Motorsports Marketing and Sponsorship Activation Blog

The Definitive Guide to Motorsports Marketing

5/4/21 10:51 AM

The nearly $6 billion world of motorsports marketing is a challenging, rich and intensely exciting realm to operate in. Some of the largest brands in the world have built their presence from simple grassroots programs to dynamic, multi-series dynasties. From the outside looking in, they make it look easy. But for marketing managers, executives, and those interested in working with motorsports sponsorship programs to market their business it can quickly become overwhelming without the right know-how and support in your corner.

Keys to success

Straight away, there are some major points to always come back to throughout the whole process. If ever you feel lost along the way, think back to these 3 principles. They will be there as a foundation for everything else that will come up.

01. Sponsorship programs must stay strategic, with a constant eye on what you are trying to accomplish or solve through the platform.

02. Sponsorship programs must generate a business result, a metric increase, a quantifiable growth in your core operation. In today's marketplace, sponsorships have become more of a B2B and technical partnership than anything else.

03. Prioritize activation budget over property budget. Even if you have the greatest property in the world, you will not see the return you are looking for if you do not invest in activation. Spend $2 on activation for every $1 spent on a property to extract maximum value.

With those principles firmly in your mind, another step is breaking the myth that all motorsports marketing or sponsorship programs require a multi-million dollar budget. That is far from the reality of the opportunities available. Some of our most influential and successful programs are centered around targeted, highly efficient grassroots programs. So no matter your budget, this platform is worth exploring as a way to excite your marketing and bolster your marketing strategy.

Do you know the difference between sponsorship rights and activation?

What sounds like a simple difference in wording turns out to be the most important distinction in this area of marketing. As digital media continues to command more of our attention and marketing dollars, there have been some important changes to traditional approaches to sports and entertainment. To maximize value for your brand, the key is finding the balance of investment between sponsorship rights and brand activation programs.

Sometimes this part can feel a little like "chicken or the egg," without knowing what needs to come first. In order to determine what rights make the most sense for your brand to acquire, it is best to understand what your end objectives are. You will learn more about that in the following sections. Once you have the combination of known end objectives + sponsorship rights, you can begin to build activation programs designed to use the rights to accomplish the objectives.


Where do you start?

The how do you start is equally as important as the where. Because of the flexibility offered in the performance world, you are able to start small and grow toward the results. This allows you to maintain the ability to closely follow or slightly get ahead of ever-changing consumer behavior. This approach will also limit your risk, and ensure you are constantly extracting value from your activities.

For the where, the actual starting point has been made successful in a variety of different ways depending on your objectives. It is one of those situations that there are so many different options and channels for you to consider, you may feel stuck in a decision-freezing state of not knowing what is best for your objectives. That is not something for you to feel bad about, that is common and in fact, normal.

You'd be surprised at what a solid knowledge base can do for you as you begin your journey or look for fresh opportunities. Starting can be as simple as identifying the business objectives you want to solve for, grow, or promote. From there, you begin to identify what properties are available that match those goals. Sometimes it might be sponsoring an individual driver, and sometimes it means sponsoring an entire series.

All the time, however, it means finding the right mix that suits your needs. By diversifying, you open yourself up to a wider scope of exposure and brand activation opportunities. This concept will lead you to the next question.

Have you considered all that is available?

The question "where do I start?" battles with the question "what can I do?" and your goal will be to find the equilibrium between those two for the ultimate program. That same 15-minute chat will help give you an idea as to the different things you can do, but there is everything from the simple to the dynamic in terms of activation.

For an overview, this infographic will give you a sample of the different programs you can run on a scale from small to large. While a large budget certainly gives you options, it doesn't guarantee success. Sponsorship really shines when you constantly aim for sustainable value, and that means strategic investments rather than flashy stunts.

To act further on this idea, use this interactive tool to get your strategy started. When you create nimble and flexible programs from the start you can appropriately tailor to the marketplace changes. To do this well, start small and grow into the results by constantly attending to the mix and this calculator gives you a window into what that process is like.

Common challenges & need to knows

The world of motorsports marketing can be a tricky one to navigate. There are so many different dynamics, so many opportunities, and so much flexibility in what you can do to be successful. All of those are the reasons why brands invest billions of dollars each year to engage their customers through the platform. Of course, all of those ups don't come for free, there are some foundational challenges that you must be aware of and prepare for.

