Companies Who Sponsor Motorsport: From NASCAR to Motocross and Everything in Between
Motorsports companies such as Formula One and NASCAR garner millions of television viewers and often attract a full house at tracks around the country and the world. The sponsorship opportunities in motorsports are wide open, which is why companies from car and oil brands to insurance providers and food giants have slotted themselves into available spots.
This article will showcase the breadth of motorsports sponsorships over the years, including the big players like NASCAR and smaller ones like IMSA. Through the sponsorships I’ll talk about ahead, you’ll find it easier to identify valuable motorsport sponsorship opportunities of your own.
The History of NASCAR Sponsors
NASCAR championship races have viewer counts into the three million. Although Formula One has a bigger following, for many people, NASCAR is synonymous with motorsports. That’s why I thought I’d begin by talking about the history of NASCAR sponsors.
Winston Cigarettes – 1971 to 2003
The NASCAR Premier Series, which started in the 1940s, saw sponsorship opportunities begin ramping up in the 1970s. Winston, a cigarette brand, had its name as part of the Premier Series from 1971 until well into the early 2000s.
The company that owns Winston is called the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and they approached NASCAR for sponsorship, not the other way around. Sounds like NASCAR hit the jackpot, right?
Not entirely, as R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company certainly had some ulterior motives. You see, in 1971, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was enforced. No cigarette brands were allowed to advertise with television commercials.
Of course, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act mentioned nothing about televised sponsorship, so R. J. Reynolds found a loophole.
By 2003, with public awareness about the dangers of cigarettes much better than it was back in the ‘70s, NASCAR decided that being associated with a cigarette brand wasn’t good for their public image and ended the deal.
Nextel – 2004 to 2007
To start the 2004 NASCAR season off on the right foot (pun intended), the racing giant decided to pair up with a safer company, Nextel Communications. As a result, that year, the NASCAR Premier Series was called the Nextel Cup Series.
Nextel is since defunct, but the company–which was founded in 1987–was still going strong by the early-to-mid 2000s.
Around the time that Nextel was NASCAR’s sponsor, the racing company changed how it declared a NASCAR Premier Series winner, but that likely was not related to the new sponsorship deal.
Sprint – 2008 to 2016
As the 2008 season got underway, NASCAR didn’t necessarily find a new sponsor. It’s just that Sprint absorbed Nextel Communications in a merger, and so the Nextel Cup Series was renamed the Sprint Cup Series.
For the next 12 years, Sprint was associated with NASCAR as its series sponsor. NASCAR continued making changes to its Premier Series races and how they worked, which was again likely just coincidental.
Monster Energy – 2017 to 2019
By 2014, Sprint had announced that it would work with NASCAR only through the 2016 race season. NASCAR knew it would need a new sponsor for the Premier Series starting with the 2017 season, but replacing Sprint wasn’t an overnight process. It took NASCAR quite a while to find a new sponsor.
The racing giant finally settled on Monster Energy. Now the Premier Series was called the Monster Energy Series.
Monster is no stranger to motorsports, having supported the AMA Supercross Championship in the past as well. Monster, as an energy drink, has the high-octane vibes that go well with motorsports.
Plus, NASCAR knew that its primary audience continued to get older, so the company hoped that partnering with a hip brand like Monster would bring in younger viewers.
The Monster partnership was a short-lived one. As the 2019 NASCAR season wrapped in November of that year, NASCAR decided not to proceed with Monster in 2020.
Coca-Cola, Xfinity, Geico, and Busch – 2020 to Present
Before 2019 ended, NASCAR revealed its sponsorship plans for the 2020 season. The company decided that rather than have one sponsor for the Premier Series as they have since the 1970s that that they’d begin working with four sponsors at a time. These sponsors are known as premier partners.
The first group of sponsors is Coca-Cola, Xfinity, Geico, and Busch.
These aren’t surprising choices. Coca-Cola is a major name in sports sponsorship and has a history with NASCAR, having had naming rights associated with yearly NASCAR races such as the Coke Zero Sugar 400 and the Coca-Cola 600.
