Few categories are as ubiquitous across the sponsorship landscape as automobile manufacturers.

With ties ranging from the arts to sports and just about everything in between, automakers have long used sponsorship to showcase new vehicles, reach new audiences and support brand positioning.

Automakers’ interest in sponsorship continues to grow as sales rebound from the depths of the Great Recession. Annual global auto sales in 2013 hit a record 82.8 million vehicles, according to consulting firm IHS Automotive.

Below, sponsorship activity, spending and strategy for the category’s ten most active players.  


 

General Motors Co.

Estimated 2013 global sponsorship spend: $266 million

Top Properties In Terms Of Spending:

  • Manchester United Football Club
  • National Football League
  • Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR team
  • Major League Baseball
  • Walt Disney World Resort

General Motors Co.

Chevy plays a starring role in GM’s sponsorship portfolio as the lead brand in the company’s five largest deals.

The auto giant has shifted its global sponsorship strategy after announcing the withdrawal of the Chevy brand from Europe beginning in 2015. GM dropped Chevy’s sponsorship of FC Liverpool but will keep the brand’s jersey deal with Manchester United, a partnership it will use to promote Chevy in Asian markets.

Chevy in July will kick off the seven-year Man U tie by sponsoring a pre-season game against the MLS Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Chevy will stream the match on www.ChevroletFC.com.

Chevy in 2013 expanded its presence in soccer with a three-year tie to U.S. Soccer. Buick’s sponsorship portfolio includes the NCAA and a new tie with pro golfer Shanshan Feng, while GMC sponsors the Calgary Stampede, Whistler Blackcomb resort and a smattering of sports leagues and teams.

With the exception of sponsorship of the World Golf Championships event in Miami, Cadillac’s focus is on proprietary events, and partnerships with publishers and other media companies.


 

Toyota Motor Corp.

Estimated 2013 Global Sponsorship Spend: $226 Million

Top Properties In Terms Of Spending

  • Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR team
  • Michael Waltrip Racing NASCAR team
  • Australian Football League
  • FIFA Club World Cup presented by Toyota
  • Toyota Center, Houston

Toyota Motor Corp.

Toyota is making a push further into the U.S. motorsports scene. It is set to replace Ford as the official automobile sponsor of the NHRA in 2015 and was the first major sponsor of Daytona International Speedway’s $400 million renovation. Toyota used the latter tie to celebrate its 10th anniversary in NASCAR.

New non-endemic deals include title of FC Dallas Stadium and sponsorship of Oprah Winfrey’s “The Life You Want” speaking tour.

On the renewal front, Toyota this year extended its partnership with the Australian Football League for another two years and BASS fishing tournaments through 2017.

Toyota activates its long-running tie to the FIFA Club World Cup with on-site vehicle displays and consumer engagement programs. The automaker also provides vehicles for team officials and tournament staff.

The portfolio for Toyota’s Lexus luxury division includes the NBA New York Knicks and Chicago’s United Center.


 

Volkswagen AG

Estimated 2013 Global Sponsorship Spend: $220 Million

Top Properties In Terms Of Spending

  • Vfl Wolfsburg (German Bundesliga club)
  • Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games
  • Brazilian Serie A (soccer league)
  • French Football Federation
  • Brazilian Football Confederation

Volkswagen AG

Volkswagen in 2013 doubled down on soccer following a global review of its sponsorship portfolio. Ties include Major League Soccer in the U.S., the Brazilian Football Federation and ownership of Vfl Wolfsburg, a team located in Volkswagen’s German hometown. The automaker has continued to expand its presence in soccer, including a new tie to the French Football Federation.

Volkswagen of America in 2013 adopted a new sponsorship strategy that focuses on two marketing platforms: soccer and cycling. As part of the new strategy the automaker dropped its long-running involvement in endurance sports including ties to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Long Beach International City Bank Marathon and Georgia’s Peachtree Road Race.

Volkswagen leverages MLS and USA Cycling to create national marketing platforms that provide local reach. Case in point: the automaker leverages MLS to access athletes, the MLS Cup and other assets that can be used to create in-market promotions.