Sponsorship activation really has its own language and as a brand, properties might try and "woo" you with some fancy terms that can take your hands off the wheel. Your first step in preparing for your work here is to know the fundamentals of what it takes to generate sustainable ROI through your sponsorship program.

josh-day-sport-dimensions-alsco-supportLearn the fundamentals to maximizing ROI on your sponsorship

The 5 most common pitfalls

After brushing up on some of the foundational elements of what goes into your programs, you want to further prepare by avoiding the most common pitfalls of sponsorship programs. There is a reason why these are the most common challenges, it is because they are easy to arrive at if you don't remember those three keys to success at the top of this guide.

Going about your program in a wishful manner, 9 times out of 10, will end you up in one of these 5 pitfalls.

You must engage your customers

For the majority of brands involved in sponsorship, there is a customer that they are trying to engage and win over from their competition. This is an ideal strategy, because the motorsports platform gives you more types of audiences, more types of demographic, more marketplaces, and more options to activate your sponsorship in the most relevant way possible. For one sponsor involved in NASCAR and Formula 1, they have the opportunity to market their product or service entirely differently to the two very different demographics involved in the respective sports. It is a wonderful situation and allows for some of the best storytelling out there for brands. The flexibility is valuable, and programs in motorsports cannot afford not to focus on customer engagement in one way or another.

Know what you are taking on

Going at brand activation on your own, with no in-house sports marketing team, is a risky thing to do. It is a little like going to court without a lawyer. Possible, but difficult. If you choose to go at it alone, there are some things that generally happen (and more importantly, don't happen) sooner or later. Initially, managing your own programs might seem cost-effective, but oftentimes the inefficiencies add up to missed opportunities and costly learning curves.

Keep your expectations in check no matter what you're told (sold)

Rightsholders are under the same amount of pressure to raise money as you are to deliver ROI on behalf of your marketing team. It is critical to understand that they ultimately have a primary function and that it might not be your program. Whether that be to compete, deliver entertainment or update their streaming technology, they cannot be expected to manage details of each sponsor’s needs surrounding a particular event.

It is unrealistic, and the expectations with sponsorship shouldn’t be that activation will be taken care of by the property.

The realities of having many sponsors involved with a particular team are that the most popular assets can get crowded, and it is not always straightforward or fair how they get assigned. You are still the customer in this relationship, as you are purchasing the right to access all of the assets. It is, however, your responsibility to ensure you are using all that you paid for.

Engaging different audiences effectively

The unique experiences and content your brand can produce from a well-executed sponsorship program can be used effectively in many more ways than one. Depending on where you are most active in your promotion, you will gain insight into the different types of audiences you can engage during the campaign.

With the right tools, you can ensure your sponsorship activation plan is balanced and aligned with your objectives from day one. You'll learn how to engage the different audience types and how they relate to what matters most - driving your business forward.


Let's have some fun

Now, the best part! After all of your preparation, your hard work and your research, you are ready to make this thing happen. It is fun and hyper-rewarding to watch a cohesive and integrated program come together. Let's explore a little bit about what really is possible.

When you stack motorsports marketing up against other forms of marketing: digital ads, tv spots, etc., you will find it is a night and day difference. For what it costs major brands to run a fleeting 30-second Super Bowl ad, you can build yourself a sustainable program over years that you can track right back to business growth and development. That seems like a no-brainer, so let's see it in action.

Motorsports marketing to...provide unforgettable experiences.

That Super Bowl ad we mentioned, did it give your customers an experience? Did it allow them to do something, see something, be part of something? Do they have photos of themselves watching that ad? If so, good on you. More than likely, that TV ad didn't do those things. It fell short on many fronts, other than maybe overall impressions - which has proven to be a poor metric time and time again.

When you add a dash of motorsports sponsorship activation to your overall marketing strategy, you open a whole world of potential experiences you can provide to your customers. You can build sales contests around the experiences, awarding your highest performers with an unforgettable weekend at an event. You can inspire retail location with a strategic asset appearance, something that breathes an intangible motivation into your employees. When your brand comes to life through an experience, it doesn't go unnoticed.

Motorsports marketing to...to promote a product or service in a wildly unique way.

With the breadth of audiences and demographics available in motorsports, there is a lot of value in activating more than one property investment as part of your strategic mix. You have the opportunity to take it to an expert level when you integrate the two audiences together into a story that really "wows" your employees, partners, customers and even a select few VIPs. Tie all of that to a weekend of entertainment millions tune in for, and your new product or service is on another level.

2017-Indy-500-01See how your brand can really wow your audience with a unique promotion

Motorsports marketing to...influence industry enthusiasts to love your brand.

