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Volume 24 No. 156
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Motorsports Forum: Execs Share Keys To Day-To-Day Success

Three top motorsports team execs stressed the importance of winning and top performance in managing a successful operation in today’s challenging marketplace. Speaking for more than 45 minutes at the '12 Motorsports Marketing Forum, leaders from Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Hendrick Motorsports discussed the day-to-day challenges they face.

When an audience survey suggested that obtaining sponsorship support would be the biggest challenge, Joe Gibbs Racing President J.D. Gibbs pointed instead to performance. He said, “Week in and week out if you’re not performing well, the sponsors become a moot point. So if you have that good performance, then you can go out to your partners and tell a better story. You have to perform, if you don’t perform, you won’t get the right sponsors.” Hendrick Motorsports President & COO Marshall Carlson agreed. Carlson said, “The partners who are involved in this sport want to perform and want to run strong. When you run strong, that trickles down to attracting drivers and crew members.”

But the focus on obtaining sponsorships is still a large part of the top execs’ duties and for Gibbs, he said it all comes back to showing value. Gibbs: “You have to show sponsors why this is a good investment. One of the things my dad [Joe Gibbs] still talks about is that in the NFL, you can’t get near the coaches or the players. Here, people get autographs before the Daytona 500. That’s really valuable.” Carlson stressed that despite perception, there are still sponsors aligning their brands with motorsports. Carlson said, “We have signed up Farmers Insurance, Time Warner Cable and Great Clips. We’ve got big companies investing in this sport, in a big way, now. We have all had to become more advanced marketers than just race team operators. We’ve had to learn the language of the sponsors and we’ve had to service them better. Now we have to support these very segmented targets these sponsors are looking to reach. We are having to get better at that, just like improving at the race track.”

Carlson gave examples of how teams have to be more sophisticated marketers. He said, “We are doing a whole lot more tailored and customized programs than ever before. So if a brand doesn’t find TV advertising is important to them, then they don’t need the production days. Maybe they want more on-site visits. So we’re doing much more customized programs and that’s increased the value and it’s driving a lot of innovation in the sport.” But RCR VP/Competition Mike Dillon acknowledged sponsors still hold the leverage today. Dillon: “Sponsors control the show today. They can wait on any deal.”

Carlson believes legislating team cost containment

NO FANS OF COST CONTAINMENT: While many have called on NASCAR to take a more active role in reducing costs for teams, the three execs didn’t see that as practical. Carlson said, “You can’t legislate cost containment very well.” Dillon pointed to the fact that teams will spend whatever they are allowed to in order to win. He said, “If the cars all cost the same, if we all spent the same amount of money, we’re always going to spend everything they allow us to spend toward racing. Gibbs added, “As time goes on, you’re going to spend whatever you can to go fast.” But there was praise for NASCAR for taking a more active approach in sharing research and best practices with teams. Carlson said, “NASCAR is really leading from the front now,” We are having more collaborative meetings with other teams and NASCAR today -- and in the last two years -- than in all the other years before that. I have been very impressed with that. That’s a real seminal change that [NASCAR Chair & CEO] Brian France envisioned.”

-- Gibbs, on working with his father, the legendary football coach: “When I get in an argument with my dad, he’ll pull me aside and say, ‘Whose name is on the building?’ And I’m like, ‘I get it, Dad. I get it.’ We don’t always agree, but we always come to a consensus.”

-- Carlson, on NASCAR’s TV ratings: “I think some of the flux in our numbers gets over-analyzed. Live sporting events carry a lot of weight today.”

-- Dillon, on if he would support a salary cap on drivers: “There is a cap at RCR! They told me not to answer some of these and I don’t want to answer that!” Gibbs: “That would be hard. Who’s going to do it and how would you do it? That’s going to be too hard.”