common goals and a dedicated account management team with diligent follow-up. It’s flattering to now see others in and outside of NASCAR adopting a similar B2B platform. … We want everyone in the sport to be successful, because that helps drivers, teams, tracks and ultimately NASCAR fans.”

GMR’s intent was to keep a behind-the-scenes profile because it did not want the meeting perceived as an end-run around NASCAR. It also wanted other agencies and their clients to feel welcome, Boykin said.

More than 30 brands were represented, ranging from Goliaths like Coca-Cola, MillerCoors and Procter & Gamble to Hunt Brothers Pizza, NextEra Energy Resources and New Holland Agriculture. There were  NASCAR official partners like Bank of America and former officials like SunTrust. There were full-time team sponsors like Aflac and part-timers like R&L Carriers.

About a dozen sports marketing agencies, six teams and a handful of speedways were in the room as well. Attendance was free, with GMR covering the cost of the room and other minor expenses.

The agenda for the four-hour session included a keynote speech by Ann Trampas, a partnership marketing consultant, and Elon College professor Tim McMahon. Afterward, the 100 or so in attendance broke into small groups for “speed dating,” a process that allows companies to sit at a table and share information about their businesses.

“It’s the first time that we’ve had something of this nature and it was great,” said Ted Lund, the director of business-to-business development for Stanley Works, a sponsor at Richard Petty Motorsports. “It was nice to have everybody in one place at one time. It gave you the chance to talk to sponsors from other teams, not just your own team, and make connections you wouldn’t usually make.”

Lund ran Stanley’s motorsports program from 2005 to 2008 before moving into his current business-to-business role, and saw the difficulties of matchmaking at a noisy speedway.

“To be able to sit down and have a quiet, 30-minute conversation, that’s really important,” he said. “At the track, everybody’s got a hundred things going on.”

GMR’s Boykin said the agency’s clients drove the concept after seeing how NASCAR’s B2B Council worked.

“We wanted to expand on that,” Boykin said. “We asked some of the teams and everyone thought it was a good idea. It took collaboration from a lot of people who haven’t worked together before but wanted to deliver value back to the clients.”

Steve Chisum, the sponsorships and events manager for UPS, a NASCAR official partner, has seen how productive NASCAR’s B2B Council has been and said there’s a need to open new doors that go beyond the sponsors at the league level.

“To see such a high level of participation, especially at the first event, was good,” Chisum said.

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