Once upon a time, motorsports sponsorships were akin to buying a rolling billboard; impressions were almost all that mattered. The same was true for partnering with a brand ambassador. Many businesses, big or small, aligned with key partners to help publicize and market their brand.

Today the most effective sponsorship partnerships deliver on a variety of levels. Impressions and awareness, sure, but also B2B. Employee engagement. Networking inside and outside a particular industry. 

One company at the forefront of the new wave of motorsports sponsorships -- in series like Formula 1, NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA, IMSA, and others -- is Sport Dimensions and its founder, Ron Schneider

Sport Dimensions represents sponsors who leverage motorsports to market their brands, technology, products, and services: Developing content, strategies, fan/customer activations... all designed to help brands gain the maximum possible ROI for their marketing dollars.

I talked with Ron about how sponsorships extend far beyond brand impressions and into content development, experiences, engagement... and how going into motorsports sponsorship without an agency is a little like going to court without a lawyer: You can do it, but it's really hard.

You help brands match up with teams and drivers... but your real focus is on activation.

Probably the most important thing we do, with a number of our clients, is to focus on the back-end, activation, and program development that supports sponsorships.

Many agencies have a sales element, looking for new business or driver or team placement with brands... but our company was born out of the need to activate a sponsorship that Shell, our first major client in the early 1990s, had as the primary for IndyCar driver Brian Herta. We committed to making sure it worked for all the different stakeholders involved. 

To do that, we ask the right questions to understand client objectives. We peel the onion on the assets, maximize the  assets both parties have... and apply that to helping them reach their goals.

Sometimes that's a new brand coming in, or a brand growing or moving into a new region... they need brand recognition. Other times, especially for an automotive brand like Shell or Pennzoil... they don't need branding. They need assets to support specific business objectives.

We do as much as we possibly can with the assets and budget available. The budget can be big, it can be small... but we'll do the best we can to provide metrics to support the sponsorship.

The B2B aspect of sponsorships has become a major focus for many brands. 

That's how a major chunk of motorsports sponsorships get started.Knowing that process is extremely important, because one of the best things we can do for a brand is help speed up the sales cycle.

Take the Daytona 500. If you're there not just as a fan but as a part of the sponsorship, a part of the commercial side of a team... the environment is quite fraternal. The number of business meetings -- formal and informal -- that take place in the motor coaches is shocking. (Laughs.) 

The great thing about the global economy is that business leadership from around the world come to races. For example, they know Roger (Penske) is there. They want to meet with him. Roger introduces people to one another. 

The value of the casual collective gatherings, the meetings in the lobby... it's invaluable. So many things get kickstarted. We often see the sales cycle go from 3 years to 6 months.

How important is not just the team, but also the driver, to attracting and retaining sponsors? Like NHRA drag racer Leah Pritchett; she's very open about how hard she works to attract and provide value to sponsors.

Leah, along with a number of other talented women, has changed the game.

In Leah's case, a former associate and I had been watching her since her Pro Mod days and one thing that amazed us was her work ethic. In entry-level series, the drivers have to be more involved with finding sponsorships and money... and even with working on the car.

She has a ton of talent, and we knew Pennzoil was doing a few things in concert with Dodge, was looking for greater diversity of talent... it all made sense for Pennzoil, Dodge, and Don Schumacher Racing.

She's relentless in helping sponsors. There are few people in the world that work harder than Leah. A person like that is a pretty easy sell. (Laughs.)

Your role is also to help make the relationship work for both the sponsor and the team. 

Absolutely. We sit between the team and the sponsor. There is so much planning, so much strategy, so many logistics... there's so much involved in making sure both parties get what they need from the relationship. 

While a team's number one priority is winning, most have a dozen or more sponsors, making the resource strain on a team much higher... which makes it tougher for a brand to go directly to a team and say, "We need this, and we need it on this date."

We take in all the requests our clients and feed them to the team in the most effective and efficient way to ensure maximum return.

To again use Leah as an example: She's a go-getter. She's ready to get after it. Our job is to make sure the team and the brand gets the most benefit out of that. They trust we won't fill the plate with things that won't make an impact.

Showing a real return on investment should have always been critical, but it definitely is now.

Once upon a time if a CEO loved the Olympics, the company sponsored the Olympics. (Laughs.)

While there are still great opportunities for, say, consumer brands, obviously motorsports makes great sense for automotive-oriented clients. So do technology-based clients: Energy, logistics, timekeeping, fin-tech, transportation, etc. Any brand that has a service, product, or platform and wants to prove it in the most difficult conditions... racing is the fastest laboratory on earth. (Laughs.)  

The general fan base has dipped in recent years, but core motorsports enthusiast fans have held steady. The companies that value targeted audiences are still heavily involved. They recognize -- and can quantify -- the value. 

Companies only renew if they have, and then meet, specific objectives. So, we try to shy away from flash-in-the-pan or stunt marketing. We're always thinking of things we can develop that will build on top of each other over time. That way you build assets for the long-term.

Maybe that asset is a social media following, B2B relationships, fan giveaways... build it over time and you create an asset that is tangible and real.

Say I'm a relatively new brand interested in using sponsorships to grow my brand. Tips? 

One, it's not as overwhelming or intimidating as you might think. Start small and targeted. Then leverage consistency. You don't have to do the same things year after year, but you should consistently be in the thread and be an anchor through any ups and the downs. Motorsports is a platform where fans and customers see sponsors more as "supporters" than "advertisers," and that sentiment builds for your brand over time.

Just by being involved you get exposure and good will... but there's greater opportunity than having a logo on the car. The best aspects of sponsorship are the things we talked about that go on behind the scenes. 

We want to get you to a point where the branding on the car or track is the "cherry on top" of a much larger campaign.

The brands that explore nimbly and smartly, that work over time to build a presence and a platform, that relentlessly focus on meeting their objectives... they tend to be the winners. 

Published on: Apr 3, 2019
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