It’s hard to think of two sports that have less in common than NASCAR motor racing and professional cycling. But, as pointed out in a recent article, the way in which individual teams are structured, managed, and financed is quite similar in both sports. NASCAR teams and pro cycling teams are both heavily reliant upon external sponsorship dollars for their success and economic survival. A critical key to economic success and long-term stability in both sports is the ability to identify, develop, and carefully maintain long-term and mutually beneficial sponsor relationships.
NASCAR and its teams have developed sophisticated business management systems which can offer some important lessons and insights for cycling. The Outer Line recently teamed up with Breaking Limits – a strategic consulting, communications, and marketing agency heavily engaged in the motorsports industry – to analyze these similarities, the sponsorship models developed by NASCAR, and how they might be applied to cycling.
The two parties have released a new report, entitled “Pro Cycling Sponsorship: Lessons from NASCAR.” In a detailed discussion of the sophisticated marketing and activation programs developed in NASCAR over the past two decades, the authors draw parallels between the two sports and provide an extensive set of recommendations and guidelines with the intent of arming professional cycling with sponsorship-savvy strategies and tactics. These guidelines are described under ten major headings, which are briefly highlighted below:
- It is well worth the time to gather and understand the data up-front: Who is cycling as a marketing property? Cycling organizations can greatly benefit from collecting in-depth marketing data about themselves and analyzing that data in detail. This analysis will create the foundation for the rest of the sponsorship development and activation process
- Understand the why: Why should a potential sponsor consider sponsoring your team? Why is cycling – and your cycling team in particular – is a good fit or solution for any given company or brand. Why should what your team has to offer matter to the prospective sponsor?
- Do not confuse marketing with advertising, public relations, social media, or promotion. These functions are not simply variations of the same process. Marketing includes advertising, PR, social media, promotions, and more. All of these are tools that should be well-orchestrated and working together when implementing a marketing plan.
- Learn what brand exposure means in the eyes of the prospective sponsor. Make sure you know how brand exposure or good branding is actually measured or defined by your potential sponsors, or you could lose your team’s credibility in the eyes of decision-makers.
- Winning races, by itself, is not a good marketing strategy. While brands and companies certainly love being associated with a winning team, it is important to understand that winning alone does not constitute effective marketing.
- Understand the how: By putting sponsorship activation at the forefront of every partnership conversation. Create a tactical plan of how your cycling team will make a positive impact on the prospective sponsor’s marketing initiatives. Logos on jerseys or banners on bike fencing are nowhere near enough – they are only the start.
- Social media is not an option. If you’re not investing time in building your social media platforms, you are missing a huge opportunity. All sponsors today expect social media engagement, and they will continue to have this expectation.
- Mention sponsors early, often, and always. Cycling teams can and should integrate their sponsors’ names, products, and initiatives into all media opportunities. Every pro team should challenge themselves, their riders, and their staff to get better at this.
- Be conversant with your sponsor’s business and be prepared to speak on behalf of them. Cyclists should never forget that it is the sponsors who ultimately provide the funding used to pay their salaries, pay for their bikes or race cars, and to travel around the world to compete. Team leadership can work to reinforce gratitude for the sponsorships that support the team.
- Never undermine your sponsor – always be sponsor-correct. Sponsor correctness should be an easy task for cyclists to comply with. Sponsorship loyalty should become second nature, and sponsors are willing to pay for that.
Applying the lessons from NASCAR’s sponsorship approach to delivering value in pro cycling may require a shift in thinking – and it may imply a new paradigm for riders, teams, and event promoters. However, there is a great opportunity for cycling and pro teams to reinvent themselves – to focus not necessarily on just being competitive sports teams, but to concentrate more on being successful businesses. Cycling teams should learn to think of themselves as a business just like any other – where expenses are incurred to produce a product which is then sold at a premium to create revenue. Winning will always be important, but building strong, sustainable, and mutually beneficial partnerships with sponsoring firms is the surest way to ensure long-term stability in the sport and mutual success.