SBJ/Aug. 25-31, 2014/Marketing and Sponsorship

In sports sponsorship debut, Yuengling finds fit with Childress

Talking about sports sponsorship makes Dick Yuengling uncomfortable.

The owner of the privately held beer company shoved his hands in the pockets of his loose-fitting blue jeans and looked at the floor as he tried to explain why his company is sponsoring Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 Nationwide Series car driven by Ty Dillon this season.

“Meeting the [Childress] family and how genuine they are and how much they’re behind the brand and the exposure they give you — we decided, ‘We’re going to give this thing a try and see how it works out,’” he said.

Happy family (from left): Nationwide driver Ty Dillon, D.G. Yuengling & Son owner Dick Yuengling and team owner Richard Childress at Yuengling’s headquarters.
Photo by: TRIPP MICKLE / STAFF

The one-year, seven-figure deal is the largest single marketing expense in the company’s history — and its first sports sponsorship. The regional brewer, which is distributed in 18 states, historically left the high-cost world of sports sponsorship to big beer brands like Budweiser and Coors, but as Yuengling looked to raise the profile of its new Yuengling Light brand, it turned to RCR for help.

Ty’s brother Austin Dillon and Childress celebrate Yuengling’s first NASCAR victory, at a truck race Aug. 2.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

It’s a deal that didn’t come easy to Dick Yuengling. The pennywise billionaire drove a 2002 Ford Taurus until the transmission went out, and he used tight operations — not marketing — to transform the company from a small operation making 130,000 barrels of beer a year across eight states into a regional distributor selling nearly 3 million barrels across 18 states.

The Yuengling Light brand has been the primary sponsor for only three races this season, but Dick Yuengling is pleased with the results so far. Wholesalers in Daytona Beach, Fla., saw a 13 percent increase during Speedweeks in February, and those in Bristol, Tenn., which hosted a race in March, saw a 12 percent uptick in sales.

The company still has five races to sponsor, but it already is completing a deal to be a primary sponsor next year of Dillon for eight Nationwide Series races and a Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway, which is 50 miles from Yuengling’s headquarters in Pottsville, Pa.

“The feedback we get from consumers is all positive,” Dick Yuengling said. “They like racing. They’re enthusiastic about it. They’re proud to see they’re drinking a beer on the side of a car. These people [RCR] are quality people and that doesn’t hurt, either.”

That’s part of what convinced the marketing team at Yuengling & Son to consider RCR’s sponsorship proposal. Over the years, the company had rejected sponsorship pitches from MLS, the Philadelphia Eagles and several NASCAR teams. But the pitch from RCR came as the company was wrestling with how to increase awareness of Yuengling Light.

Former Yuengling marketing executive Lou Romano received an unsolicited email in the spring of 2013 from RCR sales executive Joanne Stewart. He was a fan of Dale Earnhardt, who drove for RCR, and had been reading about how the team was losing longtime beer sponsor Budweiser. Romano saw an opportunity there but told Stewart not to be optimistic.

The likelihood a deal would happen was low. There was no precedent at Yuengling for sports sponsorship, and Romano had to find money in the marketing budget to fund it and make sure RCR was the right fit.

It was the last piece that was the easiest to determine, and it played a major role in persuading Dick Yuengling to sign on to sponsor the team.

Both Dick Yuengling and Richard Childress are blue-collar, American success stories. Yuengling bought Yuengling & Son from his father in 1985 and built it into a billion-dollar company. Childress started a race team with $20 in the 1960s and turned it into a $150 million operation.

Their respective business success helped push the deal through.

“The more we learned about RCR, the more we felt they were right,” said Wendy Yuengling Baker, who oversees operations at the company. “They say there’s a lot of parallels between their Richard and our Richard.”

Those parallels were on display earlier this month when Childress and Dillon visited Pottsville to sign autographs at a street fair outside Yuengling & Son’s original brewery.

The brewery was founded in the 1820s by Dick Yuengling’s great-great-grandfather, a German immigrant who set up in Pottsville because of its coal mining industry. The company still operates out of the same brick building it built in 1831. The building backs into a hill on the edge of town, and a line of nearly 400 people formed to collect autographs from Childress and Dillon. It was more than double the number of people who showed up in years past when Yuengling brought in former Philadelphia Phillies players.

Afterward, Dick Yuengling and his daughters, Wendy and Jennifer, took Childress and Dillon upstairs to the brewmaster’s office for beers. They poured a pitcher of Yuengling from the nearby sampling room and toasted Dillon’s first Nationwide Series victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month and Yuengling’s first NASCAR victory, which came earlier this month in a truck race at Pocono, where Ty’s brother, Austin, won in an RCR entry.

Wendy asked Dillon when he started racing.

“‘Pop Pop,’” he said of Childress, “told us that whenever we wanted to start racing to just tell him. I was 13 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and I saw a bunch of kids younger than me racing go-karts. I called him after that.”

“Did you go away to school or just focus on racing?” Jennifer asked.

“I finished high school and then started High Point University,” he said. “I want to go back one day and finish for sure.”

“Me, too,” Dick Yuengling said.

Childress blushed and looked at the floor.

“I hate to say it, but I didn’t finish high school,” Childress said. “I’m not proud of it, but it’s something I had to do back when I was a kid. My dad died when I was 5.”

Dick Yuengling and Richard Childress nodded at each other and finished their beers. Then the self-taught and self-made men shook hands before Childress and Dillon turned to leave.

“Thank you for all you do for us,” Childress said.

“We want to thank you, too,” Dick Yuengling said. “You’re a wonderful family.”

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