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How to Find and Keep Better Sponsors

Finding Racing Sponsors

Let’s face it, racing is an expensive sport. Even if you are racing in the Hobby Stock classes, the bills can add up quickly.

That’s why, unless you’ve already earned yourself a sizeable fortune, securing a quality sponsor or two (or more, if we’re honest) is nearly as important as skill behind the wheel. After all, nobody doubts there are plenty of super-talented drivers out there that never got the chance to win championships they were certainly capable of because they lacked the finances to put a competitive race car on the track.

[quote align=”alignright” width=”200″]Let’s face it, racing is an expensive sport.[/quote]To that end, we hope to provide you with some quality tips on finding—and keeping—the sponsorship you need to help your racing operation succeed. And the first rule is simple: Start now. If you wait until you need sponsorship from a company to start building a relationship it’s too late. Sponsorship is all about relationships, and building relationships takes time.

The key with relationships is they are always a two-way street. Simply expecting a company to write you a check in return for a decal somewhere on the car isn’t going to cut it. Even the most popular drivers in NASCAR’s Sprint cup Series make appearances and shoot commercials to help boost their value to sponsors. So if they have to go to those lengths, just imagine what you will need to do.

You must also consider that even if a company is large enough to have a marketing department, they aren’t going to spend a lot of time thinking about your racing program—all their energies are focused on their products. So before you even try to secure a meeting with a potential sponsor, make sure you are prepared to explain to them how you can specifically and measurably increase their business.

Securing and keeping a sponsor is a tough business. You must over-deliver at every opportunity, both before you get the sponsor and certainly after they have agreed to support your racing efforts.

No matter what class you race, there are ways you can be beneficial to a potential sponsor.

No matter what class you race, there are ways you can be beneficial to a potential sponsor.

Know Your Potential Sponsor’s Market

Before you can properly pitch a potential sponsor, you have to know who they are marketing to. Generally, you can break down their ideal market into two areas, “the pits” and “the stands.”

Pit area focused marketing includes companies whose products or services are used by racers. This includes parts manufacturers, tire companies, racing fuel distributors and others. These companies don’t usually care how many fans are in the grandstands, they just want to know how you can get other racers to purchase their products.

[quote align=”alignright” width=”200″]The hard part isn’t getting a sponsor, the hard part is keeping a sponsor.[/quote]Grandstand focused marketing includes companies with products that are purchased and consumed by everybody. These include restaurants, casinos, service companies, and companies with products that have a wide consumer base (everything from ice cream to dish washing detergent). Companies with a grandstand-focused marketing program market to the general public and will want to know how you will drive fans from the race track to their business.

At first it may seem like working with a pit-area focused company will be the easier choice. But you have to be aware that it does have a few very specific requirements. First of all, you have to be a good racer. No one will want to purchase any products you endorse if you are consistently finishing in the back of the pack. But just as important, you have to be helpful and actually willing to assist your competition. To be effective, you can’t just win, you have to be willing to prove to your competition that your sponsors played a role in gaining that victory. A perfect example is the Rocket house car teams of Josh Richards and Brandon Sheppard. Although they are definitely at the race track to win, both the drivers and their crews are constantly approached by other Rocket drivers at the track with questions about setups and how to make their own cars faster. And as far as we’ve seen, no one approaching respectfully (when the team isn’t thrashing on the car or about to leave for staging) and with legitimate questions has ever been turned away.

Know Your Potential Sponsor’s Scope

Your racing schedule will play a big role in the type of companies you are most likely to be able to benefit though sponsorship. Take, for example, McDonalds. McDonalds has restaurants nationwide and will be looking to any marketing program to be able to cast a net as wide as possible. Meanwhile, the owner of a muffler shop with only one location cannot benefit from sponsoring a racing operation that follows a touring series that spans several states.

If you race a home track each week, search out potential sponsors that also marketing in that area. If this describes you, the owner of a single muffler shop (or restaurant, or carpet cleaning service, etc) will most likely be your ideal marketing partner. You can benefit each other the best. On the other hand, if you are a touring operation racing at a different track each week, the local business owner may not be as good a match for what you can offer versus a company that is trying to sell a product nationwide.

Two Primary Types of Sponsorship You Can Target

There are two types of sponsorship you can target. The first, and probably most common, is a product sponsorship. A products sponsorship—where the manufacturer actually provides you with its products versus cash—is much easier to attain compared to a financial sponsorship. It is also the most logical place to start when searching for sponsorship. Your goal with this type of sponsorship should be to over-deliver and grow it into a financial sponsorship. If handled correctly, most product sponsors will continue to offer support for many years and in many cases, your entire racing career.

If you benefit from a product sponsorship, that means you will have to help other racers understand how that product can help them. Drivers of house cars for chassis manufacturers even have to be willing to share setup tips with their competition.

If you benefit from a product sponsorship, that means you will have to help other racers understand how that product can help them. Drivers of house cars for chassis manufacturers even have to be willing to share setup tips with their competition.

Financial sponsorship, on the other hand, is normally extremely tough to find and virtually impossible to secure without some sort of existing relationship. To gain a financial sponsor you must be innovative and able to prove to the potential sponsor that you can bring in a significant return on his investment. If you can help a company make money they will happily support your racing program, but proving it will be tough.

It is All About Relationships

If all a potential sponsor wanted was for people to see its logo at the race track, instead of paying you to put its logo on your hood, it could spend $100 for a billboard on the backstretch and be done with it.

