For many years, rights holders and properties did not need to change their model to reflect a more dynamic marketplace. Things were simpler and were valued in a more basic way. Digital platforms have shaken that up dramatically for industries of all forms.
Only recently are we starting to see sports look for new evolutions in the way they are presented and consumed. SportsBusiness Journal recently covered the changing sponsorship model of NASCAR and we thought it deserved some extra analysis from the agency side.
Here is the original article from SportsBusiness Journal. When the news about this update came around, it was still uncertain whether the new model was going to progress forward. 2020 proved to be a difficult year to judge the success of the program but we have seen the sport embrace it with momentum heading into next season.
Making the shift
The premise of the whole modernization process is how NASCAR broke out to a suite of "official partners," similar to how F1, the Olympics, UEFA and other top series have presented their platform to provide a more balanced approach throughout the year.
Such a change — which would include bundling assets between the league, tracks, teams and media-rights partners — would be a dramatic shift in a sport that has had [one] title sponsor since Winston first signed on in 1971. -SBJ
We think there are certainly a lot of efficiencies to be had by allowing the different stakeholders to collaborate with official partners. Motorsports is even more complicated than other properties because of the four different aspects the sport supports and is responsible for. When assets are bundled across these stakeholders, there are a host of unique activation opportunities for sponsors that could be capitalized on that currently are not accessible due to overlapping rights issues.
For example, those NASCAR sponsors in the soft drink/energy drink category that are not Monster have issues activating key markets because of the very strong title rights held by Monster. This becomes a challenge when NASCAR visits markets that may not be activated by Monster, but can't be activated by others due to those rights, leaving a gap in opportunity.
This has moved the sport to consider the right mix of assets available to the right group of sponsors eager to be involved.
There is a general excitement around what the model could be and where it’s going. So, I’m bullish on making sure that we have the right sponsors in there, and I’m bullish that it’s going to do what it is intended to do, which is to make sure that we are getting sponsors at that highest level and rewarding them for what they do for our sport.
-Steve Phelps, NASCAR President
It seems fair to say that brands considering an entrance to NASCAR have been more hesitant due to some legacy constraints they may face in certain markets or categories. If the series continues to simplify the way sponsors can access the platform then we think you will see more interest from brands who want to get involved in a capacity that has not previously been available.
We have to make sure it’s uniquely NASCAR, and there are some certain characteristics to that — one is just the sheer number of companies [that are already official NASCAR sponsors]. Thankfully we have all these companies investing in our sport, but that’s a lot of volume that we have to sift through and manage to make sure they’re all getting a return. Candidly, a lot of those other sports don’t have that level of involvement. That’s a luxury we have, but it also adds a layer of complication that we’ll have to work through.
-Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR’s SVP and chief sales and partnership officer
NASCAR is remarkable for this fact. It's tough to think of another sport that has been able to support such a rich pool of leading brands as sponsors. When this is managed correctly, the number one beneficiary here is the fan - one of the most dedicated and passionate fans in all of sports.
The investment that sponsors brings to the sport ultimately lead to better at-track experiences, better digital viewing, and better engagement. We have been around the sport for many years and have unfortunately seen brands come to the table with a lot of money, ready to market their product or service, but then bounce after 2-3 years because it was not the automatic return they thought it would be.
We are on a mission to make sure that doesn't happen to any brand interested in becoming involved with the sport going forward. Money and branding alone will not bring you a return in NASCAR sponsorship. Your marketing team needs a strategy, the right partnership and more than anything, the proper activation.
To the extent that we can create more opportunities for brands to engage in the sport in a bundled manner, I believe that’s a positive outcome.” -Steve Newmark, Roush Fenway Racing
Coming from the team side here, it makes sense to want an offering that is easier to present to prospective sponsors. The teams are unquestionably doing the most selling combined on a regular basis and having a "bundled" presentation will allow for them to make a more efficient, streamlined pitch. The teams have a massive role, of course, because they work to provide the competition, the entertainment and the spectacle that we all know and love.
“We are focusing on reaching the consumer beyond the normal mediums.”
-Patrick Judge, GEICO senior marketing planner of experiential and brand promotion
This is one of our absolute favorite parts of the sport. NASCAR does a great job of providing varying levels of fan access and engagement, with the starting level of access much higher than most sports. Things like track walks, pit tours, opening ceremony access all either included in entry-level tickets or available for small upgrades make the sport very approachable for fans of all backgrounds.
For a brand like GEICO with numerous opportunities to engage customers and employees at all levels of impact on their business, it makes sense to be invested in a variety of properties (teams, events, etc.). The more investment you bring to different properties, the more opportunity you have for strategic integration and cross-program activation. When all of this comes together, sponsorships are the ultimate platform to reach the customer beyond the more traditional approach.
Major changes on the horizon for the industry. While all this is happening on the property side, what does your brand need to see from an updated sponsorship model in order to generate the ROI you need?
Updated for added value.