Tracking a Good Racing Buy

Mar 14, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Jennie Phipps

Special to TelevisionWeek

NASCAR celebrated the opening of its 2005 season by blowing the doors off the ratings. The Daytona 500 on Fox produced a 10.9/23 national ratings/share, according to Nielsen Media Research, which estimates that 35.3 million Americans watched all or part of the opening race.

The race teams were happy-and so were the advertisers.

“It was definitely the place for us to be,” said Barbara DiMaria, senior VP of broadcast direct at Lowe & Partners Worldwide. Ms. DiMaria heads the media planning team for client UPS, which sponsors car No. 88, driven by Dale Jarrett.

UPS opened its fifth season of race sponsorship with a playful new installment in its popular Race the Truck campaign. In the ad, Mr. Jarrett-after years of being prodded to do so by UPS executives, celebrities and race fans-announces that he will race the big, brown UPS delivery truck. It’s a warm and fuzzy kind of ad that humanizes UPS and builds the brand, Ms. DiMaria said. “Sponsors play such a huge role in the actual sport. Without a sponsor you don’t have a team, and fans know that-they really embrace the sponsors.”

NASCAR also makes the phones ring, said Peter Koeppel, founder and president of Koeppel Direct, a direct-response strategy planning and media buying firm based in Dallas. Mr. Koeppel put together the buy for Enzyte, the sexual enhancement product whose promotional character Smiling Bob makes sexual inadequacy a laughing matter.

Enzyte is sponsoring a car for the second year in the lower-rung NASCAR Busch series and has bought a rotating schedule of spots on cable because broadcast spots are just too pricey, Mr. Koeppel said. “We tested it out last year and it really worked for our client. With direct response, you know immediately-either the phones ring or they don’t. “

NASCAR works better than wrestling for Enzyte, though Mr. Koeppel recommends that his client buy both. “You get a much more upscale demographic with NASCAR,” he said.

Fox/FX and NBC/TNT split the NASCAR broadcast season. Fox/FX broadcasts the first half, for which viewership traditionally has been higher. But last year the sport retooled the scoring to create a championship over the last 10 races and that drove up ratings for NBC and TNT.

Nextel Cup racing is the highest-rated sport on network TV in the late-first and second quarters of the year, pointed out Lou D’Ermilio, senior VP of communications at Fox. The NCAA Tournament, the Masters, the U.S. Open and the Belmont Stakes all beat out NASCAR one weekend each a year. But NASCAR gets double the ratings won by the NBA among men 18 to 49 and 25 to 54. It averages a 5.6 household rating versus 2.4 for the NBA. And baseball isn’t a factor at all.

The road to advertising success with NASCAR is paved with dollar bills. The cost of sponsoring a car in the Nextel Cup division is a closely held secret, but estimates put the minimum at $15 million per year, and sponsors of winning race teams pay upward of $20 million.

The top rung of a Fox buy is a race sponsorship. Less expensive is a presenting sponsorship. Advertisers can also buy spots, billboards, graphic enhancements and on-air mentions, among other things.

Driver Jeff Gordon’s victory in this year’s Daytona 500 enabled his primary corporate sponsor, DuPont, to garner nearly $9.4 million of television exposure value during the live race broadcast on Fox, according to research conducted by Joyce Julius & Associates, which monitors nationally televised sports and special-event programs to calculate their value for advertisers. Julius reported that the DuPont logo appeared clear and in focus for 15 minutes, seven seconds during the 4½-hour broadcast (excluding pre-race coverage).

Additionally, DuPont was mentioned on three occasions by Mr. Gordon and Fox announcers. Exposure value is calculated by comparing the on-screen time and mentions with the estimated cost of a commercial spot during the telecast.

Fan Connection

Julius compared NBC’s 2004 Daytona 500 telecast with 2005’s and found the number of brands monitored during the telecast (292 versus 221), total on-screen time (7:26:13 versus 5:46:40), verbal mentions (230 versus 162) and comparable exposure value ($291 million versus $224 million) all increased in 2005.

The biggest mistake NASCAR advertisers make is not spending enough money, said Laurence de Garis, director of the Center for Sports Sponsorship at James Madison University. “Just slapping your name on something isn’t enough. Without proper media planning to support your assets, you are leaving a lot on the table.”

He urges media planners to consider a range of opportunities for their clients, including online, outdoor, network, cable, radio, print sponsorships and live events. “Individually, each of those media buys may work well enough, but they may not put you on the radar. But when you string them all together to create a comprehensive NASCAR platform, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts,” he said.

Balancing the reach and intensity to achieve consistency and reinforcement so fans identify sponsors can increase the value of the total buy by as much as two-thirds, Mr. de Garis said.

The Center for Sports Sponsorship recently conducted a study of NASCAR fans’ relationships with the sport. Here are some of its conclusions:

  • Fans recognize and appreciate sponsors’ contributions. A total of 93 percent of fans said corporate sponsors are “very important” to NASCAR. A total of 76 percent agreed that without corporate sponsors there would be no NASCAR.

  • Fans like corporate sponsorship of NASCAR. A total of 83 percent of fans said they “like” (“somewhat” or “a lot”) corporate sponsorship of NASCAR. A total of 43 percent like it “a lot.”

  • NASCAR fans feel empowered by purchasing sponsors’ products. A total of 51 percent of fans agreed that when they buy a NASCAR sponsor’s product, they feel they contribute to the sport.

  • NASCAR persuades fans to buy. A total of 47 percent of fans said that they like a sponsor’s brand more because it sponsors NASCAR.