But as a racer you can offer much more—you can build a relationship and actively market that company to their benefit. But that requires you to make a commitment to that company. Ben Shelton not only works as an announcer on the World of Outlaws Late Model series, he also works with many race teams, tracks and even sanctioning bodies to help match them up with potential sponsors.

[quote align=”alignright” width=”200″]“The moral of the story is you’ve got to be in for the long haul, and you’ve got to grow your sponsors.”[/quote]“The hard part isn’t getting a sponsor, the hard part is keeping a sponsor,” he says. “The reality is the hard part is getting a sponsor to stick around once you get them. Because I’ve seen so many times once a racer or a team gets that money they forget about the sponsor’s needs and quit taking care of them. That’s why I always say the real work begins once you get the sponsor.

“A lot of times you are going to want $10,000 from them and they are only going to give you a hundred bucks,” he continues. “But don’t give up on them. If you are able to make that hundred dollar sponsor feel like a $10,000 sponsor then down the road they are more likely to up their commitment to you.

“The perfect example is the Comp Cams Super Late Model Series. When I first got involved with it, they wanted Comp to be involved with the series in a big time way. But when Comp Cams first got involved didn’t come in with a ton of money but a jacket. They gave a jacket to the driver that had the most feature wins during the season. In one pocket was $500 and in the other pocket was a $500 product certificate.

“At the time the series was called the Mid South Racing Association, and they were kind of bummed about it. But I told them to make them feel like a big time sponsor and give them a reason to stick around. You’ve got to prove yourself. And they went above and beyond and now Comp Cams is the title sponsor of the series.

“The moral of the story is you’ve got to be in for the long haul, and you’ve got to grow your sponsors.”

Promise … And then Over Deliver

So what can you do to keep and grow a sponsor? Glad you asked. There are lots of things you can do, but here are a few options:

  • Take advantage of social media and build an online fan base. Get out regular updates not only on race results and where you will be racing next, but also any promotions your sponsor may be having. This point used to be about building a website, but these days social media like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest are the heavyweights and not to be ignored. If you have a team website, make sure you use it to promote your sponsor as well.
  • Get to know and be friends with the track announcers and photographers. You will need their help and all the publicity they can offer. Always make sure the track announcer has a one-page bio on yourself and your sponsor listing.
  • Attend trade and racing shows—both national like PRI and local—and make an effort to meet future sponsors and career influencers. Never solicit sponsorships at these events. It’s all about forming and building relationships.
  • Send photos and regular updates both to existing and potential sponsors. Photos are always needed for marketing and advertising materials. Highlight your successes. Now that we live in a digital age this is easier than ever.
  • Make your car available to the sponsor to draw fans. Maybe you can park it in front of his facility to draw a crowd or take it to community events. Getting people to see that big logo on the hood doesn’t always have to take place at the race track. Does your community have a local fair? Even if you have to put it on a trailer, see if you can be a part of the local Christmas parade. You get the idea. Of course, this means you have to keep your car in good shape and clean. A race car that looks like its next lap will be to the crusher doesn’t impress anybody.
  • Be approachable and friendly. Sometimes it’s fun to play the villain on the race track but if other racers and fans in the stands have the urge to spit every time they say your name, your usefulness to existing and potential sponsors will be severely limited. The same thing holds for your personal life—don’t show up on the police blotter.

Think Outside the Box

Instead of asking for money, this team worked a deal with a restaurant, Buddy's Point, to occasionally feed their hardworking volunteer crew a good meal.

Instead of asking for money, this team worked a deal with a restaurant, Buddy’s Point, to occasionally feed their hardworking volunteer crew a good meal.

One of the best ways to gain a new sponsor’s attention is to give them a plan they’ve never heard before. Try to find ways that can benefit your racing program while minimizing the cost to the sponsor.

For example, we know of one team that has worked out sponsorship from a nearby restaurant/entertainment venue. No money changes hands, but the restaurant feeds the crew weekly. Since most of the race crew are volunteers, being able to treat them to a nice meal is a great way to thank them for their hard work. The restaurant, meanwhile, doesn’t mind feeding a few extra mouths once a week and the race team actually draws a crowd.

Another idea is to help show other racers how to make the most of their product. If your sponsor manufactures a racing component, make a YouTube video showing how that part is installed and used to its best advantage. You are racing with the part anyway, so shooting the video can simply be added to your normal maintenance routine.

 

We’d love to hear any tips you may have on getting and sponsor and growing it. Leave your tips and examples of thinking outside the box in the comments below.


Post A Comment

  • April 8, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Great article and tips! I love the focus on building relationships and a fan base. So many try to go for sponsorship first and promising that they can do certain things instead of showing their fans and prospects these things, like video and photo shoots, first.

    Reply
  • Beau says:
    April 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    $100 billboard on the back straight away? Might want to edit the article and add a zero to that, as most tracks $100 will get you a business card sized ad in a flyer or program

    Reply
  • Smitty says:
    April 18, 2014 at 8:11 am

    This is an excellent article, and one that drivers and owners would be wise to put into practice. Exceptional content and advice. Thank you! If drivers and owners would routinely execute these ideas, our sport would not only survive – but thrive.

    Reply
  • hotrod says:
    April 18, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    20 years ago that 8 ft sign cost $3600 per year and the main thing the potential sponsor wants is a winner and to get more customers in his door

    Reply

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