SBJ/January 28-February 3, 2013/Mareketing and Sponsorship

Space available on NASCAR’s biggest names

NASCAR Sprint Cup teams enter a new season with slightly fewer primary sponsorships available than a year ago, but the amount of inventory available with NASCAR’s most recognizable drivers — Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart — is at an all-time high.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (left) and Tony Stewart command some of the sport’s highest prices.
The total number of races available across NASCAR’s top seven teams is down 7 percent from the 71 races available at the same time last year, but those three drivers accounted for nearly 40 percent of the 66 races still available for sponsorship during last week’s NASCAR Sprint Media Tour. A typical Sprint Cup race can cost a sponsor anywhere from $350,000 to $700,000 depending on the driver and team.

Despite opening another year with considerable available inventory, team executives expressed guarded optimism that the sponsorship marketplace was beginning to improve. Many said they were having positive conversations with new brands but added that the conversations are taking longer and requiring more patience than years ago.

“Marketing folks are still taking a wait-and-see stance [with NASCAR teams],” said Aaron Godnai, Michael Waltrip Racing’s vice president of business development, who said the sales cycle has gone from six months several years ago to 18 months today. “It used to be CEOs saying, ‘Why aren’t we in racing?’ Now, it’s marketers building a business case for [the sponsorship]. That takes time.”

Richard Childress Racing chief marketer Ben Schlosser agreed, adding, “We’re getting in an unbelievable amount of doors, but you still have to explain why they should be a sponsor and what the value play is. It’s not just about exposure [on the car] anymore.”

The tempered optimism that executives expressed last week represented a contrast from the enthusiasm they expressed at the start of the 2012 season. A year ago, NASCAR was fresh off its first uptick in ratings in five years, and teams were optimistic that sponsorship sales would follow. That enthusiasm faded as the season progressed.

While a handful of teams succeeded in bringing in several new sponsors in 2012, including Peak Motor Oil at Michael Waltrip Racing and Zest at Roush Fenway Racing, there were no double-digit race agreements with sponsors new to NASCAR. That spilled over into this year when Earnhardt Ganassi Racing became the only team to announce a deal for at least 10 races with a new sponsor to the sport. The team completed a 10-race agreement for its No. 1 car with Textron and its subsidiaries Cessna, Bell helicopters, E-Z-Go golf carts and all-terrain-vehical brand Bad Boy Buggies (see story, Page 13).

Ganassi President Steve Lauletta said the deal was three years in the making. It began with conversations, progressed to a deal with Ganassi Racing’s four IndyCar teams last year and resulted in a 10-race agreement for the No. 1 car that was completed late last year.

“We didn’t pick up the phone and say, ‘Do you want to sponsor Jamie McMurray?’” Lauletta said. “We had a plan and built a relationship to do this.”

The difficulty in finding sponsors has put even more of a premium on keeping existing sponsors. Roush Fenway Racing learned that lesson in late 2011 when two of its full-season sponsors, Aflac and UPS, left the team, creating a slew of inventory to sell going into 2012. It brought on new sponsors like Zest and Fifth Third Bank last year to fill that inventory, and managed to renew five of them for this year.

“We’re excited because we believe the retention rate shows NASCAR can work,” said Roush Fenway Racing President Steve Newmark.

Similarly, Joe Gibbs Racing avoided having open inventory this year in large part because it managed to sign a 30-race renewal on the No. 11 car with longtime sponsor FedEx last year.

“Every year it’s harder and harder,” said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing. “You have to win, and with each sponsor you have to show them more and more what you can do for them, and what each sponsor needs to do is different.”

Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are the teams with the most available inventory to start the season. Stewart-Haas has 20 races to sell across three cars driven by Ryan Newman, Patrick and Stewart, who lost Office Depot’s 22-race sponsorship, and Hendrick has 13 races to sell on the No. 88 car driven by Earnhardt, which saw PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew brand reduce its sponsorship from 20 to five races for 2013.

As three of the most recognizable drivers in the sport, Patrick, Stewart and Earnhardt command some of the highest prices per race of any drivers in the sport, and Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports officials said they plan to hold firm on pricing. That’s made the sponsorship sales marketplace more competitive than it’s been in recent years.

“You have Tony, Dale Jr. and Danica, what I consider higher value inventory, in the market at the same time,” said Brett Frood, Stewart-Haas Racing’s executive vice president. “We know we’re probably all calling a lot of the same people.”

Rick Hendrick said he is confident his team will find another sponsor for Earnhardt Jr. The No. 88 car is fully sponsored through the summer by PepsiCo and the National Guard, which means the team won’t rush to sell the 13 races. It plans to be patient and look for a sponsor that will sign a long-term agreement.

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