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For NASCAR Drivers, Rounding Up Sponsors A Big Part Of The Job

Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 21, 2015

By Michael Phillips

When one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers wins Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400, he or she will head to Gatorade Victory Lane at Richmond International Raceway and begin the celebration by thanking his or her sponsors.

About 20 minutes later, the driver will be in the same spot, posing for pictures while wearing the hat of a different sponsor every few seconds.

The handshakes and communication don’t end there. Everything in NASCAR is done with an eye toward the sponsors, and with good reason: It’s really expensive to field a competitive car.

A top team will spend about $25 million this year. At RIR on Saturday, each team will use $27,500 worth of tires, one of hundreds of line items that add up quickly.

As a result, the competition is equally fierce to attract, and retain, a primary sponsor. The most lucrative agreements — think Lowe’s and Jimmie Johnson — can run as high as $20 million annually.

Bass Pro Shops sponsors Austin Dillon’s car. Dillon said for the amount of money the chain invests, it expects a lot in return.

“You’ve got to be a marketable person,” he said. “Probably 50 percent of our time is spent working with our sponsors, making sure they’re happy and trying to put their brand out there.”

Sponsorships run at every level of the sport, from the drivers to the track and the series itself.

NASCAR’s top series, currently the Sprint Cup series, formerly Winston Cup and the Nextel Cup, will come open for bidding at the end of 2016. Sports Business Journal said NASCAR wants $1 billion over 10 years for the title rights.

At RIR, Saturday’s race is sponsored by Toyota, which signed a six-figure deal for the sponsorship, according to one source.

One of the drivers will be Clint Bowyer, who drives the 5-Hour Energy Toyota. Bowyer said the nice thing about selling sponsorship packages is that they actually work.

“Thankfully, our loyal fans see the products on the race cars and go out and buy the products,” he said. “I’ve seen it firsthand with all my sponsors over the years, from Jack Daniels to Peak Antifreeze, and now 5-Hour Energy. They see these products on the race cars and go out and put it in their lives.”

During the past decade, NASCAR has worked to make sponsorships more lucrative by introducing NASCAR “Fuel 4 Business.” At a handful of tracks each year (Richmond isn’t one of them), business executives who sponsor cars get together, network and pitch their products to one another.

Consulting group IEG estimates that Ford has sold more than 16,000 fleet cars to other businesses as a result of the initiative. Similarly, sponsors such as Office Depot and UPS can pitch directly to other big companies.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France said one of his priorities is lowering the cost of entry, to make the sport less reliant on big-money sponsors and open the series to more competitors.

“We want to have an open sport where if you’ve got the will to compete, we’re going to make it as easy as reasonably possible,” he said in January.

For now, though, the drivers will continue their routine of thanking their sponsors — acknowledging who foots the bill of their very expensive pastime.