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Volume 21 No. 1

Marketing and Sponsorship

When the recession hit, legendary drag racer John Force began to worry about two things: his sponsors’ return on their investments and the future health of the NHRA. He decided to do something about both, taking $1 million of his own money and developing a mobile marketing campaign designed to promote his sponsors and the sport nationwide.

The mobile marketing campaign, known as the John Force Racing Road Show, is a hauler with double awnings that cover five funny cars, interactive kiosks that collect guest information and flat-panel TVs that show videos explaining drag racing. It debuted at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Las Vegas in March and went on to appear at another NASCAR race, the Indianapolis 500, the Indiana State Fair,
The John Force Racing Road Show brings drag racing to prospective fans around the country.
the Oshkosh, Wis., air show and eight other events. It also hauls Ford funny cars, once driven by Force, that get set up in airports, malls and other places, like an Advance Auto Parts store in California.

Some events pay for the road show to attend. Others John Force Racing selects or one of the team’s sponsors asks it to attend.

John Force Racing says the tour has attracted an estimated 135,000 visitors, collected data from 23,000 of them and appeared at events with a collective audience of 1.8 million people.

“It’s taken our drag-racing market, which we’ve already got, and gone outside it,” Force said. “It doesn’t just go to races. It goes everywhere.”

Force bought the hauler and covers most of the costs for the road show, but he has received some financial support from the NHRA and his sponsors. He is considering selling a presenting sponsorship for the road show in 2012 and adding another 18-wheeler to the caravan.

He plans to take it to more markets and events next year and is already in talks to take the hauler to Indianapolis for the 2012 Super Bowl.

“We were just trying to see if it worked, and right now, we’re convinced it does work,” Force said.

Force got the idea for the road show from Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. When Force came into Charlotte-Douglas International Airport for a drag race last year, he saw a new SUV from one of Smith’s auto dealerships in the airport lobby. He asked Smith why he put cars in the airport and learned that hundreds of thousands of people saw the cars on a given weekend.

“I said, ‘That’s where I’ve got to put my race cars,’” Force said. “I’m getting my sponsors new exposure that they don’t get.”

All of Force’s sponsors are incorporated into the program, including Castrol, Ford, Mac Tools, Auto Club and Brand Source, an appliance, electronics and furnishing retailer.

The kiosks featured alongside the hauler allow people to swipe their driver’s license and then asks them a series of questions about everything from how often they change their oil to what electronics they plan to purchase in the next year. At the end, the participants are entered into a sweepstakes to possibly win a Castrol hat or coupon for Brand Source. The data captured is shared with Force’s sponsors who can then use it for follow-up promotions and marketing.

“The sponsors were spending a lot of money on these cars, and some of them were giving up show car programs and midway programs,” Force said. “For sponsors who were saying, ‘Is it worth it?’ now they’ve got another area. A little bit of IndyCar. A little bit of NASCAR.”

The other group benefiting the most from the road show is the NHRA. Force’s daughters, Ashley and Courtney, both drive for his team, and he’s interested in seeing the sport grow so it can support them in the future. That’s why several of the events that the tour has attended have been NASCAR and IndyCar races, where Force believes he can turn motorsports fans onto drag racing.

NHRA executives have been pleased with the results and are encouraged about the program’s future. “At the Indy 500, he was mobbed,” NHRA President Tom Compton said. “It’s gotten a lot of attention and turned a lot of heads. We’d like to see it continue to expand in the future.”

By creating the road show, Force also increased his opportunity for appearances. He took the road show to five Denver-area Wal-Mart stores to appear on behalf of Castrol earlier this year, and sales of motor oil increased 180 percent on the days he was there, according to John Force Racing executives.

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

Despite having another year left on their current sponsorship agreement, Goodyear Tire and NASCAR have negotiated a five-year extension that will carry their partnership through 2017.

The deal, which industry sources valued at $12 million to $15 million a year, will see Goodyear maintain its position as the official tire of NASCAR. It continues a business relationship that the Ohio-based tire manufacturer has had for more than 50 years, and it means the company will continue to develop and supply tires for the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

Goodyear has had a NASCAR relationship for more than 50 years.
“We view our participation in NASCAR as a key element in Goodyear’s brand equity,” said Pierre Jambon, Goodyear’s vice president, off-highway business. “They’re the expert in NASCAR. We’re the expert in performance tire racing. We’re part of the NASCAR team … and we’re very proud of that.”

The most significant change in the new agreement is that Goodyear will have more flexibility in how it activates its sponsorship. Under the previous deal, NASCAR, like many professional sports leagues, required Goodyear to devote a specified amount of marketing dollars to advertising with broadcasting partners and activating at racetracks. But the new deal asks only that Goodyear spend a set amount and gives the tire company the flexibility to choose where and how to spend that money.

“It’s key to give flexibility to our partners so they can get the maximum [return on investment],” said Jim O’Connell, NASCAR’s chief sales officer. “We want to support our broadcast media partners but at the same time give our marketing partners flexibility to activate.”

Jambon said that Goodyear asked for that flexibility because the evolving media landscape made it important to preserve the ability to spend more on digital in the future as consumers continue to migrate online.

“That was a critical piece of our discussion with them,” Jambon said.

