SBJ/Sept. 23-29, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

NASCAR reaching out to agencies, potential sponsors to replace Nationwide at No. 2 series

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

NASCAR last week began searching for a new title sponsor for its No. 2 series after Nationwide Insurance announced it plans to exit its title sponsorship following the 2014 season.

The sport has until late next year to find a replacement sponsor.

The title sponsorship sale will be led by NASCAR Chief Sales Officer Jim O’Connell, who sold the Nationwide deal in 2007 and Camping World’s title sponsorship of the truck series in 2008. He said last week that NASCAR would begin reaching out to sports marketing and media agencies and potential sponsors immediately. He added that NASCAR will work with its 2015 broadcast partners, Fox and NBC, on the sales effort.

The pitch will focus on the opportunity to raise national brand awareness by owning the second-most-popular motorsports series based on viewership. Through 25 races this year, the Nationwide Series was averaging 1.8 million viewers per event, according to Nielsen, and the insurer received $90 million in media exposure, according to Repucom. The new sponsor would follow Busch and Nationwide as only the third title sponsor of the series.

“There’s been a lot of stability in this,” O’Connell said. “It works for companies. Entitlement takes a big investment both financially and in terms of activation, but I’m confident we’ll find a third partner who has the same type of commitment and the same type of success.”

O’Connell declined to say what price tag NASCAR plans to put on the title sponsorship. NASCAR reportedly sought $30 million annually the last time it sold title sponsorship rights in 2007. That would have represented a huge increase over the $8.5 million that Busch paid. But Nationwide cut a deal valued at $8 million to $10 million a year for its title sponsorship.

Nationwide committed to spend an additional $5 million in media on ESPN, and the insurer’s track deals and activation spending pushed its total investment above $20 million annually.

“They’re going to shoot high [with the price] but give themselves wiggle room, and it will depend on what category they look at as to what they’ll get in terms of price,” said Andrew Campagnone, senior managing partner at Sports Marketing Consultants, a motorsports sales and marketing agency. “You’d want to approach this in increments and make sure you get at least a three-year deal because it takes two years to get going in the sport. They’ll need to get creative. There’s a ton of value there, but it’s not Sprint Cup.”

NASCAR is expected to go back to some of the brands that looked at the title sponsorship of the Nationwide Series when it was last available in 2007. Sports executives held discussions with Dunkin’ Donuts, AutoZone, KFC and others. Subway was close to finalizing a deal but changed its mind after re-evaluating the opportunity late in negotiations.

Evaluating the title sponsorship this time will be a different proposition than it was in 2007. Back then, companies were evaluating a title sponsorship with regular live coverage on ESPN, one of the most broadly distributed cable networks and an effective promoter of sports. But in 2015, NASCAR’s secondary series will shift to Fox Sports 1, a new network, and NBC Sports Network, which is in 20 million fewer homes than ESPN.

NASCAR also changed the competition rules. Cup drivers no longer can win the series championship, and fewer Cup drivers have participated in the secondary series. As a result, it’s become a testing ground for up-and-coming, young drivers who are less recognizable among casual NASCAR fans.

“You have to look at the landscape from competition to media to future stars to the health of the teams in the series,” said Mike Boykin, GMR Marketing’s executive vice president of sports marketing. “It’s a different opportunity and the marketplace is different. My guess is it will be [a brand] that’s off the radar.”

Wasserman Media Group manages Nationwide’s motorsports sponsorship.

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