Small properties can get sponsorship from big companies. And big companies can get good results from such deals.

Those are the lessons from Jeep’s first-year title sponsorship of a three-event adventure racing series produced by Genesis Adventures, an endurance sports event organizer with slightly more than 3,000 names in its database.

The sponsorship was a success because even though the property does not have hundreds of thousands of spectators nor a TV deal, it offered access to a targeted and passionate audience, as well as a turnkey activation idea.

Genesis Adventures director of marketing and sponsorship Jon Fontane initially approached Jeep corporate with a proposal for last year’s 12-Hour Adventure Racing Series-which attracts about 150 participants per event-and was directed to DaimlerChrysler Corp.’s Northeast Business Center, as the events take place in the region.

The marque took the estimated low-five-figure deal for two reasons, said Adam Murfree, Northeast marketing manager for Chrysler/Jeep. The primary reason was that Genesis Adventures offered a unique activation idea that made use of the property’s best asset: its extremely loyal race participants.

Fontane suggested that the automaker allow participants in Genesis Adventures events to buy new Jeep vehicles through Chrysler Group’s Friends and Family program, which allows the purchase or lease of a new vehicle at two percent under the list price. Typically, the program only is available to Chrysler Group employees as part of their benefits package.

Fontane modeled the program on similar discount programs he has developed with other sponsors, including Bear Naked Granola; Orca Gear, Inc. jackets and Wrightenberry Mills, Inc. Wrightsocks. Bear Naked, for example, offers racers a 10 percent discount when they purchase granola through a designated Web site.

“Adventure racing doesn’t have a lot of name recognition or TV coverage,” Fontane said. “But what it does have is a lot of passionate fans who realize they have to support sponsors to keep the sport alive.”

As evidence of that, Jeep says it sold eight vehicles last year as the direct result of the sponsorship.

Although it is extremely uncommon for Chrysler Group divisions to use the employee discount program to activate a sponsorship, in this case the idea made perfect sense, said Murfree. “The Friends and Family program lends itself to a property of this size. Frankly, if we had made significantly more sales, it would probably have stressed our relationship.”

The secondary reason that Jeep was interested in the series, Murfree said, was that the events leveraged corporate’s tie-in with adventure racing through the year-old TV anthology program Jeep World of Adventure Sports, produced by NBC Sports and agency Aura360. “The demographics of the adventure racer line up perfectly with the Jeep customer,” he said.

Genesis Adventures’ participants have an average age of 32 and average annual income of $75,000, with more than 90 percent holding managerial or professional positions. Seventy percent are male.

Jeep recently renewed the Genesis Adventures series title through a two-year deal that adds cosponsorship of other events including a half-marathon in upstate New York. Murfree hopes to have on-site activation at six to eight Genesis races in ’05 and hopes to sell between 25 and
30 vehicles.

Jeep’s Regional Structure
The Northeast Business Center is one of eight DaimlerChrysler regional offices that act as a link between the automaker and its dealers. Marketing managers, who often are responsible for multiple DaimlerChrysler nameplates–as Murfree is–oversee regional sponsorships. The Northeast office is responsible for New England, New York and New Jersey.

Business Centers, working with local dealer groups, both initiate and support locally grown sponsorship programs. The offices have their own budgets but often will tap dealers or dealer groups to help fund sponsorship activation.

Other properties sponsored by the Northeast region include the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance on behalf of Chrysler and the athletics program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on behalf of Jeep.

DaimlerChrysler’s other Business Centers are located in the Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Orlando and Washington, D.C. areas. Local dealerships can forward proposals to the appropriate contacts.