VW’s Audi marque also is active in sponsorship, including deals with soccer clubs FC Bayern Munich, Real Madrid FC and FC Barcelona.


 

Ford Motor Co.

Estimated 2013 Global Sponsorship Spend: $183 Million

Top Properties In Terms Of Spending

  • UEFA Champions League
  • AT&T Stadium, Dallas
  • Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR team
  • New Zealand Rugby Union
  • Professional Bull Riders

Ford Motor Co.

Ford this year announced it will end its 21-year-old partnership with UEFA Champions League at the conclusion of the 2014 season. Currently, the automaker is leveraging the tie to support the launch of the Ford Mustang in Europe.

Ford also is an active sponsor of music, a platform it uses to engage young adults and showcase vehicle technology. The automaker in 2013 worked with Live Nation to create a digital content series on LiveNation.com that featured music fans using a Ford Fiesta to locate items for their favorite bands’ tour riders.

Ford in 2013 announced that it will drop its partnership with the NHRA, John Force Racing and other NHRA teams at the conclusion of the 2014 season. The company will maintain a presence in drag racing at the grassroots level.

The automaker sponsors the Professional Bull Riders on behalf of the Built Ford Tough brand platform. Ford activates the tie with Clash of the Cowboys, a webisode series and promotion that dangles tickets to the PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals.

Ford over the past two years has used sponsorship to promote its Lincoln luxury brand. Lincoln focuses on three marketing platforms: thought leadership, art and design. Ties include the Grammys, Film Independent Spirit Awards and a new partnership with the Tribeca Film Festival presented by AT&T.


 

Nissan Motor Co.

Estimated 2013 Global Sponsorship Spend: $163 Million

Top Properties In Terms Of Spending

  • Infiniti Red Bull Racing F1 team
  • Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games
  • NCAA
  • Club de Regatas Vasco da Gama (Brazilian soccer team)
  • Royal Spanish Football Federation

Nissan Motor Co.

Nissan’s sponsorship strategy is going through a major transition as the company places more focus on global properties.

In a deal that will represent its largest sponsorship, Nissan will replace Ford as the official automobile sponsor of the UEFA Champions League at the conclusion of the 2014 season. The four-year sponsorship includes branding at Champions League matches, media, hospitality and a host of other benefits.

Nissan also will sponsor Rio 2016, around which it will provide 4,500 vehicles to transport athletes, journalists and officials during the games.

Nissan North America, Inc. has dropped its long-running involvement in cycling (Team RadioShack, Amgen Tour of California, etc.), marathons (Boston Marathon, TCS New York City Marathon, etc.) and other endurance sports events as it transitions its portfolio to support corporate’s new global strategy.

Luxury line Infiniti’s sponsorships include the NCAA and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Infiniti reportedly plans to drop its partnership with the Infiniti Red Bull Racing F1 team at the completion of the 2015 season.


 

Daimler AG

Estimated 2013 Global Sponsorship Spend: $139 Million

Top Properties In Terms Of Spending

  • Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team
  • German Soccer Federation
  • USTA US Open
  • Mercedes-Benz Arena, Stuttgart
  • Mercedes-Benz Fashion Weeks

Daimler AG

Mercedes-Benz sponsors high-profile sport, fashion and cultural events to promote its premium positioning, showcase its vehicles and engage customers and prospects.

Mercedes activates its sponsorship of the US Open with an on-site brand center where attendees can view the automaker’s latest vehicles. The company also provides complimentary parking to Mercedes owners.

The automaker in 2013 expanded its long-running involvement in golf through a worldwide partnership of The Masters beginning at the 2014 tournament. Mercedes-Benz this year signed on as the official car partner of the Hong Kong Golf Assn. and title sponsor of the annual HKGA Mercedes-Benz Classic.

On the tennis front, Mercedes in 2013 inked a multiyear partnership with the ATP that affords official status at the Barclays ATP World Finals. The company provides S-Class and other vehicles for tournament staff and players.


 

Hyundai

Estimated 2013 Global Sponsorship Spend: $91 Million

Top Properties In Terms Of Spending

  • FIFA
  • UEFA
  • 24 NCAA college athletic programs (IMG)
  • Hyundai Tournament of Champions (PGA Tour tournament)
  • Chinese Football Association

Hyundai

Hyundai sponsors on its own and with sister brand Kia Motors Co.

