Chicken or the Egg?


 by Scott Morris
April 25, 2003

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7-11 got a lot of mileage out of Mario Andretti's one day of testing at Indy

Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Frito-Lay, Microsoft, Budweiser, GEICO, Starbucks, AOL, Sears, 7-11, McDonalds, Nike, Levis, AT&T….I could go on forever. That’s just a few. These are consumer brand names (notice that they are non-automotive as well). These types of companies supposedly come to racing to gain recognition of their brand and drive product sales.

Well, the inside secret in most motorsports programs is that this consumer exposure element is simply how the program gets justified to the stockholders. It really ends up to be a simple as the fact that the racing program serves as a fun entertainment resource. Of course this does lead to business networking and such, but honestly, I doubt that it is any more effective than corporate boxes at a major sports event such as the NFL, NBA or MJLB.

The problem is, that even in the marketing machine of NASCAR, many teams do not provide a program that gives a measurable value of the sponsors investment. This is why you see many sponsors come and go in the sport. Some teams change sponsors like most people change socks. Others keep their sponsors for years. It is difficult to say exactly why in every specific case.

One thing seems to be quite obvious. Where the recognized brands are, the people tend to watch. Or maybe, it’s the other way around; where the people are watching, the brands tend to go. The latter of the two would seem to make the most sense. However, with the recognition level that most of these brands have built for themselves over the years, it seems that their presence draws consumers to watch and attend. An event, in any sport, without a sponsor eventually seems to lose attendance and media coverage, and quickly fades. The biggest developed sports events would be the exception of course, such as the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, and the Olympics.

So the question arises. Why doesn’t CART do something to attract a major brand? It seems that the IRL has the equation right.  The 7-11 car driven by Mario Andretti (right) is a major brand that has instant consumer awareness.

So I ask the question of anyone who cares or knows. Where is the complication in aggressively seeking a major consumer brand as a series sponsor, in exchange for specific and considerable promotion. In other words, if Coke were to get involved, they would pay nothing for title billing, and would have an advantage in becoming the official beverage of each race, but would then be required to issue special vending machines featuring the cars and drivers, and feature them in their commercials.

Now, obviously this is not an original idea in and of itself. It is done in NASCAR. NASCAR is in the position to charge for it. CART is not. CART needs these sponsors and their brand recognition to drive their own brand recognition. People do not know what CART is, nor do they care. They used to define their image of racing as a formula style car. Now it is a stock car.

Mark Cipolloni is right. NASCAR dominates all of motorsports, and the media that surrounds it. They have in fact taken it to heights that nobody ever thought it could go. For that I praise NASCAR. However, I think there are much better and more spectacular forms of racing to be seen. If only they had the marketing talent and power to make it happen.

For right now though, the bottom line is that CART needs the brand names more than the brand names need CART. That said, how can any sponsor be expected to pay for something like that? It seems as thought the table has been turned. Rather than CART attracting clients in the advertising and marketing business, CART needs to become the client. Associating major brands with theirs, brings their brand along on the coat tails, thereby increasing the recognition of their brand.

What comes first, the chicken or the egg?  CART needs to start somewhere.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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