On the Thursday before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, decision makers from a who’s who list of Fortune 500 companies gathered in a meeting space at the trendy Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Sipping Coca-Cola around tables as salsa music beat over the room’s speakers, the Fortune 500 movers and shakers brokering deals were in the room for one reason: NASCAR brought them.
When it comes to sports properties, NASCAR boasts one of the most extensive lists of corporate sponsors. This racing season, the number of official NASCAR partners neared 60. The value a corporation reaps in partnering with NASCAR is vast in the sense that every Sunday, their logo travels around a race track in front of millions of eyes. Yet, in an economic age where corporations have limited budgets to spend on sports marketing, NASCAR recognized that it must provide a greater return on investment for its official partners. “So many partners are looking for return on investment,” said NASCAR’s vice president of partnership marketing, Norris Scott.
Wanting to provide its corporate sponsors with more return on their investment, NASCAR created its Fuel For Business Council. The council provides NASCAR’s official partners the opportunity to engage in quarterly business-to-business meetings where they can buy and sell goods, forge marketing partnerships and network. “Nine years ago, NASCAR had a group of partners get together to talk about more ways they could drive value out of their sponsorship. Naturally, one of the options was to create a platform for our partners to get business back from their sponsorship investment,” Scott said.
Today, the NASCAR Fuel For Business Council allows NASCAR’s official partners to meet quarterly at NASCAR-hosted events to buy and sell products from one another. In the business-to-business environment facilitated by NASCAR, official partners not only buy and sell products, but also learn from one another how to best benefit from their partnership with NASCAR. “It makes good business sense to give our partners a platform to grow their businesses. Nobody is immune to the economy. That fact plays an even more important role, because marketers are scrutinizing their overall budgets. Sports marketing isn’t immune to that scrutiny. The opportunities the NASCAR Fuel For Business Council provides allows our official partners more of a measure of the return on their investment,” Scott explained.
Ford Motor Company is one official NASCAR partner that has benefited from the opportunities that the NASCAR Fuel For Business Council provides. A participant in the council since its creation, Ford Motor Company has utilized the council to drive its “Partner Recognition Program.” Through this program, Ford Motor Company offers other official NASCAR partners’ employees the opportunity to purchase its vehicles at discounted costs, and also works with official partners to supply their fleet vehicle needs.
The return on investment Ford Motor Company has seen in taking its business to NASCAR’s Fuel For Business Council meetings is vast. In 2012, Ford Motor Company sold over 5,500 vehicles to NASCAR official partners. One of its largest vehicle sales resulting from the partnership in 2012 was worth over $5 million.
For Ford Motor Company, the value garnered through the NASCAR Fuel For Business council’s business-to-business meetings brings an extra layer of worth to its NASCAR investment. “It’s a real big win-win for us, because it allows us to measure some of our investment into the sport. With what Ford and the auto industry have been through, it’s been a challenge from an investment standpoint to decide where to use marketing dollars. You want to be able to measure a return on any of your expenditures when you are reaching out to customers in an advertising marketing way. For the dollars we spend in the sport, we want to calculate a return on investment. One of the best ways to do that in NASCAR, is to not only calculate it based upon what’s going on on the track and the impressions made through the media, but also behind the scenes from a business-to-business standpoint,” said Ford Racing’s motorsports marketing manager, Tim Duerr.
While the opportunity to engage with other official partners in a business-to-business environment is valuable, perhaps the best thing NASCAR provides to support its Fuel For Business council is a layer of accountability. Each NASCAR official partner is assigned to a NASCAR account manager. That account manager ensures that official partners meet with the corporations they want to engage with at council meetings. Furthermore, after the meetings, the account manager follows up with all parties to help facilitate the conclusion of transactions. “With the way NASCAR has structured the program and how they bring people together to build relationships and follow up to hold you accountable, it really gives you a second level of coverage to make sure that the thoroughness is there,” Duerr commented.
The commitment to the council’s success is one not only held by Duerr and NASCAR, but shared by all official partners who participate. “A couple of things make the council special. For one, it’s all about exclusivity in the room. Even though the partners in the room may be competitors in the sport, they know that when they enter the room to do business, they have the advantage of their competitors not being in the room. The other piece that makes this successful is the commitment the partners have. They are all trying to find that return on investment,” NASCAR’s Scott noted.
Going into its tenth year of existence, NASCAR’s Fuel For Business council is only getting fired up. When it comes to future plans of how the council can benefit NASCAR’s official partners, Scott notes, “We want to continue to be innovative.” For a sports entity that provides its sponsors with a business-to-business opportunity unlike that of any other sports entity, innovation should not be hard to find moving forward.