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Volume 21 No. 1

Marketing and Sponsorship

The Izod IndyCar Series’ decision to turn its last race of the season into a championship event persuaded seven series sponsors to activate, nearly quadrupling the amount of sponsor participation from its 2010 season finale.

The series, which will host its final race — the Izod IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas Presented by Honda — this Sunday, secured sponsorship support for the event from its existing partners: Verizon, Honda Power, Boy Scouts of America, Green Fuel, Lincoln Electric, KYMCO and AirMed. It also signed event sponsors GoDaddy, Fuzzy’s Vodka, Monster Energy Cup, the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Association and MGM to support the event.

When IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard decided to rebrand the last race of the season as a championship event and relocate it to Las Vegas, one of his goals was to generate interest among sponsors around the conclusion of the season. The series estimates the collective marketing spending of sponsors around the event to be in the low seven figures, up from high-six-figure spending in 2010.

Bernard said the interest of sponsors has helped the series sell 90 percent of the racetrack’s suite inventory for the race. He expects the event will be one of the most attended races of the year by corporate guests.

Verizon, which signed as an IndyCar sponsor in 2010, is providing fans with a free concert by Good Charlotte on Saturday. It also will have a display in the series’ fan zone, serve as the presenting partner for parade car laps, and promote the race online and on TV.

Honda, which signed as the presenting sponsor of the race, will promote its Honda Power division at the track. The company will bring its generators to the track’s fan zone and promote how quiet they are through the tag line “Hear No Evil.” The automaker also will celebrate its last year as the exclusive engine supplier for the series. It will have associates from Honda Performance Development, the company’s racing arm, at the race and will host them for a cookout after the race on Sunday.

GoDaddy agreed to sponsor the competition within the competition at the season finale. Driver Dan Wheldon, who despite winning the Indianapolis 500 this year was not a series regular, will start at the back of the field and stands to win $5 million if he wins the race.

Fuzzy’s Vodka will present a party and have locations throughout the track during the race; the Boy Scouts will host a pinewood derby on Saturday; Green Fuel will promote its “Race to Energy Independence” program; Lincoln Electric will raffle off a welder; KYMCO, a motor scooter company, will hold a sweepstakes for a free scooter; and AirMed will sponsor a celebrity blackjack tournament during the weekend.

IndyCar is finalizing its schedule for the 2012 season and hasn’t decided if it will return to Vegas for its season finale, but Bernard said that it will host a championship event to conclude next season.

“It would be great to make Vegas the home,” Bernard said.

As the MLB postseason enters its penultimate round, league marketers are flexing their activation muscles. The World Series is scheduled to start Oct. 19, but even before then MLB corporate patrons Taco Bell and MasterCard are debuting baseball-themed creative.

Taco Bell, which featured Mariano Rivera and Joe Girardi last year, now brings in Brian Wilson as a closer.
Taco Bell is following last year’s ad with Mariano Rivera and Joe Girardi with an ad that features San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson, again pitching the quick-service restaurant’s XXL Chalupa. Additional MLB-themed TV creative will tout Taco Bell’s Nacho Wraps.

MasterCard was filming an ad last week including retired MLB stars Andy Pettitte, Mitch Williams, John Kruk, Ron Darling and Reggie Sanders in support of the Stand Up to Cancer “Eat, Drink and Be Generous” initiative it launched around the MLB All-Star Game in July. The ad will thank fans for raising $4 million through use of their MasterCards at restaurants.

Lou Koskovolis, MLB senior vice president of corporate sales and marketing, was ebullient last week, with three decisive fifth games of division series on tap.

“With the excitement from the last night of the season and the various playoff scenarios, there’s solid momentum for us going into our sales season,” he said.

Helping MasterCard support Stand Up to Cancer (from left): Kruk, Williams, Sanders, Darling.
With the exception of Milwaukee and Detroit, which are MillerCoors teams, Anheuser-Busch will be better integrated within MLB postseason locker room celebrations this year and moving forward. Budweiser logos will be plastered on the plastic sheeting protecting the lockers from champagne spray, and coolers of Budweiser will be front and center.

“We had these kinds of rights before, but under our new deal, it is more MLB’s responsibility, so we are at a level more like a Gatorade,” said Brad Brown, A-B’s senior director of sports marketing. “It gets us in to a place that is really a fabric of the game and any marketer wants to be there.”

Panasonic has renewed its partnership with Major League Soccer, and the consumer electronics manufacturer has added the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams to its soccer portfolio. The partnerships run through 2014, but as part of the MLS deal, Panasonic has ceded its rights at the team level.

The deal will be announced at the U.S. men’s national team game against Ecuador on Tuesday at Red Bull Arena. Sources familiar with the deal pegged it in the low seven figures annually.

Panasonic was MLS’s first consumer electronics partner when the company came into the U.S. soccer market in 2003.
“I looked at all of Panasonic’s assets and what I want to get rid of and expand, and the opportunity with soccer is on the rise,” said Betty Noonan, who became Panasonic’s director of marketing in May. “It’s a growing fan base and the new [TV] relationship with NBC is terrific.”

Panasonic previously sponsored the U.S. national teams from 2006-08, and Noonan said the U.S. women’s runner-up finish at last summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup convinced her to bring back the national team program. She said Panasonic, which also is an Olympic sponsor, will activate around the national teams during the 2012 London Olympics.

“I got to learn about the women’s team, and the trajectory that they are on is really what sold me,” Noonan said of the national team deal. “We have the opportunity to leverage this partnership, and the women’s team is where we will focus first.”

Panasonic came into the U.S. soccer market in 2003 as MLS’s first partner in the consumer electronics category. Throughout the relationship, Panasonic has activated at local retailers, such as Best Buy, Fry’s and 6th Avenue Electronics, and it has run experiential campaigns at national events. Starting in 2008, Panasonic lent out samples of its Lumix digital cameras to fans at the MLS Cup and All-Star Games.

The partnership also helped Panasonic sign separate deals with MLS stadiums to supply electronics equipment, such as LED video signboards and television monitors. Its products are currently used at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., and PPL Park in Philadelphia.

“We have been successful at connecting Panasonic where it makes sense,” said David Wright, vice president of global sponsorship for Soccer United Marketing. “They have become a very strategic partner for our venues.”

Wright said the new deal does not prevent Panasonic from activating at point of sale within local markets. He predicts the electronics manufacturer will sign additional team deals with clubs whose venues utilize its products.