Sporting events have long been popular venues for businesses of all kinds to promote themselves. From the snack food-sponsored highlight reel to the dishwasher soap play of the day, it’s hard to find a game on TV that doesn’t have a corporate logo hovering near the action.
But sponsorship isn’t just about advertising or product placement. Businesses involved in motorsports are turning their sponsorship dollars into opportunities for entertainment and networking and getting closer to the action than any other sport will allow.
Dan Andersen, owner and president of Andersen Interior Contracting, says he’d always enjoyed performance vehicles and took that appreciation to the next level when he and his son took an interest in Formula racing (open wheel, open cockpit, single seat) in the early 90s.
In support of his son, Andersen started a minor league for younger drivers-like major league baseball does for its promising young players-and has stayed involved to this day.
Now, Andersen uses his connection to racing as a way to enhance his 26-year commercial drywall, acoustical ceiling and architectural woodworking business.
“In terms of business it’s simple,” Andersen says. “It offers a great place to entertain clients and reward employees.”
While other companies buy skyboxes at the baseball stadium or entire sections of seats at a football game, he takes people into the racing pits. The difference is access, he says. The best seats at the ball field and the finest luxury accommodations at a hockey game don’t offer what the pits do.
“You get more close contact,” Andersen says. “When you sponsor a racing team you can meet the team, meet the drivers and get right up next to the action. It’s exciting.”
For the past four years, Allied Building Products of New Jersey has put its name behind racing teams on the Indy Lights circuit. The combination of sleek frames, powerful engines and the opportunity to meet and greet the legends of racing has turned out to be a powerful tool for the 60-plus year old company when it comes to courting clients and partners.
Allied Building Products’ Director of Purchasing and Replenishment Clint Valleau says the company has been involved in Indy Lights racing since 2008. It was Andersen Interior Contractors that enticed the company to get involved.
“They’ve been involved in open wheel racing (cars with the wheels outside the car’s main body and, in most cases, one seat) for 30 years,” says Valleau. “They asked us for help in sponsoring one of their cars.”
INDY LIGHTS BRIGADE
At the time, Andersen had a few cars in the Indy Lights circuit. While the common images of any kind of motorsports are of screaming engines and champagne-soaked winners’ circles, there have been spectacular tragedies-one of them not so far in the past.
Valleau and other members of the Allied Building Products family were in attendance in Las Vegas at the race that took the life of British driver Dan Wheldon-the 2011 IZOD IndyCar World Championship-on October 16. Wheldon’s car was sponsored by Allied Building Products.
Wheldon was involved in a 15–car accident during the 11th lap, in which his car flew into the catch fence before landing back on the track. Wheldon was pulled from his car and taken by chopper to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was 33.
“It was a solemn, tragic event,” Valleau says. “We came to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the fans and pit crews and saluted the drivers as they went by. I was glad to have known Wheldon as a person. It was bittersweet.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: There was a five-lap tribute salute to Wheldon before the race was continued)
Valleau says the company will continue its sponsorship of Indy Lights teams in the upcoming 2012 season. More than that, he says the company’s involvement in Indy Lights racing is part of their march forward to eventually become a part of Indy racing.
But the involvement is not about having the Allied Building Products’ logo on the side of a car or emblazoned on a racer’s fire suit. It’s about entertainment and the cultivation of relationships with customers.
“Advertising is the least important part of why we take part in racing sponsorship. We sponsor the teams as a form of entertainment,” Valleau says. “We get to go and we get to take our customers.”
A typical visit to the races, he says, involves up to 16 customers of Allied (their vendors and partners) getting to go into the racing pits with full-access passes to watch the race from angles no TV broadcast can touch. They can get up close and personal with the drivers, mechanics and other racing luminaries they would almost never have a chance to in real life.
Valleau says time spent on the grid is time hanging out with the likes of IndyCar driver Danica Patrick, racing world royalty like the Andretti family (Mario, Michael, Marco), motorsports luminaries like Roger Penske and the various Hollywood celebrities who follow racing of all kinds. Rarified access, he says, can be a very special perk.
“That kind of behind the velvet ropes experience is something people remember for a very long time,” Valleau says. “It’s good to be able to offer that to our customers.”