SBJ/January 30-February 5, 2012/Media

NASCAR commits to ad spend as part of USA Today deal

USA Today Sports Media Group signed a one-year deal with NASCAR that will see the sanctioning body commit to a guaranteed ad spend with the national newspaper company, the latest move by USA Today in its push to enhance its sports brand.

It is the first time since 2006 that USA Today and NASCAR have had a formal relationship. NASCAR had a directed-media-spend agreement with Sports Illustrated over the last five years.

Under terms of the new deal, NASCAR will pay a preferred advertising rate to USA Today and encourage its sponsors to place NASCAR-themed print advertising in the publication.

USA Today will run two to three special sections on the sport around key events such as the Daytona 500 or Sprint All-Star Race. The parties are still in talks about when such issues will run.

USA Today Sports Media Group President Tom Beusse briefed NASCAR business partners on the new deal late last week in Charlotte.

“This move is a nice endorsement of our new strategy,” said Merrill Squires, USA Today Sports Media Group’s senior vice president of leagues and properties. “Although there was a similar relationship five years ago, we are a completely different organization now with a new sports marketing division, sports sales division and new sports content leadership.”

The deal is the latest in a string of agreements struck by USA Today Sports Media Group since Beusse, Squires, Peter Lazarus and Dave Morgan joined the Gannett-owned operation last year. In the last month, the team has signed a five-year preferred supplier agreement with the PGA Tour and reportedly spent $30 million to acquire Big Lead Sports (see related story).

Gannett hired Beusse and others with an eye toward expanding the relevancy and impact of the USA Today brand in sports, while balancing and enhancing sports content within Gannett’s local print products and their accompanying sites.

Though NASCAR Chief Sales Officer Jim O’Connell said the sanctioning body got great value out of the directed-media-spend relationship it had with Sports Illustrated, NASCAR executives found the vision for USA Today’s Sports Media Group to be compelling and its aggressive approach to recent deals and acquisitions energizing.

The USA Today Sports Media Group includes the flagship national newspaper, along with various sports sites, like HighSchoolSports.net and BNQT.com, Gannett’s 80 local newspapers and 23 TV stations.

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