By Debra Kaufman
Special to TelevisionWeek
Advertising billings on Speed have doubled in the last three years, according to the network’s Senior VP of Ad Sales, Todd Siegel, who attributes the precipitous rise to NASCAR.
“We’ve been the fortunate recipients of NASCAR’s popularity in the last three or four years,” he said. “NASCAR has always been big as a spectator sport. The ratings continue to grow, across the board.”
Every race involves myriad sponsors, whose logos are plastered on every available space around the racetrack, on helmets and clothing and on the race cars themselves. Mr. Siegel sees every one of the sponsors as benefiting from a relationship with Speed. “We believe we can help them extend their sponsorships,” he said. “They are spending a lot of money to be the official NASCAR sponsor or put their names on the car. Their relative out-of-pocket on us is modest compared to what they’re spending on the initial sponsorship to be there.”
Starting with the actual NASCAR events, the major sponsors include Nextel, which took over where cigarette brand Winston left off. Anheuser-Busch, Craftsman and Coca-Cola sponsor other racing series. “Those are the obvious, no-brainer advertisers,” Mr. Siegel said. “With regard to Nextel, Anheuser-Busch and Craftsman, Speed has always been their ‘activation’ in terms of their relationship with the league.”
By that, Mr. Siegel refers to the additional exposure that Speed gives advertisers above and beyond the televised race. “A race is a race,” he said. “But we cover the lifestyle aspect, the teams in depth, the entertainment. And we bring their sponsorships to the hardcore fan like no other medium can.”
Marketing and promotion appears on TV and live at the track, and sometimes the deals are complex. “Because of the nature of the sport, you spend a lot of time with the client at the track and familiarize yourself with their goals and objectives,” said Mr. Siegel. “And as program ideas develop, natural associations emerge.”
When Speed programmers decided to do two- to three-minute vignettes about the business of NASCAR, a relationship with Home Depot became an obvious match and Home Depot is now the sponsor of the Sunday race pre-show. Speed now gives away helmets at the track with a logo integrating Home Depot, including the store’s signature orange color.
After developing its at-track marketing, Speed now aims for promotional efforts that translate synergistically for both the fans viewing at home and those at the track. “When we first set the stage three hours before the show, people were lining up and setting up their coolers,” said Bill Osborn, Speed’s senior VP of marketing. “They want to be in the live audience on camera.”
Speed extends the at-track racing experience to before the race. It brings a semi truck that opens up into a stage, with a huge high-definition monitor and public address system and a karaoke DJ. The pre-race party also includes kiosks that allow people to sample Speed wallpaper and ringtones and a kiosk for playing video games.
“When the camera is live, there’s a live production that people at the track get to be a part of,” he said. “When our show isn’t on the air, we’re entertaining them. Our fans get to extend the Speed experience beyond our programs.”
That synergy extends to Speed sponsors. Johnsonville Sausage is an advertiser also involved with NASCAR, so Speed set up a huge Johnsonville grill on the side of the stage. There’s also a Budweiser bar. When the camera is live, it pans across the grill and Bud bar, in an exclusive area where the VIPs hang out.
Other existing and potential sponsors are naturals because their products are already endemic to the racing space. “There are ample opportunities to incorporate these products, whether it’s the cars that race in NASCAR for Dodge and Chevy, and soon to be Toyota,” said Mr. Siegel. “And that’s just a start. Motor oil, spark plugs, they’re all naturals.”
Racetracks make their own deals with sponsors and advertisers, however, and inevitably there’s the occasional dissonance between the track’s sponsors and those of network. In Charlotte, N.C., for example, Lowe’s Home Improvement sponsors the Motor Speedway, which means that Speed’s weekly show sponsored by Home Depot has to be downplayed.
“We are sensitive to track issues and work with the sponsor to enhance the on-air exposure while minimizing the on-site to address those sensitivities,” said Mr. Siegel. “On-air, we leave Home Depot on the screen, with the integrated show logo. On-site, we back it down.”
As Speed has become increasingly engaged in digital platforms such as video-on-demand, mobile and broadband, its sponsorships have also extended into multiplatform arrangements. Castrol Motor Oil is featured Saturdays and Sundays in “Engine Block,” a four-hour programming block that runs both days and is made up of how-to and car enthusiast programs. Speed has extended this linear programming into its VOD and online space, and limited sponsorship to Castrol and Craftsman Tools, the two sponsors of the programming.
Still, the complexities can approach the Byzantine, and require forethought. “Every year we sit down and lay out our strategies, and try to talk to all our partners and sponsors,” said Mr. Siegel. “We haven’t run into anything where we couldn’t find a creative solution.”