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NASCAR’s Fuel for Business Council Working to Boost Business-to-business Deals between Sponsors

NASCAR Scene Daily, June 30, 2011

In the audience, representatives from 30 or so companies who serve as NASCAR sponsors or work with the sanctioning body look on. Scott’s job title is vice president of partnership marketing and business solutions. What that means is he spends much of his time trying to make sure corporate sponsors don’t get wandering eyes.

Which explains why Scott devotes time and quarterly meetings not just to telling the sanctioning body’s story of ever-improving business fortunes, but also to pairing sponsors up in speed dating strategy sessions aimed at spurring sales. In other words, Scott and NASCAR are preaching what has long been discussed by the sport’s savviest sponsors for years: Don’t just sell an association with NASCAR, sell within NASCAR to other sponsors.

“The concept is good,” says Jim Doyle, principal at Retail Sports Marketing, a frequent adviser to companies involved in racing. “The upside potential is tremendous.”

As is the downside of not offering such services. NASCAR’s version, dubbed the Fuel for Business Council, is another iteration of the sponsor summits that have become mandatory events in all of the major sports leagues and among teams.

The idea is to bring as many corporate backers together as possible once or several times per year, allowing them to share stories on what makes a sponsorship more effective while also providing meet-and-greet sessions allowing those sponsors to get to know one another and perhaps forge business ties of their own.

On a recent May morning in Charlotte, Scott’s audience included representatives of Chevy, Dodge and Ford, as well as Office Depot, Callaway Golf and the National Corn Growers Association. Presenters included Bank of America, a company in the final year of its NASCAR sponsorship contract, and a representative from the industry lobby promoting ethanol fuel (introduced in NASCAR competition this year).

NASCAR says Fuel for Business differs because it is much more focused on nurturing and completing business-to-business sales, with companies selling to each other (i.e., Office Depot convinces Bank of America to buy 50,000 staplers for its bank branches). The program launched in 2004. Among the examples NASCAR points to for making deals happen:

• Callaway shifted its shipping orders with fellow NASCAR backer UPS to 90 percent from 50 percent.

• Series sponsor Nationwide Insurance added $1 million in premiums through sales to Cintas employees

• Ford has sold more than 20,000 cars and trucks to fellow NASCAR sponsors since 2007.

There are 55 members in the NASCAR program (40 official sponsors plus industry partners). Quarterly meetings are held in various locations as part of race weekends, with some variety in topics. A typical example: the fall meeting in Texas will focus on technology.

Scott and other NASCAR reps coordinate the strategy sessions at the quarterly meetings. After first hearing a couple of presentations from member sponsors, attendees grab some lunch and then head into one-on-one meetings with companies who have an interest in discussing business possibilities.

NASCAR coordinates inquiries in advance, ensuring better odds of compatibility. A NASCAR rep also sits in on the session to help resolve any questions about the sport’s assistance or role in joint promotions and other ventures.

This process allows NASCAR a chance to follow up in subsequent days, prodding sponsors to work together and to work more in NASCAR. As Doyle, the marketing executive, says, “It’s an example of what could be a good value-add.”

With the amount of many NASCAR sponsors are spending on the decline, as it is in almost all sports leagues, the need to justify such deals and motivate related advertising has never been greater. Last month, IEG Sponsorship Report published its annual list of the top-spending companies for 2010 and noted that the three who dropped off all did so because of reduced or scrapped NASCAR sponsorships.

“The economy has forced this group to work even harder,” Scott says. “The good news is that it was working before the economy went south. It’s reinforced the value that it brings to the sponsorship. This is one very tangible, measurable asset.”