Budweiser's Big Blunder: Why The Driver Makes The Sponsor, Not The Other Way Aro

Budweiser's Big Blunder: Why The Driver Makes The Sponsor, Not The Other Way Aro

Budweiser's Big Blunder: Why The Driver Makes The Sponsor, Not The Other Way Around

This past weekend, one of the biggest driver-sponsor divorces in recent memory became public knowledge: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Anheuser-Busch, specifically Budweiser, will end a nine-year marriage following the conclusion of the 2007 season. The only primary sponsor that Junior ever had since he moved up to the Cup series as a part-timer in 1999, the magnitude of this change can’t be underestimated; Junior Nation is famous for the amount of red Budweiser gear that they wear into the stands on any given race weekend, clothing and souvenirs that are about to become little more than collector’s items just a few short months from now. Clearly, this change will be a huge adjustment for Junior’s legion of fans an adjustment that will literally change the color of the stands on race weekends. Unfortunately, the one part of this deal that isn’t going to work out for the better is the impact Budweiser will have on the sport. In a move that’s turned into one of the biggest sponsor/driver divorces in the sport’s history, Anheiser-Busch appears to be the biggest loser; when the amount of exposure they’re about to lose is taken into consideration, you can’t help but feel sorry for a sponsor about to lose a large chunk of its marketing value.

It’s been reported over the past week that Budweiser was not even in the Top 5 in terms of money primary sponsors spend to receive exclusive placement on the hood of the car they sponsor in the Cup series. While they weren’t paying the most money, however, Budweiser was by far getting the most exposure of any car in the garage. According to Joyce Julius and Associates, a company based out of Michigan which tracks the amount of exposure a sponsor received during sporting events, Bud received over $180 million in exposure during the 2006 season. That was roughly $60 million more than second place Lowe’s Department Stores, the primary sponsor of Jimmie Johnson’s race team. Those numbers are simply continuing a longterm trend; Julius has also stated in the past that Budweiser has been the number one sponsor in terms of exposure since they moved to Junior’s car in 2000. It is very surprising that the company receiving the most exposure, by far, in the series, would not feel justified in increasing their investment to stay with their best celebrity spokesperson and continue the most successful driver/sponsor marriage in the sport.

There appear to be several factors involved in this decision by Anheuser-Busch, Hendrick Motorsports and Dale Jr. First of all, there are rumors that Hendrick is going to be expecting $30-$40 million for the hood of the car that Jr. drives. Apparently Anheuser-Busch was not even paying $20 million to be in that position with DEI. Having to nearly double their expenditure on NASCAR sponsorship was a very tall order and the folks at Corporate Headquarters felt they could get more value for less investment with another driver. Secondly, when Anheuser-Busch left Hendrick to move over to sponsor Jr. the split was apparently not all that amicable. With the hurt feelings or bruised egos involved, it must have seemed like a better option to move on than to try and mend those fences and reunite with Hendrick for another run.

Finally, and probably the most important reason, Jr. is trying to position himself to expand his marketing possibilities. With an alcohol sponsor on the hood of his car, Jr. is limited in his options for marketing to underage fans. By moving to another sponsor, Jr. can now appeal to all age demographics and make himself more accessible in endorsement packages because there won’t be any concerns by potential sponsors about the negative impact of being associated with an alcohol sponsor. As part of this move, Jr. seems to be attempting to make himself not only a national personality, but an international personality. The recent deal he signed with adidas is clearly designed to go after a global marketplace. Adidas is a far more recognized brand on an international scale than it is in the United States. There is a very distinct possibility that Jr.’s marketing efforts may begin to push into other countries more aggressively in the near future as he begins to work with Adidas on his proposed clothing line and Adidas begins to work on developing safety gear for race car drivers.

There is some historical perspective on a switch like this one. After 1986, one year after winning a championship, and finishing second in the points, Darrell Waltrip left Junior Johnson to go race for Rick Hendrick, who was going into his fourth season as a car owner and had not had a driver finish higher than third in the point standings. Ironically, Waltrip was leaving a relationship with Budweiser to move over to Hendrick. The difference was that Waltrip had not driven for Bud the entire time he had driven for Johnson. Waltrip originally had Mountain Dew on his car when he started driving for Johnson, but he was arguably the most popular driver in the sport at the point in time that he made the switch.

There are several driver/sponsor pairings that have become synonymous with each other over the years in the sport. Richard Petty and STP is obviously the first and most famous. Jeff Gordon with Dupont is the current senior partnership with their relationship going all of the way back to 1992 when Gordon debuted in the Cup series. Tony Stewart and Home Depot is another pairing that are intrinsically linked by the longevity of their marriage. There is certainly a lot to be said for having the sponsor be so identified with their driver, but it can also have negative impacts. Stewart has obviously been in trouble in the past and was even reprimanded by Home Depot during his rough media year in 2003 after he had won his first championship and had his much publicized run-ins with the media.

The identification with the driver and one sponsor obviously gives the fans a uniformity in their appearance as they cheer for their driver. The sea of orange that follows Stewart around or the red nation that follows Jr. allows fans to easily identify fellow fans of their drivers and gives them a kindred spirit. By switching sponsors, the fans are going to have to decide if their loyalty is to the driver or the sponsor. For the most part, loyalty sticks with the driver, but there will be some fans who will follow the sponsor rather than the driver. For those who go with the driver, they will have to acquire all new livery to be able to show their support. It will obviously be a marketing boon to Jr. to have the majority of Jr. Nation switch over to the colors of his new sponsor and start wearing a new set of colors to match his paint scheme.

There is no doubt that NASCAR fans are a loyal bunch. They are loyal to sponsors and loyal to manufacturers, but they are mostly loyal to their drivers. While it will be a very difficult change for some of them to accept, most of his fans will follow Jr. and sport the colors of whatever sponsor he ultimately aligns with. This decision is going to make Jr. a much more marketable personality and could very well signal a whole new level in his exposure to the fans of the sport and to non-fans as well. For Anheuser-Busch, they will certainly maintain a presence in the sport, but the decision to not stick with their man will undoubtedly result in a lot less exposure for them. Whether that will have a negative impact on their bottom line, only time will tell.


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Re: Budweiser's Big Blunder: Why The Driver Makes The Sponsor, Not The Other Way Aro

Big mistake for Bud not to resign Jr I think  :-","xx

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