Sponsorship Review: Atlanta Motor Speedway

ams.gifThis weekend I headed down to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Kobalt Tools 500 and left with a few takeaways that I wanted to share:

Sherwin Williams

Sherwin Williams did an exceptional job identifying an opportunity to brand golf carts at-track. The Sherwin Williams logo (located in front of the right rear wheel well) was visible everywhere at track; the branded golf carts were a great way for the company to bring its “Cover the Earth” slogan to life.


I am not buying Budweiser’s new branding strategy as “The Great American Lager”. Budweiser, traditionally known as The King of Beers, introduced the new slogan in recent months and it just doesn’t do the brand justice. Do Americans really consider Bud Heavy a lager? Did the beer give up its reign as King of Beers? In all, Budweiser’s presence at-track is significantly less with Dale Jr.’s departure. After this weekend, I am convinced that Anheuser-Busch will have a very difficult time convincing the American people that Kasey Kahne is a good brand fit, unless he starts winning (a lot).

Fan Demographics Are Not What They May Seem

As a sports marketer, do you think you have a good general grasp of who the 18-49 Caucasian American demographic is? Unless you have attended a NASCAR race, think again. One would be widely surprised to see that a large portion of the American populous does not match (or even come close to) their demographic generalizations. I am not going to even try to define a NASCAR fan, you just have to see for yourself.

If It’s Free, It’s Gone

Fans at-track will take anything they can get… for free. An activating sponsor that gives away free product (for trial, etc.) through an interactive game in Speedway Boulevard can strike gold with consumers. It doesn’t take a genius idea – a simple spin wheel or Plinko game (distributing collateral) are enough entertainment to have NASCAR fans wait in line for 20-30 minutes. NASCAR fan’s may not have a household income (HHI) that matches NFL or NBA fans, but one would be amazed to see the amount of disposable income that they spend at-track on a variety of items, merchandise, and beer.

Separate Yourself From the Rest of the Pack; Target Race Campgrounds

Dozens of the track’s corporate partners are paying thousands of dollars in site fees to target consumers in Speedway Boulevard, an extremely cluttered area where consumers are looking for entertainment and “free goods”. Why do sponsors continue to pay significant dollars to target fans when they are walking around in this mindset? Why aren’t more companies looking to spend their dollars more efficiently by re-allocating their dollars to enhance on-site staffing and collateral value and target fans in their campgrounds through a guerilla marketing tactic? Over a three-day race weekend, consumers spend an ample amount time at their campers and tents; a period of time when these persons are very open to sponsors that reach out and benefit their experience. By enhancing bathroom amenities at-track, Old Spice has effectively impacted the experience of many race fans at-track.

Dale Jr. is a Living Legend

Dale Jr. definitely belongs in the same league as Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan when it comes to being the People’s Champ. There is no question that Jr. is the overwhelming fan favorite at almost every racetrack around the nation. While Dale Jr’s sponsorship association (i.e. see below) does not seem as strong, his fanbase has never been stronger. Fans have quickly bought up the new Dale Jr. merchandise (Amp jackets, t-shirts, hats, etc.) and seem very responsive to Dale Jr.’s new position with Hendrick Motorsports. The Dale Jr. brand will definitely enhance Amp’s position in the marketplace, but how many consumers relate him with the National Guard? I am not buying this brand fit just yet, although the National Guard is in it for so many other reasons.

Track Security is a Concern

How many sports allow fans access to the performance level without a security check? Unfortunately, this should be a measure of concern for NASCAR and its individual tracks. While this statement doesn’t reflect all NASCAR tracks (i.e. Daytona, Indianapolis), it is frightening that in this day and age any person with a lanyard (resembling a lanyard) and a jacket can gain access to the infield (this even speaks to persons in golf carts). When cars enter the AMS infield, they often have to show a validated parking pass but they can gain access without officials checking their trunks and/or underbellies. Tightened security measures at-track may not align with the sport’s culture, but I would like to see NASCAR officials take a more proactive approach to preventing a potential track disaster (with 160,000+ fans in attendance).

Where are the Track Walks?

Campgrounds. Loyal Fans. Drinking. Sounds like SEC football right? The only thing missing are track walks (i.e. Tiger Walk, Gator Walk, Bulldog Walk, etc.). Why has this concept not yet reached the masses of the NASCAR crowd? SEC fans have grown accustomed to heading close to the track pre-game to welcome their team. If schedules permitted, why would a team like Hendrick do a track walk where fans could line up along a designated path to cheer on Team Hendrick as they walk/drive into the track? Even individual drivers could use this track introduction to build their fanbase.

NASCAR is Extremely Commercial But It Is A Way of Life

There is no fanbase more brand loyal than NASCAR fans. With rising performance costs, fans understand the role and importance of corporate sponsors in the sport and respond favorably. In how many other sports do we see this? Are there many other sports/forms of entertainment where a brand can directly impact the level of performance? If you are looking to build a holistic brand platform, look no further than how many sponsors build and activate their NASCAR programs. NASCAR is such a powerful play for sponsors because of its schedule (30+ race weekends per year), the size and reach of its fanbase (1 in 3 Americans are NASCAR fans), its ability to deliver on a regional and national scale, its level of stardom (Dale Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, etc.), and its strong media presence.

Always Account for Seasonality

Save yourself before learning the hard way: always account for seasonality (when signing contracts, forming execution/activation plans, etc.). During this weekend’s Kobalt Tools 500 weekend in Atlanta, the weather went from a snowy 20 degrees on Saturday morning to a mild 55 degrees on Sunday afternoon. The weather on Saturday morning was a contributing factor to a late Saturday race day crowd.

Designated Family Sections

While roaming the track I learned of many tracks offering “Designated Family Sections”, areas of the stadium where families can sit separate from the goons that bring cases of beer into the track to assist their race viewing experience. Is this something that most stadiums/arenas offer to their fanbase? This was actually the first that I have heard of such section – with the recent successes of All-You-Can-Eat sections and growing security concerns (i.e. NFL upper deck behavior issues), is this something that teams should look into offering? Most organizations offer family plans (Families Receive 4 Tickets, 4 Hot Dogs, and 4 Cokes for $44), but can we sweeten this deal with extra incentives (i.e. families in attendance get an exclusive meet-n-greet with a select player and his family; kids can play while female fans chat with team wives, etc.)?

Topless! Topless! Topless!

Returning to Charlotte on I-85, there is one of the greatest billboard campaigns in the nation. Café Risque has purchased six billboards in a row that read “Topless! Topless! Topless (with bright, bold lettering)! Despite being an example of a forced messaging tactic, the repetition of billboard messaging repetition does serve as an effective way to drive awareness.