Sponsorship prices rise at record pace


Auto Racing

June 04, 2000|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

The cost of a top-of-the-line Winston Cup sponsorship has gone up.

Valvoline, one of the most successful sponsors in the business and one of the most identifiable because of its long-term agreement with Roush Racing driver Mark Martin, has been forced to look for another team.

"We made an offer that was by far the largest sponsorship offer we've ever made in 134 years," said Martin A. Kish, vice president of communications for Valvoline.

That's no small statement. Valvoline has been involved in motor racing since 1895, when the first race in the United States was run on the streets of Chicago. Since the 1950s it has been associated with the biggest teams in Winston Cup, open wheel and drag racing.

But the cost of sponsoring Martin's Ford for the next five years turned out to be too much for the company that has had its name sprawled across Martin's hood for the past 12 years.

Next season, Martin will drive a different car. Speculation is that it will be a Viagra car, sponsored by the deep pockets of Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company that entered Winston Cup racing this season.

"I understand why there is speculation on Viagra, because of Mark's association with their men's health program, just as I understand the rumors that Ford Credit, Ford Quality Care would leave Dale Jarrett and Robert Yates because of Jack's long-term association with Ford," Roush Racing president Geoff Smith said of team owner Jack Roush. "But you'll have to get your confirmation somewhere else because this is an area in which Jack, Mark and myself are really restrained from saying anything."

What no one is restrained from saying is that the top-of-the-line cost of doing business is soaring.

Last year, major teams such as that of Richard Childress pushed the envelope to about $10 million. This year, Yates is expected to sign a deal shortly with UPS for $16 million a season. Hendrick Racing is said to have re-signed Dupont as Jeff Gordon's sponsor for $15 million. Now the word is out that to sign on with Martin it will take a five-year deal worth about $12 million a season.

"I will say that the first deal we signed with Valvoline in 1992 was for $3 million and that our next sponsorship deal will be eight figures," Smith said. "This next year, there are probably going to be five or six teams over $10 million."

And if anyone is wondering why, a recent study showed "subjects could recall brands that appeared prominently on race cars significantly better than they could recall brands in 30-second advertisements." The findings are under review at a major marketing journal, but the impact is certainly not lost on advertisers.

"We will stay as a major team sponsor in Winston Cup," said Valvoline's Kish. "We would have preferred to have stayed with Mark Martin, but as the cost of sponsorships escalates, some companies that don't have deep pockets will have to look for other opportunities."

Smith, whose job it is to keep Roush Racing's sponsors on a par with the best teams in the sport, said it doesn't make him happy to know "that a longtime, very loyal, very savvy motorsports sponsor got to the budgetary point that it [a major sponsorship deal] didn't make sense."

But, he added, "In general terms I think it is terrific that the value of being a primary sponsor has increased so much."

Dover's monster mile

After a run of three straight victories in 1995-1996 at Dover Downs International Speedway, Gordon has struggled on the monster high banks of the one-mile oval.

And so, when Goodyear announced in January that it was having a tire test at the track in June, Gordon wanted to be there - and he was. But it cost him.

"The one place Brooke has wanted to go is Italy," said Gordon, referring to his wife. "So, last December, I sat down and mapped out my schedule and surprised her with tickets to Rome. Then, January, I learned about the tests and my lovely wife Brooke, being Brooke, told me if I needed to be in Dover, then that's where we'd be."

And so, in early June, on the day he was supposed to be on a plane with Brooke to Italy, Gordon was at work, testing tires at Dover.

It is another example of the sport's demands, which gained attention last week, as Tony Stewart unleashed his irritation over the lack of privacy and lack of time for a personal life.

Martin, 41, one of the most mature drivers on the tour, sympathized with Gordon and Stewart. "To be a Winston Cup driver, you sell your privacy forever," he said.

Penske's 100

After three years of waiting, Roger Penske, the renowned Champ Car owner from Reading, Pa., finally saw one of his cars earn his team's 100th victory.

Here are the men who won those races: Mark Donohue, Gary Bettenhausen, Tom Sneva, Rick Mears, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Danny Sullivan, Emerson Fittipaldi, Paul Tracy, Al Unser Jr. and Gil de Ferran.

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