|Growing numbers of marketers are spending millions of dollars to sponsor events at Nascar race venues, such as this Chevrolet-backed concert featuring the Barenaked Ladies. Click to see larger photo.|
While team and car sponsorships often draw the most press, particularly as Nascar heads into the final weeks of its Chase for the Cup, there is a growing trend in which companies are spending millions of dollars on at-track sponsorships and seeing significant returns by interacting directly with fans at races.
For about $2 million to $5 million, marketers who otherwise have limited partnerships with Nascar are gaining entry to the racing league's legendary fan base and brand loyalty with at-track deals. Ipsos research shows that a fan who attends a Nascar race is twice as loyal as the average Nascar fan -- who is already three times more brand loyal than fans of other sports.
From simple signage at the track to multitrack "official status" agreements, it's a much cheaper way to tap the Nascar fan base than ponying up $18 million to $20 million to sponsor a a primary car or team.
"The phenomenon is leaning toward authentic guerrilla marketing -- less commercial and more genuine," said Roger VanDerSnick, the chief marketing officer for International Speedway Corp. ISC owns 21 tracks across the country, including Daytona International Speedway, and is the largest operator of Nascar facilities in the U.S.
Fictional 'Team Tylenol'
Johnson & Johnson is one marketer that's made the trek to the track. Its McNeil Consumer Healthcare's Tylenol is the official pain-relief medication at seven of ISC's tracks, and it also attends 15 to 18 races a year with its fictitious "Team Tylenol."
At the track, Tylenol has about 25 members of the "Team Tylenol" pit crew distributing products and coupons for its Rapid Release gel product.
"We were sensitive to the idea that since we're not an authentic Nascar partner ... we needed to work hard to be extra relevant, which means being at the track where hundreds of thousands of fans are," said Mike Bartelli, senior VP-motorsports at Millsport, the agency of record for Tylenol's Nascar program.
But even marketers who already have Nascar sponsorships are doing more and more at the track. Allstate, which sponsors one of the most visible races of the year with the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, also does an at-track promotion in which it has seven gazebos scattered around the site.
Chevrolet, which is as ubiquitous as it gets with its cars and race sponsorships, still has done at-track promotions, including sponsorship of concerts. It has also set up what Terry Dolan, manager of Chevy Racing at General Motors, likes to call an "auto show at the state fair," in which the carmaker sets up a huge display of most, if not all, of its brands.
"It creates a value-add for us," said Mr. Dolan, who added that in the past five years, his team has been able to create a tracking metric to see how the at-track deals have paid off. "We've honed a model that's worked quite well for us."
Deals pay off for tracks
The deals pay off for the tracks as well. In 1996, 80% of the gross sponsorship revenue for ISC was driven by race entitlements-i.e., the Pepsi 400 or similar sponsorships. Ten years later, the number was down to 32% while revenue from "official status" agreements was up to 42%.
"I've spent some time on both sides now," said Mr. VanDerSnick, who used to be Nascar's chief marketing officer. " I think marketers are doing more because the brand loyalty just sets Nascar fans apart. And it manifests itself at the track."