What role does a NASCAR driver play in determining whether a company will sponsor a race team? How often are sponsorship decisions made around who the driver of the race car is? Great questions to ask. Let’s dig in a little deeper to answer these and provide more insight into the level of impact a driver has on a NASCAR team sponsorship.
Drivers definitely have an impact on sponsorship decisions. Primarily because the driver becomes one of the very public faces and voices of the company’s product or service. When a driver puts on their branded fire suit and walks out to their branded race car to start the race, the driver represents that brand. So much so, that often the driver, the team, and the brand are synonymous to fans. NASCAR fans are the most brand loyal fans in sports. They know – and appreciate – their favorite driver’s sponsors and support them when possible. In the eyes of the fans, this association happens whether or not the driver intends to represent the brand or not.
The association between brand and driver - along with the level to which fans are loyal to the sport’s sponsors - is why the driver matters when you consider the larger sponsorship deal. When a team is selling sponsorship and the questions come up about “who is your driver?”, this company wants to make sure the driver’s characteristics and reputation align with their brand identity. For some sponsors, this is a very significant factor in the sponsorship decision. For others, the driver is a less important asset in the deal.
The thing to keep in mind is that at the heart of every sponsorship deal is a suite of assets. The sponsor is essentially purchasing rights to these assets to help promote their business. If the race team has offered up a variety of offerings like branding, hospitality options, business-to-business introductions and a social media campaign using the team’s social accounts – then the driver connection is just a portion of the overall package. However, if Company X wants to leverage the broad reach of Driver Y’s following on social media, now the driver has a greater impact.
Every race team has a suite of assets – things that the team owns, or controls – that can be packaged and sold as part of a sponsorship. To a certain extent, the driver is often included in the asset mix. But there are limits here, as the driver retains control over their own assets. What the team can or cannot include as part of a sponsorship package will largely depend on the contract, or agreement between the team and the driver.
While it sounds impersonal, the race team has to consider the driver as an asset. When we are having conversations with potential sponsors, we gauge the level of interest a company has in our driver – considering how important is being partnered with LFR, or our driver. We are then able to develop a customized solution to solve their challenges based on the feedback they provide. During the time we are getting to know the potential sponsor, we listen to how much or how important the driver might be to their business. For some companies, the driver is a high consideration of their partnering with us, for others the driver is a bonus, and not a critical element in the overall plan. Each company will differ when it comes to this. Our task is to listen well, ask good questions and develop solutions that match up and solve their problems. Sometimes this involves a heavy mix of driver interaction, other times it doesn’t.
In 2019, we partnered with Matt DiBenedetto to drive our race car and the year before that it was Kasey Kahne. Kasey was more popular, overall, than Matt, having been in the Cup Series longer and having won several races in his career. Sponsors we spoke with while Kasey drove the car knew of Kasey and his charm and as a result, we were asked about how much of Kasey’s likeness/time/branding could be used for a company’s sponsorship package. With Matt, he was known, but not to the degree Kasey was – thus we didn’t naturally receive as many requests to involve the driver in sponsor packages. However, once a sponsor got to know Matt, they fell in love with him as he is one of the most authentic, down to earth NASCAR drivers in the sport today. Matt is great at social media and is a natural on those platforms.
As we head into the 2020 season with Christopher Bell as our driver, we are presented another opportunity to share a young up-and-coming competitor with corporate America. Christopher is an all-American, clean-cut, well-spoken young man. Growing up in Oklahoma, he represents the American heartland and the hard workers that have had to fight for every opportunity they received.
To wrap it all up, YES, the driver has an impact of NASCAR team sponsorship. To what extent is the question that will be different with each company, driver and team. There are times when we see drivers change teams and the sponsor follows the driver. Other times, the sponsor stays with the team. That’s because each sponsor has unique goals for their program, and as part of the sponsorship deal the sponsor and team negotiate the right price for the right mix of assets (of which the driver is one) to accomplish those goals.