As legendary marketer Seth Godin writes, build your tribe. Focus on that group of people that really loves what you do and believes in what you do. Identify where that tribe of yours spends their free time, and strategize on how you can join them there. When you activate events where your tribe spends time, you are connecting with their passion. The passion that is naturally there builds into brand loyalty and ultimately translates to sales.

For example, so many motorsports fans also love their own road cars in some shape or form. It doesn't matter if it is vintage collectibles, rare hypercars, autonomous technology, etc. Identify which categories your tribe relates to, likely it is more than one, and design a program meant to better their experience in some shape or form. Sponsor the local auto show, or a particular brand's car club, or even a TED talk on what the future of mobility looks like. By genuinely and organically joining the group with an interest in learning for yourself, but also providing a better experience for members, your brand's equity and goodwill are going nowhere but up.

Motorsports marketing to...engage the new-age consumer

Growing tech companies can offer innovative solutions to pressing challenges that existing teams and series face as well as make improvements to the system as a whole. These lesser-known brands are starting to recognize the potential in motorsports and benefit from the immense platform to build their business.

They are the up-and-comers in their industry, and they are trying to engage the up-and-comers in the world. With one of the largest and most loyal fan bases in sports, the right activation for these new sponsors can provide access and engagement that can't be bought or found on any digital-only platform.

Motorsports marketing to...celebrate your brand's heritage

Your brand's heritage is an invaluable asset that your marketing team already has access to. Thinking back to the beginning of your brand, this journey will illustrate all that you have done, created and produced over years of building. Your past is storytelling that no other competitor can duplicate and that no amount of money can purchase. 

We believe it is a top strategy year-round, but the last few months have proven it to be especially efficient when there is little to no ability to host live, in-person events. Another benefit is that lets you take a breath from the constant push to "new" and reflect back on what has worked in big ways for your brand.

HubSpot Video

Should you hire an agency?

You've made it to the final fork in the road! If you've made it this far, you know enough to be dangerous. But there really is so much more.

With so much information readily available online to consult about marketing strategy brands sometimes ask, "Why should we hire an agency?" You might wonder, and rightfully so, why you couldn't just go to a property looking for sponsors and deal with them directly without representation, without an experienced agency that knows the run of show.

The truth is, you can! It is just quite difficult. Some brands do decent on their own, but many fall victim to "The Three Year Cycle: Honeymoon, Reality Check and Fade" with nothing to show for it. Some immediate things an agency can bring you…

  1. Diversified platforms, opportunities and strategies
  2. Business-focused mix of assets with any budget
  3. Shortened learning curve by months and even years
  4. One point of contact for numerous initiatives
  5. An agency will help you cut through the noise
  6. Executive-level introductions to key business relationships

If you know what you are looking to accomplish, an agency can put together a holistic sponsorship activation program that provides the best mix of available assets to meet your goals. Motorsports marketing is a space that requires working partnerships at numerous levels to thrive.

As an agency, we have seen a lot in the 25+ years of our work. We have learned a lot. Mostly, we have grown a lot in that quarter-century stint. We look back on some remarkable work pulled off in impossible scenarios of constrained resources, relentless third-party pressures and an always-changing marketplace. Our evolution has been iterative and constant to stay ahead of all the dynamics you have just learned about.

A lot of what has defined us through that time, however, is what we have not done and the choices we have made that have kept us on track. We haven't deviated from expertise. We haven't gone global and opened expensive offices all over the place. We haven't sold to a large parent organization, which is increasingly and shockingly rare for agencies these days. We haven't taken outside investment from parties that may influence how we choose to serve our clients.

We are proud that our average client tenure (Is that a metric that agencies track? If not, it should be.) is just about 9.8 years. That means that on average, we work with our clients for 9.8 years before something changes and we cease our work. The longest partner we have goes back to our founding, a full 25 years of partnership. These metrics demonstrate a passion for long-term, sustainable thinking with delivered results.

What we do only works with your collaboration and we are eager to hear what you want to work on.

HubSpot Video


Motorsports is one of the most dynamic platforms marketers can work with. Global, local, big, small, glamorous or simple, there is a place for your brand to shine. When you put the right activation behind your sponsorship, you will demonstrate value far beyond your logo on the hood of a car.

It's about partnership, process and passion and it's about generating value for your brand.

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Regularly updated for added value.

Topics: Motorsports Marketing Foundations

Team SD

Written by Team SD

Leveraging a wide range of experience in sports marketing and sponsorship activation, our team is always looking to add value. We love collaborating with each other and we write together with you in mind.