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Volume 20 No. 46
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Monster of a good time as sponsor gets racing

The energy drink brand was cutting deals and cutting loose in Daytona.

It was around 4 a.m. at Razzle’s nightclub in Daytona Beach, Fla., in the wee hours of Monday, when Monster Energy’s Mitch Covington last saw Rob Gronkowski.

Covington, Monster’s vice president of sports marketing, had been spending the evening with dozens of customers and employees as they celebrated Monster’s opening weekend as title sponsor of NASCAR’s premier series.

Gronkowski, the New England Patriots tight end who is one of Monster’s celebrity endorsers, had spent a full day — and, it turns out, night — in Daytona helping lend mainstream star appeal to NASCAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500, which was serendipitously won by Monster-sponsored driver Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing.

So it went for the edgy brand in its first full weekend as title sponsor, which a hoarse Covington reflected on last Monday after getting only an hour or two of sleep. Covington said Monster executives view the first weekend as a success for myriad reasons.

“For our first race in the Monster Energy Series, we won the race with our driver, so I’ve got to say we’re pretty happy folks,” Covington said with a chuckle.

Among the highlights of the weekend for Monster was the presence on Sunday of Chairman and CEO Rodney Sacks and CMO Mark Hall, both of whom flew in from California last minute for the race. Sacks and Hall had been busy preparing for last week’s investors’ day and subsequent earnings report, leaving them unsure heading into the week of the 500 if they’d be able to make it. Covington said Sacks met with NASCAR’s France family and other Monster management, spent time at Monster’s 200-by-200-foot activation zone, and celebrated in victory lane.

Another major highlight for Monster is a recently expanded partnership with Kroger, which had not yet been reported, that the brand landed by leveraging assets from the title sponsorship. Details of the partnership were unclear aside from Covington saying it allows Monster to “get more product on the ground” in Kroger stores. Expanding the company’s presence in grocery stores was a major goal of the NASCAR partnership as Monster evolves from its convenience store roots. A report from investment firm Stifel last week said convenience stores account for 70 percent of Monster’s U.S. sales.

Still, despite the good start for Monster, there have been some tension-filled moments to start the deal, according to sources, who added that was understandable of a deal this complex and of this magnitude. For example, Monster and Daytona International Speedway didn’t strike their activation deal until Thursday night heading into race weekend, according to sources. Covington called that “just hammering out the fine points, getting insurance in place and (doing) all the things you have to do to finally put the ink on the paper.”

Kurt Busch celebrates.
Sources said one issue that needed worked out included product sampling. Covington has said that Monster received at-track sampling rights as part of its NASCAR deal, details that typically have been negotiated separately with tracks. Compounding the issue is that many tracks have official pouring rights deals with either Coke or Pepsi, and those pacts can have rules limiting competing beverages from sampling. Track operators throughout the sport are continuing to work through those issues with Monster, sources said.

Covington said that even in Monster Energy Supercross, where Monster gets broad rights from Feld Entertainment, “we don’t always get the pouring rights at different venues.” Covington said he was pleased with the amount of sampling that took place at Daytona, though he didn’t have figures on the number of cans that were given out. Monster brought about five different beverages to sample, and gave away cans at a two-level hospitality setup that overlooked a large enclosure that featured motorcycle stunts and burnouts by Monster athletes.

Monster had retail activation up and running at Daytona. At the Sunoco across the street from the speedway, the gas station had a deal where a customer who bought two Monster Energy beverages received a free Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series sticker.

On Fox, Monster did not buy any traditional 30-second spots, and its advertising appeared to be limited to on-screen logo placement and a couple of integrated features including Gronkowski interviewing Monster Energy models on pit road before the Daytona 500. Covington said he had yet to watch the broadcast but noted that the clip of Gronkowski garnered heavy social media pickup. He also said he was pleased with the rollout of the Monster Energy Girls. Monster brought around two dozen models to the race, and they had a presence throughout the track from on pit road where they held umbrellas to the red carpet leading into the drivers’ meeting.

“While you may not have seen a lot of flags flying and traditional advertising banners, I think the girls made a really nice impact,” Covington said. “We all got a lot out of it.”