Faced with heightened demands from its official partners, NASCAR is responding with a series of new programmes to freshen its business-to-business council and create more retail opportunities for its consumer brands.

It's part of a year-long initiative that evolved out of a cry from official partners to provide new opportunities in the midst of the recession. NASCAR has been floating three new programmes to partners in the past few weeks: an employee-only NASCAR website, exclusive cinema advertising and a partner-only sweepstakes for 2010.

"What we've been charged with is building a larger library of assets for our partners," said Norris Scott, NASCAR's managing director of partnership marketing and business solutions. "One question we get a lot, due to the economy, is, 'What else can I get as part of my investment?' What we're working on are tools that partners can utilise so that they're getting greater value."

The chief gripe among official partners was, once you get past the business-to-business opportunities and use of the NASCAR logo, what else is there? How can NASCAR facilitate new business opportunities for the partners beyond the B2B council?

These questions have been around for years, but they've intensified during the recession, Scott said, as marketing chiefs feel the heat to show greater return for their investment. Those official partner deals typically go for $1 million to $3 million a year.

"It's been newfound business that was brought to us on a plate," Coca-Cola's Ben Reiling said of a recent NASCAR-driven retail programme at a grocery chain called Brookshire's across a four-state region.

Reiling, Coke's director of motorsports, said it was refreshing for NASCAR to organise a programme with other consumer brands that generated incremental sales "for a small fee."

Official partners with consumer-packaged goods include Kraft, Mars, Unilever, Kellogg's and Procter & Gamble, all of which participated. Combining these brands with Coca-Cola, Diet Coke and Coke Zero in prominent store displays drives sales, Reiling said.

"Some partners might utilise the business-to-business council, others don't," Scott said. "But the key is that we now have other assets and some added flexibility for our partners. What we're providing is an exclusive space for partners to promote their business."

A deal with Screenvision, an ad agency that controls about half of the nation's cinema advertising inventory. provides official partners with advertising opportunities at reduced rates. Screenvision sells the ad inventory from theatres such as Loews Cineplex, Carmike and Cinemark, including preshow advertising on the screen to in-lobby kiosks and popcorn bags.

NASCAR's deal with Screenvision secured 90 seconds before the movie for unique branded NASCAR content that will include an official partner. The first content will appear in January or February. That content could be a standard commercial or specially developed behind-the-scenes video. NASCAR Media Group will assist with production.

Through its ability to regionalise the advertising through its cinemas across the country, Screenvision also can help promote races and ticket sales leading up to events in that area.

NASCAR officials wouldn't divulge the financial terms of the deal, but industry sources said the official partners will receive discounted ad rates and content opportunities in exchange for Screenvision's official status.

Brookshire's 150 stores are in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, including one in the infield at Texas Motor Speedway. The "Chase for the Savings" promotion at Brookshire's included a Sprint Cup ticket giveaway, discounts on participating products and VIP trips to Las Vegas for NASCAR's Champions Week activities.

NASCAR's B2B programme, renamed the Fuel for Business Council, also saw the need to expand its benefits. Some of the companies that had participated in the B2B programme expressed that as NASCAR continues to shrink its list of official partners, the B2B experience was straining.

NASCAR's official partner list sits at about 35, down from nearly 50 three years ago. That's part of the "fewer but bigger companies" strategy CMO Steve Phelps brought from the NFL three years ago.

"The B2B initiative has been successful, but with a flat or shrinking sponsor pool, once you have tapped the current partners, you have pretty much exhausted the value of what the league can offer in this area, unless they can come up with a very creative and compelling program," said Ron Schneider, whose Colorado-based agency, Sport Dimensions, represents Best Western. The hotel chain just in the last few weeks notified NASCAR that it is not renewing its official status deal past this year.

Scott said NASCAR has introduced new elements that are producing a renewed excitement around the B2B efforts.

"The true value in the B2B council is meeting folks you wouldn't ordinarily have access to," said Keith Farley, sponsorship manager for Aflac, which hosts an annual B2B karting event for official partners in May. "When you see new partners like Screenvision come in, there are new business opportunities there. We've also used the B2B relationships we already have to introduce us to other companies. It really broadens your network."

by Michael Smith
Michael Smith is a reporter with SportsBusiness Journal

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