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DuPont races back to offer more NASCAR hospitality

DuPont’s once-robust NASCAR hospitality program suffered enormous cuts last year, but the longtime Jeff Gordon sponsor is back in 2010 with more guests and events at each track.

Just a few years ago, DuPont had the largest hospitality program in NASCAR, hosting 20,000 people a year at every race on the Sprint Cup circuit. Their guests ranged from body shop owners who used DuPont paint to building contractors who bought the Tyvek brand of house wrap. The company would bring as many as 1,000 people to a race, and virtually the entire focus of the sponsorship was based on creating business-to-business activity.

DuPont entertained customers with meals, question-and-answer sessions with Gordon and bags of swag, all the while making new relationships or deepening existing ones.

But DuPont hospitality was largely a casualty of the recession in 2009. Instead of entertaining at all 36 Cup events as it had done in the past, DuPont cut back to six races and just 2,000 guests, 10 percent of what it used to do. DuPont wasn’t the only corporate entity slashing its spend. Tracks reported that revenue from hospitality was down 20 to 25 percent last year.

DuPont, No. 75 on the Fortune 500 list with more than $30 billion in annual revenue, said the cuts last year were reflective of cost-cutting measures companywide.

The Jeff Gordon sponsor realized the importance
of hospitality to its sales.

What DuPont discovered, though, was how important the hospitality program was to its sales. So in 2010, it’s back with hospitality events at 23 races and it’ll entertain about 4,000 to 5,000 guests.

“It’s really a reflection of the value we place on our clients and customers,” said Larry Deas, DuPont’s motorsports manager. “It’s something that we absolutely missed last year. … But the cutbacks in 2009 weren’t necessarily supposed to be the new reality, it was just something we had to do for our current situation.”

DuPont’s revival in 2010 comes at a pivotal time in its sponsorship, having renewed its league deal as the official auto finish, a distinction it has had since 2003.

The team deal with Gordon and No. 24 car owner Hendrick Motorsports expires at the end of this year and renewal discussions are ongoing, although it’s uncertain if DuPont will maintain its current commitment level as the primary sponsor for 75 percent of Gordon’s Sprint Cup races. National Guard and Pepsi are the other sponsors on Gordon’s car.

DuPont owns the longest-running driver-sponsor-owner relationship in NASCAR, having sponsored Gordon since he first started driving the No. 24 in 1992. The hospitality piece has been a staple of the program since it began.

“We look at DuPont as a great indicator of what’s happening on the corporate side,” said Jerry Caldwell, vice president of sales and marketing at Bristol Motor Speedway. DuPont did not buy hospitality at Bristol’s race earlier this month, but will be entertaining at Bristol for the August race.

“When DuPont pulled back, we all saw that as a sign of things to come in 2009,” Caldwell said. “Even though they’re not back to where they were, they’re coming back and that’s the important thing. They know the value and they know it’s important to their business. It is an indicator that the economy is slowly turning around.”

Even though hospitality took a 20 percent to 25 percent hit at most tracks in 2009, Deas said he has not found a significant reduction in rates. It can often cost as much as $5,000 to $10,000 to rent a tent, which is just the start of hospitality costs. Bristol’s Caldwell said that tracks are focusing on different ways to add value rather than slashing prices to lure sponsors back.

Deas said he didn’t find the tracks any more flexible with pricing this year than in previous years.

“The initial proposals from the tracks were consistent with the past,” he said. “We work with a lot of tracks and certain folks are more understanding of our situation than others, but there wasn’t a lot of difference.”

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