Sponsors, what sponsors?

| Photographer Credit: Graham Hughes

Me? Yep I’ve been ‘sponsored.’ I’ve also put together and either directly pitched or been part to the process thereof, of between 100 and 200 ‘sponsorship proposals.’ If I say so myself I’ve also run some stunningly successful public relation (PR) campaigns to ‘add value’ to the basic ‘sticker on the car’ for many and varied drivers over the years as well.


As part of the work I still do as a publicist for admin bodies like KartSport NZ, the NZ Formula 5000 Association, and the Historic Touring Car (NZ) Association, I also try and maximise the ‘exposure’ for the companies who stump up for naming rights ‘sponsorship’ of series,  meetings etc.


So how come there isn’t even a ‘Fast Company’ (the company name I trade under) sticker on my old Nissan Skyline club/drift car?


The simple answer is that ‘sponsorship’ (in its simplest ‘sticker on a car’ sense) is a dead duck. And – in my humble opinion – has been for some time.


As a tool in a marketer’s kit bag ‘o tricks, sponsorship can be both incredibly successful and amazingly cost-effective. But as a simple sticker on the side of a car it is well past its use-by date.


I was watching the Supercars from Darwin the other weekend and all I could think of, for instance, was what a God-awful mess of (mostly meaningless) logos, company and/or brand names and garish, eye-insulting colours the combined grid was!


Knowing how the game works, of course, the big sponsors – the likes of Red Bull, Shell, Pirtek etc – will be spending up to three times the actual cost of the ‘sticker on the car’ in corporate hospitality both ‘in town’ before and after the race, and at the track from Friday through Sunday. So I’m assuming no one actually cares what the cars actually look like anymore.


The only way to truly stand out nowadays, it would seem,  would be to rock up with a pristine white car, or even better if you are a manufacturer, a car painted in a current colour and with all the little bits of badging and chrome detailing the production car has on it.


Imagine it. No race  numbers (which are redundant anyway thanks to electronic timing) and no screen banners, not even any silly motivational statements on the underside of the wing. That’d get Jess, Skaifey, Cromley, Larko and old mate Murphy talking….which is one of the reasons marketers buy sponsorship contracts in the first place.


That’s the professional side of the sport though. My real beef involves the largely amateur side that makes up 99% of activity here.


The simple reason I don’t run any ‘sponsorship decals’ on my club/drift car is that I pay all the bills myself – out of tax paid dollars (i.e. I get 70 -75% of every dollar I earn, the Govt, gets the rest as tax) to boot.


In this I am just like 99% of other active competition licence holders here. Except in one very important way.


The first thing most competitors do, before even getting near a race track, is festoon their car, bike, quad, ATV, UTV etc etc with stickers from ‘sponsors.’


Why? God only knows, though my guess is that it is something to do with insecurity. That unless they ‘appear’ to be ‘sponsored’ they are somehow ‘not a proper, not a serious, driver.’


It’s not as if there is any real money in it here anyway, even in the really big deals you see. I know, when I was working with an NZV8 team when that series was at its rocking, rollicking 30-car grid heyday, the real cost of running a car up front was around $350,000. Yet some of the ‘big, multi-national brand’ sponsors were paying just $35,000 for a full ‘naming rights’ package on a top-six car.


Nuts. But an example of the lengths some car owners went to ‘look the part,’ and/or fit in. Playing dress-ups more like, but let’s not go there.


Another quaint little quirk of this need to be accepted comes when it is time to dish out the trophies of a Sunday night when you will hear drivers aged 5 to (well) over 60 thanking their many ‘sponsors’ for goods and services they (or Mum and Dad) have actually paid for in the first place.


The folly here is that even with a ‘mates/club members’/racer’s discount of – say – 10 %, both the wholesaler and the retailer are still making margin on the product. So he or she is  a ‘supplier,’ not a ‘sponsor.’ Why thank them anyway, they’ve already received their consideration by being paid!


Another thing I am absolutely sure of is that at least 99% of ‘sponsorships’ you see in motorsport in this country are ‘friends-and-family’ based. Don’t get me wrong. Not all ‘stickers-on-cars’ are there because it’s the old man using the company chequebook. Obviously a lot are. The rest though – and this is again based on direct (bitter!) personal experience – have come about because a family member has known ‘the marketing manager of Tegal,’ ‘knew someone who knew someone’ at Shell/BP/Hallensteins, or had a bach or crib over the road from the MD or marketing director of……………..and was able to do the intros the way Kiwis prefer, informally rather than formally.


I’ve lost count, for instance, of the number of times I have pitched an exhaustively researched, business case-style sponsorship proposal to a company’s marketing manager and be given a firm ‘no’ or ‘we don’t do sponsorships’ answer only to see said company’s logo appear on someone else’s car………………




Because most ‘sponsorships’ are about who you know, not what you know!


There are also some unscrupulous pricks in companies only too prepared to exploit the naivety of the ‘sponsor-obsessed’ as well.


Several years ago now a guy from one of the ‘energy drink’ companies told a bloke I know whose son was already a multi-time NZ kart champion and who is now plying a successful career overseas that if he ran the drink’s company’s logos on his car for a season ‘for free’ the company ‘might consider’ tipping in some $$ in year two….


To which my guy responded with a rousing ‘yeah right!’ Yet that logo appeared on several other ‘sponsored’ cars that season.


The bottom line?


You won’t be seeing any stickers on my old R31 any time soon. Or me stressing out after a fun day at Evergreen making sure I don’t miss out anyone’s name if I ever have to make a speech.


Sure, I could (and believe me, every so often I am sorely tempted) knock up a snazzy looking ‘prop,’ fill it with impressive looking and souding stats on ‘metrics ‘ (new buzz word) like ‘reach’ and ‘cut-through’ and shop it around some ‘mates in the trade.’


At the end of the day though, (and again, this is only my opinion) I’d lose more than I’d gain.


For a start I’d never be able to generate the $$$ to cover the costs (which according to guys who have done it can be anywhere between $40-$120,000 a season) to even run a D1NZ Pro-Sport campaign. And even if I managed to rustle up a quarter of that amount in cold, hard cash, I simply wouldn’t have the time to do the 101 other things you have to do these days (organise posters and T-Shirts and put in personal appearances etc etc) AND hold down a day job.


And therein lies the rub, and with it the lie.


Like most Kiwi competition licence holders, racing is my HOBBY not my vocation. And too many of my peers seem to forget that fact.

Ross MacKay

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines a day job editing NZ4WD magazine with contract media work, weekend Mountain Bike missions and towing his 1989 Nissan Skyline drifter to grassroots meetings around the North Island.

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1 comment
  1. DJMCD

    Ross that’s one of the most honest appraisals of the current colourful circus acts I’ve ever read, well done and so true. As someone who had a bit to do with conveying sights and sounds to folk lining a fence line at a racetrack I would only take issue with the lack of racing numbers reference. As all cars (even those missiles called F! cars) are still supposed to carry a number despite the wizardry of electronics these days and despite the fact that the dreadful American style of reference as in, “the 18 car” has now arrived in our local lexicon, I still think they have a place. Even my favourite commentator “Cromley” has to rush to describe the full sponsored names eg: “Red Bull Racing Australia ZB Commodore Number 97, or “The 17 Shell V Power Racing DJR/Penske Falcon of Scott McLaughlin” by the time he’s got all that out two laps have gone by! Bring back the roundel, make the numbers bigger, as some of the cars are so covered in livery/logos, its almost too hard to figure out what make they are.


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