SINCE BASS FISHING DAYS, CHEVY HOOKED ON SPONSORSHIP

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Event marketing has become a staple for Chevrolet, one of the largest event spenders among automotive brands with an estimated annual budget of at least $20 million. The truck side has been sponsoring big events since the early 1980s, but cars got into the act just four years ago.

In 1982, the truck group began actively sponsoring the 600,000-member Bass Anglers Sports Society Masters Classic fishing contests. BASS members closely match Chevrolet's truck buyer profiles: primarily males who are outdoor enthusiasts, love country-western music and are on average 40 years old with $50,000 or more in household income.

In August, top BASS fishermen meet in New Orleans to vie for big prizes, with a top purse of $200,000. Chevrolet and other sponsors donate the funds. With its sponsorship, Chevy is angling to get trucks such as the 1999 Silverado - suited for hauling boats and fishing gear - before 100,000 attendees.

"We've been involved with BASS for so long we know they support their partners with a passion, and we've actually earned loyalty with a good number of their members," says Mark Jenkins, Chevrolet sales promotion manager for trucks.

Digging in

Jenkins says that before entering a sponsorship agreement, Chevy truck looks for certain characteristics - for example, automotive exclusivity, and a good fit with the brand image. If those characteristics are there, Chevy is likely to stay put.

Witness its long-term relationships with BASS (since 1982) and Quail Unlimited (since 1985). The same devotion is likely with the relationship it launched in 1996 with Ducks Unlimited.

According to the IEG Sponsorship Report, General Motors is the top automotive sponsorship spender, and will shell out an estimated $110 million this year. Some GM sources estimate Chevy gets from 20 to 25 percent of the total GM budget. Jenkins won't disclose Chevy's budget, but he says Chevy's event spending will increase about 10 percent this year. Event sponsorship, says Jenkins, "is the cornerstone of our marketing plan."

Currently, Chevy truck is hitching its bow tie to the star of country artist George Strait, sponsoring his 18-city concert tours for the second year. The tour began in Phoenix March 6 and runs through May. Last year the country-western singer drew 60,000 fans at many venues around the country.

Not just for kicks

Chevrolet sees similar benefits on the car side of the ledger through its combined car-truck promotion linked to soccer.

"Soccer is the Little League of the 1990s and the fastest-growing sport in the United States," says Cynthia Babcock, Chevrolet's sales promotion manager for cars. Through its soccer sponsorships, Chevrolet showcases its products and gathers sales leads. The latest example: a Chevy Soccer Festival running March 15 through Dec. 31 in 18 major U.S. cities. The festivals include vehicle displays, scavenger hunts, an interactive traveling display, prizes and contests for kids and adults.

Babcock says soccer is a good example of a promotion that fits the brand image for both cars and trucks. With 4.5 million players - 3 million of them youths - soccer allows Chevrolet to target young families with cars who might also need a minivan to haul kids to games.

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