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Racetrack accident impacts corporate sports sponsors

August 11, 2014

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Photo: Matthew O'Haren, USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a rough stretch for corporate sponsors of sporting events, who’ve had to react to public relations fiascos ranging from Lance Armstrong’s drugging revelations to the racist remarks by the soon-to-be former L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

Now, a motorsports incident over the weekend has set the stage for another dilemma for corporate underwriters of auto racing.  In case you haven’t heard, one racer died Saturday night after exiting his crashed vehicle and being struck by the car of NASCAR giant Tony Stewart, whom the deceased competitor, Kevin Ward, apparently blamed for causing him to wreck.  The incident is under investigation by local law enforcement and as headlines proliferated  Stewart’s team hastily backtracked on their initial claim that racing would be “business as usual” for a marquee event on Sunday.

The black eye for a major NASCAR star may prove to be an embarrassment for major sponsors, as USA Today reports in “Ripple effects for Stewart, NASCAR sponsors could be huge.”  As USA Today writes, “In NASCAR, drivers are corporate spokesmen expected to deliver a company’s message with a clean image. Though Stewart is a pitchman extraordinaire whose blue-collar persona offers appeal, Ward’s death is the latest of several on- and off-track incidents that have raised questions about why he always seems caught in a maelstrom of controversy.”

Clearly if your area is home to any of the household names that sponsor Stewart and other NASCAR drivers, from Bass Pro Shops to Coca-Cola to Go Daddy, you’ll want to check in to see what they are hearing from consumers and how they are handling public input, pro-Stewart or con.   Here’s a piece from the American Marketing Association on the loyalty of NASCAR fans and their desirability from the standpoint of corporate sponsors.  What does it take to affect those ties?  That might be an interesting question for local marketing experts.

The article also addresses the potential role of sponsors in determining the damage control strategy following an incident of negative publicity.   If you have any local companies which are household-name sponsors of professional sports, it might be an interesting moment to check in on trends in the expectations and roles of sponsors and the competitors who represent them publicly. Are your area firms relying more or less on sports sponsorships these days to get their word out?

SponsorHub is a company that claims to analyze the return on investment of corporate sponsorships and would be a helpful source in explaining how corporations make choices about allying themselves with sports figures and what they expect in return.  Here’s another sponsorship consultant whom you might contact for context and explanatory information.

Or, if your area is home to a local NASCAR team, it might be interesting the recap some of the business of this very wealthy sport for local fans.   Forbes values the Stewart-Haas team, which in addition to Stewart features the popular Danica Patrick and other drivers, at $148 million, up 20 percent year over year and No. 4 among all NASCAR teams.  You might peruse this Business of NASCAR portal on the Forbes site for local ties your audience may have interest in.

Here’s a Bleacher Report piece on wacky NASCAR sponsors in history.


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