Motorsports Sponsorship - Just Throwing Money Away


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Commentary by Rick Carlton

Its Still No Bucks No Buck Rogers.

I have been working in and around the auto/motorsports business since dinosaurs walked the earth, and have come to a couple of essential conclusions. First, one needs money to make money, and second, one can't make money unless one offers a legitimate business value over time. For some, these pearls of wisdom may appear obvious, but in the case of today's motorsports economic climate, and particularly in the context of an increasingly virtual and socially-driven sponsor marketplace, I believe that much of what is passing for business value is being lost in the translation.

Recently, I had an opportunity to read some comments from social-networking pundit Peter Shankman on what he saw as the need for more effective sponsor messaging for that industry's conference events, and it occurred to me that his thinking played equally in the case of commercial messaging for motorsports. As a result, I am going to offer one of Shankman's central points skewed to accommodate a motorsports business focus. He offered the following, “What do you mean 'I’d better be sponsorable?' It’s a real word, with real world repercussions. Want sponsors? You’d better be sponsorable.”

Prior to the web, and before television became an essential tool for the motorsports marketeer, the commercial value derived from event/team sponsorship was primarily based on word of mouth commercial messages, supported by various forms of static display advertising. The central goal then, was to attract race fans to the track then hype branded offers, thereby converting fans into customers, who would presumably drive to the local auto store and buy products. The advantage of this approach was that there was a direct and measurable relationship between the value of the advertising, and any additional sales volumes.

With the advent of motorsports on TV, however, and with its consequent increased volume of video-based advertising, value propositions began to be altered to measure “brand impressions” rather than direct sales metrics. Between the mid-80s and today, derived revenues based on the value of motorsports sponsorships dropped, but marketeers and constituent commercial partners somehow missed the fact that pinning value measurements on the dubious attraction of impression-driven “soft dollars,” was not the same thing as cold cash.

Then, in 1991 web 1.0 rolled out, and things got even more fuzzy. The internet appeared to offer cheap commercial promotion everywhere, all the time. Before long, “everyone” had a web site, and “everyone” thought that the new technology would be a great way to make "cubic bucks" by leveraging sponsorship marketing. However, although motorsports marketeers have made some progress in terms of ramping sponsor brand persistence up, along with extended reach for commercial partners, after 21 years, most sponsor direct sales offers are typically lost in today's technological tendency to trumpet more, while creating less sales value on the bottom line.

Now; this does not mean that there are no opportunities associated with emergent smart TV, or virtual marketing, in the case of motorsports sponsor programs. But the era of simply “pushing” enormous volumes of brand information out, without offering to direct-sell a sponsor's products today are as silly, as they are wasteful.

Frankly, direct virtual marketing/sales processes are perfect tools since they offer the ability to display, offer and transact, and are technologically intrinsic to today's host of electronic devices. However, to produce value, one has to commit to more formal coordination and managment in order to get the entire system moving. And, on the motorsports side, no one seems to be willing to take the first step to get the job done.

For motorsports organizations looking to secure and validate sponsorship going forward, this means that the concept of “partnership” between racer and commercial supporter needs to take on new and more critical meaning. It is not enough to place signage on a race car anymore. It is not enough to put a web site up. It is not enough to open a Facebook or Twitter account. It is not enough to show up at a local sponsor showroom or office. It is not even enough to attend regular weekend B2B meet and greets at the racetrack. It is all the above - and more.

In a word it means effective business “collaboration,” where race organizations work directly with a sponsor partner's marketing folks on a regular basis, to create clear and evocative multichannel product messages, virtually promote those offers, then leverage eCommerce to sell the sponsor's products direct to the customer, in order to secure revenue loyalty over time. As Tom Wolfe wrote, “No Bucks No Buck Rogers,” and in the context of developing reciprocal business value as a result of today's motorsports sponsorships, nothing could be more plainly spoken.

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