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Sweet Home Chicago? NASCAR Enters the Home Stretch

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

September 15, 2011

Hello, Chicago.

As NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers prepare to lap around Chicagoland Speedway in the first race of the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, the racing circuit acknowledges that 2012 will bring significant change – does the phrase “full time Danica Patrick” ring a bell?

Patrick, who made her racing rep on the Izod IndyCar circuit before announcing that she’s lane-changing to NASCAR full time next year, definitely moves the marketing needle.  Bob Parsons, CEO of Patrick’s primary sponsor GoDaddy, during an interview last week also credited her with helping the company sell off a piece of its business in August for $2.25 billion.  “We cross-branded each other,” Parsons said.  “She became GoDaddy, we became Danica Patrick.”

With more top international companies involved than any other sport, NASCAR is the sport that works for business.  That’s because NASCAR fans make it a point to purchase partner products and services, making them the most brand loyal in all of sports.

But in the current economy and as the popularity of the sport has declined from its peak in the early to mid 2000’s, fewer new brands are signing on as NASCAR sponsors, some existing sponsors are reducing their spending, and the number of full-season, primary sponsorships comprises fewer races.  As a result, many sports marketing agencies that have leaned heavily on NASCAR for years now have clients looking at opportunities with other sports properties.

No agency, as SportsBusiness Journal affirms, is more familiar with the evolving NASCAR landscape than Just Marketing International. Five years ago, the motorsports-exclusive agency, was reportedly signing five to six new corporate NASCAR clients a year. In 2011, it added just one new NASCAR client, Farmers Insurance, and watched another longtime client, Diageo, dramatically decrease its spending.  Just Marketing has also seen its business shift from being 30% international in 2008 to 60% international today, largely dues to clients’ growing interest in such emerging markets as South America and Asia.

Nonetheless, many sports marketing gencies are optimistic that their NASCAR business share will grow in the future.  For the first time in five years, NASCAR’s TV ratings are on the rise across ESPN, Fox, and TNT.  NASCAR is also amping up its live online presence – nine of the 10 Chase races will stream live online via, the free WatchESPN app, and’s RaceBuddy platform.

While other engines gear up in the Windy City, NASCAR, its sponsors, race teams and drivers are revving up their marketing activities around the Chase.  New Sprint Cup Series sponsor Dollar General, seizing upon decreased sponsorship costs to trade up from the Nationwide Series, commands the most significant promotion around the Chase – the discount retailer is running a sweepstakes in 9,500 stores nationwide, with participation from such NASCAR official partners as Unilever and Coca-Cola and Unilever.

Yes, the Chase is officially on, headed toward the NASCAR season-ending race in Homestead on November 20.  While the standing points are reset, Kyle Busch, #1 at the end of NASCAR’s “regular” season, is the odds-on favorite to win the 2011 stretch and end Jimmie Johnson’s Novak Djokovic-esque streak of five consecutive Cup wins, according to NASCAR’s Chase Caster.

Throughout his streak, Johnson’s winning motto has been “pace yourself during the first 26 [races], peak for the final 10.”  Sports marketers involved in NASCAR are heeding his call.

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Beyond the Scoreboard
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard eBook
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.

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