Sponsorship

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The ifs and buts

WHEN Philip Morris European President Ronnie Thomson Stood up at the Marlboro press conference in Geneva last month and said “we feel we got enormous value from motor racing in 1972” he was not being benevolent, he really meant it. Just to emphasise the fact, it was later stated that the red and white Marlboro cigarette brand would be spending in excess of 1 million dollars in motor racing, motorcycle racing and rally in 1973. That is big money in anyone’s language. Marlboro are not philanthropists, they really feel that motor racing gives them promotional value for money. The somewhat smaller and British based John Player & Son must feel the same for they have been ploughing money into motor racing, and particularly Team Lotus, for six years now.

Certainly Grand Prix racing still attracts the crowds whatever the prophets of doom from down the A20 may say. In 1972 Goodyear conducted a crowd survey and found that the 12 races of the World Championship last year attracted a total attendance of 985,000 spectators, an average of around 82,000 per race. At the German Grand Prix, at the Nürburgring, the crowd was in the region of 220,000. So for a multi-national company Grand Prix racing would seem worth sponsoring.

But all is not that rosy. In the current copy of “The Director” a major feature article has investigated various different sports-sponsorships and it does not recommend motor racing. High cost is one of the reasons cited, while the present squabble between the entrants and circuits has put the World Championship into a precarious position. There have been quite a few big name sponsors withdrawing after only a year, far from a healthy situation. The problem lies on both sides and one of the basic reasons for this article is an attempt to correct many of the popular misconceptions about motor racing sponsorship. Sponsoring motor racing is no different than taking space in a newspaper or a periodical—both are forms of advertising. Both are ways of getting a particular message across to a consumer. If “Bloggs Crisps” take a half-page advertisement in the Daily Mirror they are expected to provide some “copy” which will extol the virtues of these particular potato crisps. Taking the advertisement and then simply filling it with the word “Bloggs!” is a complete and utter waste of time.

This seems only common sense but, during the past few years since advertising material on racing cars was relaxed by the RAC, there have been countless cases of firms sponsoring a racing team and expecting sales to rocket without even sending a press release out to announce their involvement, which is just the same as not providing the copy for an advertisement.

Motor racing or any other sport sponsorship for that matter must go hand in hand with a planned programme of publicity geared to that involvement. A company sponsoring a racing team to the tune of £10,000 should almost certainly allocate a similar amount for their public relations and publicity effort. Firms like Yellow Pages, who have sponsored Formula Atlantic Championships for three years now, have done this with enormous success. When the board of directors of a company decides to sponsor a motor-racing team, race or championship their very next question should be “How are we going to handle the publicity?” If they haven’t got their own publicity department then they need to hire a person or firm who know the business.

Another popular problem is that of not tailoring the sponsorship to a particular area.

There is, in most cases, obviously little advantage in “Crumbly Biscuits Ltd.”, who market only in England, sponsoring a Formula Two team which races almost entirely on the Continent with only three appearances in Britain. It would be much better to sponsor a Formula Atlantic, Formula 5000 or Formula Three car, racing in Britain every weekend, however, if spurred on by the Common Market “Crumbly” were about to launch their product in Germany, France and Italy Formula Two would make sense.

Some of the most fruitful sponsorship deals have been relatively minor ones where the company is known within a given area. A company in Leicester, for instance, would obviously be best served sponsoring a local Mini driver who takes part in every Mallory Park meeting unless they happened to market nationwide.

So I would advise any companies contemplating motor sporting sponsorship to first take a long hard look at what area they are appealing to, whether it is International, National or local and then make sure they are backing a driver, team or race that fits into that area.

A company contemplating motor racing should also consider if this is the right sport for them. Surveys by Motor Circuit Developments Ltd. would indicate that the greatest proportion of the crowd is in the 16-26 age bracket and obviously if one is marketing a rheumatic cute for the over-50s, one would do better to contemplate backing a chess tournament. But motor racing is certainly a very popular spectator sport and has a wide following although national newspaper coverage in Britain tends not to reflect this. Perhaps, to a degree because of this, the specialist magazines tend to have health: circulation’s ourselves, of course, topping the list with an ABC certified monthly sale of over 140,000 copies and a readership according to JICNARS of close on 1 million.