Hyundai sponsorships include 24 college athletic programs, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions PGA Tour stop and the Chinese Football Assn., while Hyundai/Kia ties include FIFA and UEFA.

Hyundai Motor America credits its sponsorship of college sports with building brand perception and purchase consideration: 71 percent of fans surveyed said they had an improved opinion of Hyundai as a result of the sponsorship, while 68 percent were at least somewhat likely to consider buying a Hyundai vehicle.

Hyundai in 2013 extended its three-year-old title of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions through 2015. The automaker uses the sponsorship in part to promote its premium Genesis and Equus vehicles.

Other Kia ties include the Australian Open, NBA and Kia X Games Asia.


 

BMW AG

Estimated 2013 Global Sponsorship Spend: $71 Million

Top Properties In Terms Of Spending

  • MotoGP
  • BMW Championship (PGA Tour tournament)
  • BMW Masters (European Tour tournament)
  • French Rugby Federation
  • European Tour

BMW AG

With more than 25 years in golf and 40 years in the arts, BMW has long used sponsorship to promote the BMW brand promise of creativity and innovation. From a global perspective, the automaker focuses on three platforms: motorsports, golf and sailing, all of which it uses to support its premium brand positioning.

BMW activates sponsorship to showcase its engineering prowess. BMW Designworks USA helped redesign the U.S. Bobsled team’s two-man bobsled for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. The automaker promoted its involvement with the team through a documentary dubbed Driving on Ice that ran on NBC, NBCOlympics.com and BMW.com. BMW also showed the documentary in dealerships.

BMW partnered with the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2010 on a six-year deal.

BMW owns the European Tour’s BMW International Open, a golf tournament located near the company’s hometown of Munich.


 

Chrysler Group LLC

Estimated 2013 Global Sponsorship Spend: $38 Million

Top Properties In Terms Of Spending

  • Juventus Football Club (Italy)
  • Professional Rodeo Cowboys Assn.
  • Winter X Games
  • Kentucky Derby/Churchill Downs
  • Red Bull Signature Series

Chrysler Group LLC

Chrysler Group sponsors on behalf of its brands—namely Jeep, Ram Truck and Dodge.

Jeep is tied to Juventus FC and in 2014 marked its 11th year as the exclusive automotive sponsor of ESPN’s Winter XGames. Jeep used the event to launch a new TV advertising campaign for the Jeep Wrangler Polar Edition. The brand activated the tie with the “Polar Quest” online sweepstakes that dangled a Jeep Wrangler and other prizes.

Ram claims two of the other top Chrysler Group sponsorships—exclusive automotive sponsor of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs racetrack for the past five years, and official automotive sponsor of the PRCA, a partnership that began in 1982 under the Dodge brand.

Dodge sponsors music tours, action sports and other properties that support the brand’s positioning of power, passion and performance. Ties include Mötley Crüe’s tour—a sponsorship that supports the use of the band’s songs in TV ads for the Dodge Charger and Challenger—and the Red Bull Signature Series of action sports events, a partnership designed to promote the Dodge Dart to millennials.


 

Honda

Estimated 2013 Global Sponsorship Spend: $36 Million

Top Properties In Terms Of Spending:

  • Honda Center
  • Disneyland
  • National Hockey League
  • Honda Classic (PGA Tour tournament)
  • Indy Racing League IZOD IndyCar Series

Honda

Honda has not made any splashy new deals in recent years, instead sticking with a diverse portfolio that includes sports, music, festivals and more.

While many automakers are hesitant about committing to long-term relationships, Honda is the exception. The company has sponsored the Honda Civic Tour for 13 years, Little League Baseball for 18 years and the Honda Classic PGA Tour stop for more than three decades.

Honda’s music portfolio includes the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas and the Governors Ball Music Festival in New York City. The automaker activates the festivals with the Honda PhotoBooth, online sweepstakes and social media platforms built around the #HondaStage hashtag.

Luxury division Acura’s sponsorships include the Sundance Film Festival and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell.