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rEvolution has lived in the world of motorsports since its inception nearly 20 years ago. In this time, its Consulting & Research team has developed a keen awareness of trends and tendencies in NASCAR, from brands to the fans its reaches. As the sport and its fan base evolve, it is more important now than ever that NASCAR team sponsors are strategic, forward-thinking and creative in their spending to ensure that their investment works for them.

So what should they be asking themselves as they craft team sponsorship packages? In our research, we have identified five key questions all NASCAR team sponsors should have answers to before cutting that next check to their teams and drivers:

  1. Is NASCAR as sponsor-friendly as it used to be?
    NASCAR’S reputation as the most sponsor-friendly of all sports is well-founded. Approximately 75% of fans view NASCAR sponsors as being “brands for people like them” and “leading companies, vital to the existence of the sport.” This area well exceeds the performance rEvolution generally sees with other major leagues. It is important that so many fans feel that NASCAR is dependent on sponsors since this drives what we call the “reward factor.” This is the feeling fans have that if they support the sponsor with their business, the sponsor will continue to support their sport; and it is one of the main reasons why sponsorship changes buying patterns. Sharing an interest and being “for me and my family” are the drivers of the “tribal factor,” which is another key way in which sponsorship can influence purchase behavior. It is extremely rare for a sport to have strong tribe and reward factors. Most fans know leagues like the NFL and NBA can survive on TV money alone, and this combination is what makes NASCAR so valuable to sponsors.
  2. How many races is too many for team sponsors to invest in?
    In multiple rEvolution studies, NASCAR fans were asked how many race primaries the sponsor of their favorite driver would need to retain in order for them to continue to give the sponsor tribe and reward benefits (i.e., positively impact purchase intent). The average is 58–64% of the season, making the sweet spot 24 races.

    Consider this another way: only a quarter of fans think the sponsor needs to keep every single primary.

    But what is fallout? In order to assess how fans would react if a primary sponsor of one of the more popular drivers cut its sponsorship back, rEvolution asked fans how they would react to such a move. Most fans would be tolerant of the move as long as a replacement sponsor stepped in, but if one did not, then most fans would have a real problem with the move. Regardless of the replacement sponsor, around 30% of fans said the move would lower their opinion of the sponsor cutting back, and 41% said it would make them less proactive about choosing the sponsor’s services.
  3. How important are race wins for ROI and how many should sponsors require for bonus payouts?
    Bonus terms is a potential area of cost savings for many brands when it comes to their sponsorship of drivers and teams. For new drivers, winning at least three races in a year has a dramatic impact on establishing their fan base and enhancing sponsorship recall. However, wins are not a real factor in sponsor impact for an established driver (e.g., Jimmie Johnson). Winning championships, however, still matters even for the most popular drivers. For example, Jimmie’s fan base increased significantly during the era when he won consecutive titles, as did his sponsors’ recall. Winning two races or less is not enough to break through the clutter in a meaningful way. Hence, there is no real value in awarding a bonus to your driver for winning one or two races a year— team sponsors should consider structuring bonuses around that third or fourth win rather than first or second, giving brands their money’s worth.
  4. How important is it to sponsor a top-5 driver?
    Though more expensive, data shows that a top-5 driver generally equates to a top-5 performing sponsor. If you can’t afford to sponsor a top-5 driver for our recommended 24 races (or even half that), sponsoring an upper echelon driver for 3-4 races with dedicated, full activation around that short sponsorship will net far better results than backing a discount driver for half a season.Remember, just because a driver is successful on the track, it doesn’t automatically translate to sponsor success; driver likeability has a huge impact on sponsor ROI. Reasons for liking drivers has remained remarkably consistent over the years across NASCAR studies: the key to attracting new fans for a NASCAR driver is “liking his style.” Certainly other factors help (name recognition, winning races, etc.), but the driver’s personal style as being someone the fans can respect and aspire to be like remains the key.

    Highly polarizing drivers (those with as many “lovers” as “haters”) have a direct impact on their effect on a sponsored brand. rEvolution has worked on behalf of a client that saw the same number of fans that said that the sponsorship lowered their opinion of the brand as fans said it raised their opinion. The sponsor switched drivers and embraced one that had none of the former driver’s negatives – more than half the fans liked him while only 4% disliked him. This transformed impact on brand opinion, with 37% saying it raised their opinion versus only 1% lowering. There was a similar effect on purchase impact.
  5. Is running NASCAR-themed commercials worthwhile?
    rEvolution typically finds that the sponsors who do best (or outperform their driver’s base popularity and performance) are those who use the driver in NASCAR-themed creative, especially if it has a humorous theme. rEvolution has worked with a client who ran themed ads early in the season, but then switched to non-NASCAR standard media inventory ads in the latter half. While its driver’s performance was consistent throughout the season, each of its key metrics declined without the ads.Brands who produce and run NASCAR-themed spots see three times the success than those who simply run spots based on their product or service alone. Integrating their drivers and the sport more effectively ties the brand association to the driver and car, driving brand affinity and consideration significantly.

rEvolution has lived in the motorsports space for nearly two decades, providing valuable research data and expert consulting to our clients. Reach out to see how we can deliver for your brand.