Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Rookie Stripe: How and Why Sponsorships Drive NASCAR

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
During the genesis of NASCAR in the late 1940s and through its first few decades, most sponsors were a relatively trivial part of racing when it came to the ostentation and heady excitement of the track. Especially in those early years, sponsorships were rooted in the automotive business or came by way of local mom-and-pop auto repair shops or small-town companies.

In 1971, the federal government’s ban on cigarette ads presented a big problem for tobacco powerhouse R.J. Reynolds. He found himself suddenly in need of not only innovative ways to advertise, but an advertising venue that would enable him to reach the same masses of people that TV had offered.

They say there’s no smoke without fire, right?
Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs

That’s when Reynolds’ eyes, and cash, turned to NASCAR. He bought the rights to name the top tier series in 1972 and the Grand National Series became the Winston Cup Series. In the years to follow, the investment lit up sponsorships, opening the doors for top-dollar sponsors for other NASCAR series, teams and drivers. It wasn’t too long after the Reynolds sponsorship that the No. 43 of Richard Petty picked up oil additive company STP as a big-name sponsor.

In case you're wondering, the Winston Cup Series became the NEXTEL Cup Series in 2003, and then the Sprint Cup Series in 2008 when NEXTEL merged with Sprint.

With races at 23 tracks in 20 states each season, NASCAR retains a fan base of millions, and has one of the most loyal followings in sports, with fierce devotion and driver allegiance. All of those eyeballs are a rich opportunity for marketers, and companies are eager to get their names in front of fans. According to AdWeek, a 2013 Sprint Cup series primary sponsorship cost $5 million to $35 million and associate sponsorships cost anywhere from $250,000 to $2 million.

There’s no denying that’s some fast cash.

Any corporate sponsorship deal is usually negotiable and can include anything from appearances at corporate events to product placement to drivers starring in television commercials for the company and more. Deals may be for just one race, part of a season or an entire season. Budweiser® and Jimmy Johns® are the primary sponsors of Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet, so it’s highly doubtful you’d ever see him in public drinking a Miller Genuine Draft® or eating a Subway® sandwich. If you stroll the garage area before a race you’ll see haulers lined up in formation with exquisite precision, each bright and shiny with sponsor logos. You may see displays of M&Ms® candies outside Kyle Busch’s No. 18 hauler, or guests of Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 hauler sipping 5-hour ENERGY® drinks. Drivers and even crew chiefs seem to mention their sponsor names on cue almost every time they’re in front of the camera to the point that the brands just seem like a ubiquitous part of a race.

Sponsorships are that important. Without sponsor money, NASCAR couldn’t race.

Since being in front of fans is crucial, sponsorship deals ultimately drive what a stock car will look like from race to race. says that a primary sponsorship includes logo placement on the hood of the car, the rear-quarter panel, the deck lid, the TV panel and the roof panel, and the sponsor may also get to select the car’s paint scheme and colors. The lower rear-quarter panel may alternate sponsors if a driver has multiple primary sponsors; for example Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Bass Pro Shops® and 
Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Mobil 1® sponsorships. Associate sponsors have stickers along the windows and fenders which vary in size and cost, usually from $200,000 on up. For more on primary and associate sponsorship logo placement, see How Stuff Works.

All sponsors get their names in front of fans, if they can read them as they zoom past. Talk about mobile messaging.

And what does all of that sponsorship money pay for? Racing is an expensive sport, so I think that would make a great future Rookie Stripe topic. Stay tuned.

After the 2016 NASCAR season, the Sprint Cup series will change names when Sprint ends its longstanding sponsorship deal of the top series. With an asking price of a $1 billion, 10-year title sponsor, NASCAR will need a new series sponsor with some seriously deep pockets.

Dolla dolla bill y’all.


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