SBJ/20100329/This Week's News

Showtime title-sponsors Darlington race

Showtime, which debuted its “Inside NASCAR” show last month, is climbing deeper into the sport by title-sponsoring the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

The sponsorship is a multiyear agreement between the network and the historic track, which has been hosting NASCAR events for 60 years. GoDaddy was the race’s presenting sponsor last year. The May 8 race will be called the Showtime Southern 500.

“Associating with the track and the history of this race was very important to us, so we wanted to keep Southern in the title,” said Ken Hershman, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports. “When we started the show, we were impressed with the committed fan base and we’re looking to really deepen that connection by sponsoring the race.”

Financial terms were not released, but title sponsorships typically sell for the high six figures to low seven figures a year. Showtime’s deal is believed to be in the mid-six figures this year because the deal was struck so close to the race date, a Saturday night event on Fox Sports. The fee for the 2011 race is expected to be closer to seven figures.

Despite the short window, Showtime has several activation elements in the works, both online and for the event.

Sheila Mills, director of marketing for Showtime Sports, said an online sweepstakes will launch this week at sports.sho.com, offering the winning fan a VIP trip for two to the race. Included in the prize package is a replica of the Showtime Southern 500 trophy, marking the first time the speedway has given away a copy of the real thing to a fan in victory lane. The trophy that will go to the fan is the same in every way, including the cost of more than $3,000, as the trophy that goes to the winning driver. There’s also a perpetual trophy that stays at Darlington.

Showtime also will be on the ground at the race with promotional displays where it will distribute free DVDs of “Inside NASCAR.”

“This show is a cornerstone of our sports programming,” which also includes boxing, mixed martial arts and football with the “Inside the NFL” show, Hershman said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to tell people this show is on and make them aware. We’re not a primary destination for NASCAR fans, so we’ve got to make that imprint in their minds.”

The groundwork for the title sponsorship was set earlier this month when a team of close to 10 Showtime executives from marketing and public relations visited Darlington, which was the first paved superspeedway in 1950.

Located in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, Darlington is a long way — geographically and culturally — from Showtime’s headquarters on Broadway in New York.

What the Showtime executives found in Darlington was a track whose history runs parallel to NASCAR’s own. After a tour of the museum on the speedway’s grounds, Showtime officials walked the grounds and learned about Darlington’s charm as “The track too tough to tame.”

“The role we’ve played in the sport, that’s something that really got their attention,” said Darlington President Chris Browning. “They really got it when it comes to who we are and what we’re about. This will be a great platform to help them promote their show and reach true race fans.”

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