The miraculous Henry Ford Museum was the site for the tenth anniversary meeting of the NASCAR Fuel for Business Council, a custom built business-to-business platform designed to generate greater return on investment for NASCAR Official Partners. More than fifty Official Partners partook in the event, which guarantees a form of exclusive communication between those in attendance, including all of the major automobile manufacturers that are part of the sport — Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota. I had an opportunity to speak to representatives on site from the three automobile manufacturers to learn more about what the Fuel for Business Council means for their respective companies as they continue to be heavily invested in NASCAR.
The most engaged of the three automobile manufacturers at the Fuel for Business Council meetings seemed to be Ford Racing, and Tim Duerr, Marketing Manager at Ford Racing is not shy about his stature. ”I think I’m more successful than they are,” said Duerr. ”I’m the only manufacturer who has won an award twice for doing the best job in growing the sport.”
The award referenced by Duerr is the “Driving Business Award,” which was earned by The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for 2014 and is an annual award granted to a company that exemplifies leadership and results through its active participation in the Council. The key is to attend the Council meetings, schmooze with representatives from major companies (many being FORTUNE 500 companies) and create lasting relationships that add to an increase in buying and selling of goods and services. It is an important element for partnership procurement that would be somewhat inhibited without the Council in place.
(Left to right) NASCAR’s Kim Brink, Toyota’s Keith Dahl, Ford’s Tim Duerr, & Chevy’s Terry Dolan. Photo courtesy of Jon Schwartz, Integrated Marketing Communications at NASCAR
“The environment is totally different at the track; it is a fast pace,” said Terry Dolan, Manager of Chevy Racing. ”[The track] doesn’t always provide you with much more opportunity than to exchange business cards.” The Council meeting structure is exceedingly efficient according to Dolan, whose company is aligned with three of the biggest stars in the sport — Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr.
It is a form of speed dating meets Sorority recruitment at the Council’s four meetings per year. NASCAR refers to it as “speed meetings.” Each Official Partner lists roughly half a dozen companies it would like to meet and NASCAR compiles all lists to craft a master sheet that matches company representatives with one another for four 20-25 minute meetings throughout the day.
“It is a great forum to be able to talk to all the right people at one place,” added Keith Dahl, Corporate Manager – Motorsports & Engagement Marketing at Toyota Motor Corp. He echoed Dolan’s sentiment when he said, “the reality is that the racetrack is not a good venue to talk to anybody.”
At first, it seemed somewhat odd that the three automobile juggernauts would feel comfortable being part of the same Council and sit side-by-side as they compete against one another. However, while Duerr is not shy to state that Ford Racing is No. 1 in his eyes, he refers to those in attendance representing his rivals as his friends.
“We all win by the rising tides for all of us,” added Dolan. ”A rising tide lifts all boats,” said Dahl separately. ”We compete with them at auto shows and on the track. It’s interesting. I enjoy talking to these guys.”
Yet, all automobile company representatives admit that they have to be somewhat guarded in what they say when their competitors are around. The representatives for Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota admitted that they are careful to not discuss anything that is proprietary in nature, which can be a challenge with all three companies having a seat on the Council. Other than that one issue, none of the representatives expressed any concerns with the Council’s structure.
NASCAR claims to be the only major league sports that offers the exclusive business-to-business meetings for its Official Partners. All automobile company representatives emphasized the value of creating promotional and marketing alliances with others in the large room; a couple of them specifically noted the success of their sweepstakes with Coca Cola.
The overall goal for all Official Partners is to enhance their return on investment. Ford Racing, in particular, is thrilled with its success being an active participant in the Council. According to company data, Ford has generated more than $200 million in sales as a result of Council participation. In 2012, Ford sold over 5,500 vehicles to NASCAR Official Partners through its “Partner Recognition Program,” with one deal being worth more than $5 million to the company.
“Ford wouldn’t be spending money if we didn’t see a return,” said Duerr. Chevy’s Dolan added, “We work with a lot of governing bodies. Others have tried these regular meetings and they are not as effective. [NASCAR] clearly exceeds all competitive series’.”
Darren Heitner is a lawyer and the Founder of South Florida-based HEITNER LEGAL, P.L.L.C., which has a focus on Sports Law and Entertainment Law.
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