SBJ/September 10-16, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Grand-Am, American Le Mans to share the road with merger

The leaders of Grand-Am Racing and the American Le Mans Series, which last week announced they would merge in 2014, hope they can retain both of their title sponsors.

Rolex is the title sponsor of Grand-Am Racing’s top series, and Patron is the title sponsor of the American Le Mans Series.

The companies will merge in 2014 and will try to retain their title sponsors.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Grand-Am President and CEO Ed Bennett said that series officials would approach both companies with an opportunity to become either lead or presenting sponsor of the new, unnamed sports car series that will debut in 2014. He said that it would work similarly to the way Grand-Am’s top series was named in 2007 when it was known as the Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal.

“Both [Rolex and Patron] are interested in being involved, which is great news,” Bennett said. “We’ve had both [a lead and presenting sponsor] before. We’re comfortable with that architecture. We haven’t had these discussions with them yet, but I think there’s an opportunity for both of them. We’ve got some time.”

As for other corporate sponsors, Bennett said the series would try to keep as many as possible. Excluding manufacturers, Grand-Am has 16 sponsors and ALMS has 14.

InterContinental Hotel Group is the only sponsor of both series, but Bennett said there’s little category overlap between the two series and added that all of the sponsors will be given a chance to be part of the unified series.

Both series handle sponsorship sales in-house, and that likely will continue after they unite. Bennett said that any new sponsors the series brings on will be premium brands that align well with current partners like Rolex and Patron.

In addition to finding new sponsors, the unified series will have a chance to pursue a new TV agreement.

Grand-Am’s relationship with Speed goes through the end of 2014. Grand-Am doesn’t receive a rights fee from Speed. The network covers production costs and sells advertising against race broadcasts.

ALMS has a time-buy agreement with ESPN that runs through the end of 2013. It gets 58 hours of programming on ABC, ESPN2 and ESPN3 and receives commercial inventory to sell to existing and new sponsors.

Bennett didn’t know if the united series would be able to get a rights fee from a broadcaster, but he’s optimistic it will get a better TV deal than the one that each respective series currently has.

“With all the brands involved and all the attention, we’re optimistic we can have the best outcome from television,” Bennett said. “We don’t know what that is. We want it to be something [financially] sustainable.”

The other major revenue benefit of a united series could be higher sanction fees for events. Sanction fees make up a sizable portion of Grand-Am’s annual revenue, Bennett said, and without another elite sports car series in the market, the new Grand-Am-ALMS series will have more leverage in negotiations with tracks.

Bennett said that the series would spend the rest of this year and early part of next year developing detailed sponsorship, TV and branding plans. He hopes to have many of those details finalized by the second quarter of 2013.

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