When Williams F1, a once-heralded dynasty of the Formula One circuit, recently revealed their Martini livery (and rebranded name to Williams Martini F1), thoughts among racing historians immediately regressed to the glory days of the 1970’s and 1980’s. As Formula One gained popularity on the worldwide stage, the iconic blue, white, and red stripes of the gin/vermouth liquor became a signature part of the sport, only to slowly fade as the expense and nature of the sport transitioned during the late ‘80’s to present day.
Where this is especially poignant in the business landscape of modern motorsport, is it’s the first time in quite a while that we’ve seen a proper retail brand align themselves with a race team in the interest of branding and exposure, with no equity stake in the team (that we know of).
The brand alignment of Martini & Rossi, an elegant, Italian brand, with the sophisticated and world-renowned sport of Formula One is an obvious fit. Yet in an advertising culture that only continues to grow a wider gap against the operating costs of motorsport, it’s becoming more and more rare to see.
Ford. Red Bull. Oakley. GoPro. Geico. Lucas Oil. Monster Energy Drink.
To see any of these brands associated with motorsports is no surprise. All are brands that emphasize the lifestyle that the sport brings: speed, adrenaline, precision…and of course making sure you’re insured.
To a large extent, you also see these brands cross-pollinate in different forms of motorsport: some in NASCAR, others in Formula One, while others can be seen at the local short tracks or branded among drivers around the world.
One sport, however, collects all of these venerable brands under one roof, and has successfully managed to do this for years: the AMA Monster Energy Supercross Championship.
Even though World Stage Racing is a business that emphasizes four wheel motorsports, there are a lot of lessons to be learned on why Supercross works for so many companies:
With a new era of turbocharged Formula 1 engines emerging in 2014, several goings on in the world of NASCAR and IndyCar, and perhaps most significantly, a historic new beginning for sportscar racing in North America, the business of motorsports looks to undergo a significant transformation.
Here are 10 things to look for:
10. NBC Sports Commitment: In recent years NBC Sports Network has made a significant commitment to open wheel racing in the U.S. Continuing a relationship with IndyCar that began with Versus (which became NBC SN), and extending to Formula One in 2013. However, what 2013 proved for many pundits is that whether on NBC, Fox (formerly SPEED), or beyond, the American open wheel audience seems to generate the same numbers. The ratings have been nearly identical from one network to the next, with limited growth. Will 2014 show any progress or simply generate the same numbers? This is a key question for the future of open wheel.
9. Will a Multimedia Package Ever Show Real Fruit: Every racing series has, at different times, tried varying level of streaming and multimedia packages to accompany (or simply provide) a live feed of the race. So far, we have yet to see much materialize that would prove it to be a profitable venture. The question becomes, is there simply no audience beyond television, or not a large enough one to merit the effort and expense? With a more digital and web savvy audience emerging every year, we’ll see if 2014 proves any different.
If there’s an interesting issue in the modern era of GT-style motorsports, it’s the inevitable challenge of running “manufacturer” versus “customer” driven racing teams and cars. While nothing new, and while most fans of sportscar are familiar with the differences, the business philosophy behind an automotive marque’s involvement may not be as obvious to the casual fan.
First off, let’s identify the obvious: manufacturer versus customer driven teams. Most already know this, but a manufacturer, usually known as a “factory” team, is typically an entirely professional, spare-no-expense type of effort. Millions of dollars poured in to research and development, top-level engineering and mechanical support, topped off with the best available drivers. In the modern GT scene, a perfect example would be the Corvette C6.R program. Pratt & Miller Engineering, long known as the motorsport engineering arm of General Motors, performs the majority of R&D behind the effort. You will only find two of these vehicles in North American racing, competing in next year’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship with a strong roster of professional drivers.
Customer driven teams, however, are driven by private money with much looser ties to the vehicle they compete with. The most famous example is Porsche. The majority of Porsche teams in professional GT racing: Alex Job Racing, Magnus Racing, NGT, Park Place, receive little to no financial support from Porsche, in fact it’s the opposite. In the case of all these teams, they literally purchase their race vehicles, as well as majority of spares, from Porsche. The team’s have to provide the majority of their own mechanical and engineering personnel, and the funding for all of this typically comes from an enthusiast team owner, or a driver who provides funding (or in many cases both).
The conclusion of this year’s American Le Mans Series on Saturday was, for many, the end of an era. With the ALMS taking part in a 15-year, fractious battle against the NASCAR-owned GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, the already niche audience of professional sports car racing has endured a long-standing rivalry.
When both series announced their merger in September of 2012, the fan and media focus for the last 14 months has been on just that; how they’re merging.
How will they balance the technical specifications between both series? What staff will stay on, and who will go? What tracks will make the calendar?
In all of this, however, the debut of the 2014 United Sports Car Championship has had one point completely neglected:
This is a new series.
This is a new opportunity to brand and to market.
While the composition of the series is a marriage between two houses, the opportunity to create an entity that is completely new, and brand it accordingly, was not lost on one company.
We’re of course speaking of Rolex.
Much of the motorsport media, and NASCAR in particular, will look at the departure of NAPA Auto Parts (NYSE: GPC) from Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR), a relationship which has lasted well over a decade, as the ultimate indignation against the bereft team. With the recent race-fixing scandal ultimately keeping the NAPA-sponsored No. 56 of Martin Truex from contending for this year’s championship, it’s an understandable decision.
However, if you want to look at the business of NAPA Auto Parts in NASCAR, the real question is… will they continue in the sport? The future of NAPA in NASCAR will tell us a lot more about the state of the sport; well after Richmond has been forgotten.
Put simply, if NAPA chooses to run in NASCAR with another organization, then it truly was a perception-driven choice to leave the befallen MWR. However, if we fail to see the familiar blue and yellow colors in 2014, perhaps there are other factors at work in their NASCAR departure.
NAPA is, by all public accounts, a very healthy company. The parent organization, Genuine Parts Company, has enjoyed a steady and measurable growth ever since it became public. In 2012, the company boasted over $13bil in total earnings, and over $1bil in total operating income. 2013 appears to be on the same course.
What is curious about NAPA’s approach to motorsport, is the company’s very conventional use of the assets available to them. Currently, they’re involved in two high profile programs, one with the aforementioned No. 56 Toyota Camry in NASCAR, and the other with Ron Capps’ Dodge Charger in the NHRA Funny Car ranks.
The company makes a very visible effort to be adorned on both programs. Both cars run a very familiar blue and yellow livery that has, for the most part, been unchanged since it began. Both of their drivers, Truex and Capps, as well as long-time brand ambassador Michael Waltrip, are in a number of commercials that air beyond motorsport programming. Additionally, the company does run a few customer-oriented programs, namely their “honorary crew member” contest which places one lucky customer behind the scenes at a number of events.