The NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Sponsorship
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

The NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Sponsorship

Nextel Communications wanted to expand its market share beyond its core B2B customers, and the title sponsorship of racing’s premier series, the NASCAR Nextel Cup, provided the perfect catalyst.

Paul Holmes

Nextel Communications wanted to expand its market share beyond its core B2B customers, and the title sponsorship of racing’s premier series, the NASCAR Nextel Cup, provided the perfect catalyst. With a tremendous opportunity for national exposure and access to a loyal fan base of more than 75 million people, Nextel turned CRT to assist them with all public relations activities related to the 10-year sponsorship, including media relations, internal communications, event management, issues management, government affairs, product launches and cause-marketing.

CRT set out to penetrate underdeveloped markets, expand appeal of Nextel and its products, tie everything into measurable Nextel business goals, leverage total marketing dollars, and execute everything flawlessly.

The goals were broken down into the following categories: take Nextel Cup sponsorship messaging to and beyond motor sports media; weave Nextel into fabric of motor sports media through relationship development; create a story in every market, for every reporter; and extend the lead in coverage around the race; promote The Nextel Experience as a main attraction for media and fans, with momentum from Nextel Cup exposure; launch new Nextel products; position Nextel as the lead in one of the industry’s most pressing issues, teens driving safely, called Focus on Driving; make Nextel a winner with lawmakers, public safety community, fans, students and parents.

Using the NASCAR title sponsorship as a vehicle, CRT developed and built awareness for Nextel’s public relations, marketing and governmental affairs programs to drive “off the sports page” awareness for Nextel and position the company as a wireless category leader. In 2004, CRT managed Nextel’s media outreach for the Series, which races 36 weeks each year.

Responsibilities included developing new and unique story angles, creating media materials, providing consistent message points, media pitching, coordinating production of video news releases and satellite media tours, scheduling executive interviews, and coordinating live television and radio broadcasts in different markets each week. Local market interviews were staged at Nextel’s 6,400 square foot fan interactive fan destination, The Nextel Experience.

In addition to coordinating and pitching the local markets, CRT also was responsible for reaching out to wireless and motorsports trade media, as well as national business, financial, consumer and mainstream print, radio and television outlets.

During the Daytona 500, Nextel hosted key media and industry notables at The Nextel Experience. During the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge, CRT coordinated driver appearances and ticket giveaways at military bases. CRT also directed a number of events that took place during the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Awards Ceremony week in New York, including a photo opportunity with the top 10 drivers in Times Square, a show car “Victory Lap” through the streets of New York, a visit to the Ronald McDonald House, a media dinner, and numerous NASCAR Nextel Cup trophy and show car appearances throughout the city.

In addition, CRT coordinated Nextel and NASCAR’s visit to open trading on the NASDAQ during that week. CRT coordinated schedules and speaking points for Nextel CEO Tim Donahue, NASCAR President Mike Helton and the top 10 drivers; as well as orchestrated media interviews for Nextel with financial media associated with NASDAQ. CRT worked with business, entertainment, motorsports, national and local media to generate positive publicity for the culmination of a successful year.

In an ongoing effort to enhance the fan experience, Nextel and CRT launched several new NASCAR-based products and applications, including the i736 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Driver phones, and Nextel’s FanScan and Pit Command. A video news release showcasing the NASCAR-based applications was aired nearly 300 times on more than 225 stations.

CRT and Nextel also promoted a nationwide consumer promotion, the Race to the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Fans were encouraged to enter to win an Ultimate Fan Weekend with their favorite driver and one lucky winner, who chose the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Champion, would go home with $250,000. The program was promoted in-store and through proactive media relations. CRT and Nextel also promoted driver appearances, Nextel Cup trophy and show car appearances, and visits by the Mini-experience, a scaled-down version of the at-track interactive.

Throughout the inaugural season, CRT and Nextel implemented several corporate initiatives trackside, including Donate A Phone, Nextel’s partnership with the American Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services (AFES), the organization that keeps families in touch with relatives stationed in the military in case of emergency. Other corporate initiatives included Race to the Polls, a non-partisan initiative to help increase voter registration for the 2004 presidential election; America Prepared, where Nextel worked the National Preparedness Council to create and distribute literature to fans to help them be better prepared for national disasters and emergencies; and FOCUS on Driving, launching in 2005.

Recognizing that Nextel’s 18,000 employees play a major role in the success of the sponsorship, CRT works regularly with the internal communications team at Nextel to ensure that employees are included at every turn. CRT worked with Nextel to unveil the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup trophy at the company’s Reston, Va., headquarters, and more than 750 employees turned out in the pouring rain to see the unveiling of the trophy and hear from three of the top contenders – Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch. Hundreds more watched via the company’s Intranet site, which is regularly updated with new information regarding how the sponsorship is impacting the business.

The success of the campaign was determined by the following results: media coverage in outlets such as Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, New York Times totaled more than $30 million in PR-generated publicity value, 90 percent of avid fans are aware of Nextel as the title sponsor, more than 400,000 fans visited and more than 20 live radio broadcasts were made from The Nextel Experience, Nextel’s 6,400 square-foot interactive fan destination, Nextel’s FanScan service sold out four times, causing Nextel to increase capacity, more than 350,000 people entered Nextel’s Race to the Chase for the Nextel Cup sweepstakes, 40,000 of which entered through their Nextel handset, market share increased 4.4 percent among avid NASCAR fans.

In addition to increases in traditional NASCAR markets, the sponsorship achieved a jump in penetration in Seattle, Wash., (10 percent) and Providence, R.I., (15 percent), thousands and thousands of NASCAR fans registered to vote through Race to the Polls and Nextel has raised more than $800,000 for the American Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services, of which NASCAR-generated publicity and collections at-track have played a major role.

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