Goodyear has enjoyed a business renaissance in the last year. The 113-year-old company, which has a market cap of $2.4 billion, reported a net income of $143 million for the first half of the year, up from a loss of $19 million over the same period in 2010. Some of the credit for that has been attributed its focus on making and marketing higher-end tires.

In support of its U.S. Olympic team sponsorship, Samsung Electronics is undertaking an ambitious effort to connect Americans across the country to athletes through social media.

The U.S. division of the Korean company has developed a Facebook application it plans to unveil next year that will show Americans how they are linked to past and present members of Team USA. The app, which is being called the Samsung U.S. Olympic Genome Project, evaluates elements like where people are from and where they went to school and uses that information to compute the connections. For example, users who attended Brandeis University would see that fencer Tim Morehouse also attended the college.

Samsung executives describe it as the U.S. Olympic team version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” or the first family tree to truly show Americans how they are related to the American athletes representing them in London.

“Everyone is interested in how they’re connected to athletes, and beyond the high-profile athletes, they don’t realize, ‘Hey, I went to college with a gold-medal fencer,’” said Ralph Santana, chief marketer of Samsung Electronics America. “This is going to enable you to unlock those connections. Through that notion of discovery, this weaves together a group of people who are all passionate about the Olympic movement.”

Samsung plans to promote the app at U.S. Olympic trials and other U.S. Olympic Committee events in 2012, encouraging consumers to participate by challenging them with the question: How Olympic are you? The program will be the centerpiece of Samsung’s Olympic marketing efforts in the U.S. for the London Games.

The app is being developed now and is set for a public launch in the first quarter of 2012. It will be available at

The success of the program will be contingent upon the participation of U.S. Olympians. Samsung and the USOC first approached athlete agents and national governing bodies in Colorado two weeks ago to explain the project and encourage them to get their athletes to participate.

Samsung doesn’t plan to pay athletes for their participation. Instead, it hopes that by showing Americans how they are connected to certain athletes it will compel people to become fans of those athletes.

“If you’re an athlete and you’re going into the Games, this gives you everything from a cheering section to a group who will support you in other ways,” said USOC chief marketer Lisa Baird. “Getting athletes to see the potential of [the Genome Project] is what we’re doing this week, next week and the following week.”

The program was developed by Samsung Electronics America and Team Epic.

Terry Lefton
Unilever is expanding the 18-month-old “Journey to Comfort” marketing campaign behind its Dove Men+Care personal products line with a BCS sponsorship from ESPN and a new series of ads with ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit. The former Ohio State QB joins a roster of sports figures for “Journey to Comfort” that has included Drew Brees, Albert Pujols, Joe Girardi and Andy Pettitte.

The BCS sponsorship bookends Unilever’s NCAA deal signed earlier this year and marks another sponsorship for a personal-care products marketer. Recently, there have been deals between Dial with the NBA for its Right Guard deodorant and Procter & Gamble for Head & Shoulders shampoo and other brands with the NFL, MLB, the U.S. Olympic Committee and, later, a global International Olympic Committee deal.

“You know that it’s best to speak to the 30- to 40-year-old guys through sports in some capacity, but we dimensionalize our guys by showing their connections to friends and family, and it really has turned out to be a powerful differentiator for us,” said Rob Candelino, marketing director, personal wash U.S., Unilever.
ESPN’s Herbstreit appears in new Dove ads.

Without revealing specifics, Candelino said the Dove for Men line, introduced in 2010, has exceeded expectations in terms of trial, market share, brand equity and sales, “and while it is difficult to track any campaign directly to sales, we are very happy.”

The new BCS deal includes print, digital and social media applications across various ESPN media and every BCS game. Multiple sweepstakes offer football merchandise and BCS Bowl tickets as prizes. Other Unilever brands, Degree Men and Axe, will also be tied with ESPN talent Chris Fowler and analyst Desmond Howard.

Wasserman Media Group will help the Palace of Auburn Hills target a naming-rights sponsor.
NAMING THE PALACE?: Wasserman Media Group has won an agency shootout to take the 23-year-old Palace of Auburn Hills, one of the NBA’s oldest arenas, into the modern era with a naming-rights deal. Industry estimates put a possible deal for the Palace, which plays host to about 200 events annually, at $2.5 million to $3 million a year. We’re told that longtime Pistons owner Bill Davidson had no interest in naming rights, but with new owner Tom Gores in place as of April, that has changed. Even so, whether the home court to the Detroit Pistons ever gets a corporate name seems less than certain.

“The broad agenda from ownership is to serve and connect better to the community and fans, win games and drive our bottom line,” said Dennis Mannion, who was named president of the Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment last month. “If we can use this building to accomplish those goals, so be it. We’re not in this to get a bunch of money for a building name, but if we can get a deal that improves our fan experience and drives revenues, that’s where we want to go. We want a marketer that will bring novel execution.” Another problem is how much space there is left for a building sponsor’s name to be added to the already somewhat cumbersome “Palace of Auburn Hills.”

Added Wasserman Media Group sales chief John Brody, “Our job is evaluating what we can do to help augment the fan experience, but that could end with a recommendation for several sponsors instead of one big one.”

COMINGS & GOINGS: Former Procter & Gamble director of global sports marketing Jason Dial has quietly resurfaced as CMO of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dial, a P&Ger for 18 years before his departure in 2009, will head advertising, fan initiatives and “everything that touches our fans.”

Terry Lefton can be reached at