Premier partners roll into season
After pioneering the title sponsor concept around a half a century ago, NASCAR rolls out its new tiered system for the first time this season in what figures to be the top marketing story in the sport in 2020.
Anheuser-Busch InBev, Coca-Cola, Geico and Xfinity signed on to become the first four premier-level partners, in a model that has room for five brands total. While NASCAR was said to be asking around $15 million annually for the slots, the four initial premier partners were already league sponsors, so their incremental spend is expected to be far less.
They replace a single title sponsor for NASCAR’s premier Cup Series, a position last held by the Monster energy drink brand. Monster will continue an official relationship with NASCAR as a second-tier partner, with assets mainly focused at tracks around pit-road signage, hospitality and other activation spaces.
Details were limited when the deal was first announced in December, but the premier partners’ marketing and activation plans are now coming into focus as the start of the season beckons. Still, NASCAR and several of the partners said the model is so new that all sides are going to be learning as they go this year.
“This is an evolving model; you don’t take 70 years of history and 50 years of history around a series entitlement with a third party in it and just magically make everything align in 12 months,” said Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief sales and operations officer. “This is Year 1, and it will continue to evolve into 2021.”
Among the changes as part of the new model, NASCAR is dividing the season into three periods, including a new one in “NASCAR Returns,” which will be sponsored by Geico. The other two periods are NASCAR Salutes, which will continue to be sponsored by Coca-Cola as it has in prior years, plus the NASCAR Playoffs, which does not have a sponsor associated with it yet, an asset perhaps being saved for when NASCAR lands a fifth premier partner. NASCAR is lengthening the period of time during which the NASCAR Salutes program will run this year.
For many of the premier partners, the new model is about taking what it was doing previously in the sport to the next level with new assets that include signage at every track.
Xfinity, for example, wants to use the new position to reinforce its message that being fast is synonymous with its products. To do so, the Comcast-owned brand will increase its advertising on TV broadcasts and radio, including newly sponsoring the fastest lap of the race.
For Geico, the insurer plans to leverage the increased activation rights and category exclusivity it has at every track to be more visible each week, after in previous years being blocked at some venues that had competing sponsors.
For Anheuser-Busch, the beer maker will leverage its position to market several different types of its drinks, starting off with promoting its Babe wine-in-a-can product at Daytona this week. Busch plans to have midway activation at 15 to 20 races. A-B has increasingly been focusing on the hard seltzer category, including a big spend during the Super Bowl.
For Coca-Cola, it’s using the new assets to find different ways to activate in the sport, including newly title sponsoring iRacing’s NASCAR esports series.
Nick Kelly, A-B InBev’s vice president, partnerships, beer culture and community, said one of the benefits from the deal that is already paying off is having one deal that governs all its relationships. Previously, A-B had to strike deals with the sanctioning body and then separate deals with the various race tracks and media partners.
“Now we have a central point of contact,” said Kelly. “If anything, it’s made (being a sponsor in the sport) a little easier.”