Exposure up 36.9%: Nextel sees payoff as Nascar sponsor

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Nextel is just six months into its title sponsorship of Nascar, but it's already reaping rewards greater than R.J. Reynolds' Winston brand, which was restricted by tobacco-advertising rules from promoting its affiliation with one of the country's most popular sports.

Sponsorship-evaluation firm Joyce Julius & Associates, Ann Arbor, Mich., calculated that through the first 10 races of the season, Nextel's overall exposure value is up 36.9% compared to R.J. Reynolds' Winston brand from last year.

"I don't know that we have one, true quantifiable thing right now that we can sit back and point at, but what Nextel has done in seven months has been remarkable," said Andrew Feit, Nascar's director-new business and industry relations. "Simply put, they've gone out and marketed the sport where Winston was restricted."

Rick Martinez, director-strategic planning for Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York, Nextel's creative agency, said the initial campaign accomplished its goal of reassuring fans that Nextel was a fan of the sport.

"Prior to the Daytona 500 (Nascar's season-opening race in February), there was a lot of trepidation," Mr. Martinez said. "Nobody really knew what Nextel was going to do. But in our research we've seen that the apprehension levels have gone down."

Still, that hasn't necessarily meant an increase in sales. Nextel sales are not up, Mark Schweitzer, Nextel senior VP-marketing, said, "nor would we expect them to be after only seven months of the sponsorship. The nature of wireless is that people are under contract and need to cycle off that contract. We're happy with the brand awareness we've received from the sponsorship, and it's going to be a gradual build over the 10 years."

In addition to the obvious print and TV advertising that RJR simply could not do, Nextel has launched what Nascar officials are calling "the most ambitious" licensing program in the history of the sport. More than 50 licensees have signed on to sell Nextel- and Nascar-logo phones, merchandise and apparel.

round two

Nextel this week begins a second round of commercials supporting its precedent-setting 10-year, $700 million sponsorship of Nascar.

The first phase of the marketing plan in January was to pay homage to the history of Nascar and slowly transition the sport's rabid fan base from longtime sponsor R.J. Reynolds. This latest round spotlights Nextel's walkie-talkie feature, including a humorous commercial in which driver Jeff Gordon runs out of gas on the highway, only to use his Nextel cellular phone to summon his personal gas man to fill him up, much like the man does when Mr. Gordon makes pit stops during actual races.

"The initial work was good in establishing that we were respectful of Nascar's history," said Mr. Schweitzer. "Here we tried to blend a relatable situation and clear product explanation in a brand take-away. The Nextel walkie-talkie solves a problem. We'll continue to sprinkle in things that feature our larger brand."

National TV ratings on News Corp.'s Fox are flat with last year (5.9 in 2004 vs. 6.0 in 2003), while major markets Los Angeles and New York are up 17% and 10% respectively-and neither city hosts a Nascar race. For a national, regular-season package, those ratings are second only to the National Football League and ahead of Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.

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