One of the great problems is that the boardroom will find it hard to sort out the wheat from the chaff amongst the prospective candidates for sponsorship. Obviously the driver or team who makes the slick and professional presentation full of all the facts will always stand a much better chance or receiving backing than someone who handwrites in a scruffy plea as if he was applying for a job. Yet there have been a number of very professional presentations which tend to distort the fact. The promises look fine in the manifesto—several races to be televised, coverage in all the national newspapers, huge crowds at club meetings—that kind of thing. Let us lake a look at these three bald facts. Television coverage of any particular car tends to be in the lap of the lap of the gods and a banner at a Division one football match wouId probably offer a company a far better chance if getting its name on the screen. Only three or four national newspapers mention motor racing with any regularity and only the Dally Express gives coverage to the lesser names. For instance, a story about Marlboro’s 1 million dollar involvement in 1973 was sent to the Daily Mail and they didn’t bother to use it so what chance has Crumbly Biscuits got? The only way of getting into any of the tabloid press is by some brilliant publicity gimmick like persuading Elvis Presley to race your car. Attendances at club and national meetings do tend to vary a great deal from 1,000 for a winter Brands Hatch to as many as 30,000 for the same circuit on a Fordsport Day.

Obviously it is better to select a category of racing, Formula Three for instance, where the race if often support more important events like the Grand Prix or the International Trophy meetings where crowds are considerably in excess of 50,000.

Earlier it was mentioned that many companies in the past have tended to sponsor a driver and then sits sat back and waited for everything to happen. But the drivers are just as much, if not more, to blame. Far too many tend to grab the money, as if it was a gift from heaven, and then hardly bother to ring up their sponsor to tell them the result of the last race. Drivers and teams should remember to work hard for the money they have been paid. For the smaller type of deals the driver should make it his job to see the commentators before the race and make sure they know everything about him, the car and the sponsor. He should make sure that all his local newspapers know exactly how he got on, most have motor racing columns and, if not, then he should pester the Editor to start one. The driver should work with his sponsors to devise for circuit promotions which will attract local press and publicity. There are countless opportunities—perhaps a few laps of the company’s car park in the racing car, letting the managing director try the racer at Silverstone, and so on. It is all a matter of whipping up enthusiasm for the project. But many drivers in the past have ignored this kind of involvement, later to their detriment. The broad message here is that one only gets out of the operation as much as one puts in.

Like any form of advertising it is often rather difficult to assess the tangible gains. But Denis Matthews, Managing Director of Yardley of London, recently went on record as saying that their sponsorship of the BRM and later McLaren Formula One teams was definitely reflected on the sales graph. A John Player spokesman made in interesting observation the other day. He told me that while their sponsorship of the Lotus team may not make a racing fan change his brand of cigarette immediately to John Player Special, a seed has been sown. One day he will go into his tobacconist and find that they are sold out of his usual Brand X. Caught on the hop and with the need to make a quick decision Player feel that he is more likely to nominate their cigarette as his second choice than any other because the name is already familiar to him. Hopefully he will then prefer their brand to his regular one and make a permanent change. It is an interesting theory.

While it was mentioned earlier that the possibility of a sponsored car being shown for any length of time on television was somewhat remote, unless it happened to be a Grand Prix car, this doesn’t preclude television coverage altogether. Perhaps not nationally, but there are plenty of news magazine programmes in various areas which would be happy to interview the local racing driver following his latest success. After all racing drivers do still make news even if they still tend to be depicted as death-defying heroes. Add to this the fact that local radio is expanding rapidly and this will gain even more momentum when commercial radio comes in. In America, of course, the drivers tend to be much more talented at obtaining media exposure. One Formula 5000 driver was explaining recently how he goes into a town, perhaps a couple of days before a race, sits in his hotel room and in turn rings up all the local radio stations, telling them who he is and why he has just arrived in their town. A surprisingly large number put him straight on the air to be interviewed by the disc jockey between records. Naturally, he gives the forthcoming race a good plug and he never fails to mention his sponsor. Everyone is happy. That is what working for your sponsor is all about. Certainly we can learn a great deal from the Americans about getting the Message across.

So the chances of promoting one’s product through the medium of motor racing is certainly expanding rat her than diminishing. If a sponsorship arrangement is successful then it should benefit both parties considerably. The sponsored team or drivers should be able to make ends meet, which is difficult enough in this present day, and the sponsor should derive a very healthy publicity rush-off, for there is no doubt that motor racing is not only a glamorous sport, it is also a very popular one.—A. R. M.