NASCAR’s minor-league stockcar racing series is today called the NASCAR Xfinity Series, so NASCAR was already working with Xfinity before 2020 as well. Past sponsors of this area of stockcar racing include Busch and Budweiser.
That explains also why Busch beer is one of NASCAR’s four premier partners, but what about Geico? Geico has sponsored motorsports since 2008, including NASCAR drivers like Casey Mears and Max Papis during the NASCAR Cup Series and Mike Wallace during the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
I’m sure you have some questions about this change in NASCAR’s sponsorship structure. First of all, who gets the naming rights now? Well, no one. The Premier Series is called the NASCAR Cup Series.
Second, why the move to four sponsors rather than one? It’s likely a financial decision. Rather than have one company pay for a season of racing, footing the bill among four companies reduces the financial burden. That’s appealing to sponsors.
The Biggest Motocross Sponsors
The excitement associated with off-road motorcycling or motocross is irresistible to companies that want to jazz up their own image.
Motocross also has a worldwide presence with such competitions as the FIM Motocross World Championship, the British Motocross Championship, the AMA Motocross Championship, and the Motocross des Nations.
Here are some of the biggest names for the above competitions and other motocross events.
Sponsorships don’t always have to be complicated. Motocross requires racing on a motorcycle and Harley-Davidson is one of the biggest namesin motorcycle manufacturing. Like peanut butter and jelly, this is a perfect match.
However, all good things must come to end. Racing resource Road Dirt mentions that, as of 2020, Harley-Davidson will stop sponsoring factory race series and teams. The reason is in part due to a CEO shift.
Also, time has not been friendly to the motorcycle brand, as the company had to close more than 70 dealerships in 2020. Between layoffs and profit losses, Harley-Davidson has had to majorly re-prioritize, and so that means stopping with motocross sponsorships…at least for now.
By the way, the fall of Harley-Davidson was not unique to that brand only. Many industries got slammed hard by COVID-19, and they were just one of them.
NASCAR had Monster, but Rockstar prefers other types of racing, including motocross. The energy drink brand has had a long-time association with all things loud and wild, such as the rock and metal music festival Mayhem and the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series (which is not motocross, FYI).
Rockstar has supported individual motocross racers as a sponsor, including the motorcycle racer Jorge Lorenzo.
Although Oakley is best known for its sunglasses, the brand also manufactures sports goggles and visors, with the former including motocross goggles.
The Team Oakley website shows the far reach of this brand into the realm of sports. The number of sponsored drivers Oakley has supported and continues to support is immense, with some of the biggest motocross stars on that list. They include Valentino Rossi, Eli Tomac, Marc Marquez, and Jeffrey Herlings.
Another key motocross sponsor is Lucas Oil, the namesake behind the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship. This is another one of those partnerships that feel natural and seem to resonate big with the fans.
What Companies Sponsor Formula One?
According to this NBC News piece that was published in June 2021, 87.4 million people tuned into Formula One races in 2020. The viewership of Formula One makes it the top dog in motorsports, even more so than NASCAR (as mentioned).
Speaking of NASCAR, sponsorship arrangements in Formula One work in a similar fashion. A sponsored partner might receive their badge on a race vehicle or gain access to naming rights.
Sponsorship in some form didn’t appear in Formula One until sometime in the 1960s. Team Lotus, a now-defunct motorsport company related to Lotus Cars, was considered an early sponsor, although not by pure definition.
Why’s that? Formula One banned commercial sponsorship until 1968. Once sponsors were allowed though, the floodgates opened. More than 50 years later, those floodgates remain wide open still. Per the F1 website, here are the current sponsors and providers of Formula One:
- Fanatec, a professional car simulation hardware producer
- DHL, a delivery service that has been associated with motorsports for nearly 40 years
- Aramco, a chemical and energy company
- Herjavec Group, which specializes in cybersecurity
- Drive Coffee, a sustainable coffee roasting brand
- Workday, which produces enterprise cloud applications
- 188BET, an online bookmaker
- Zoom Video Communications, which needs no introduction after 2020
- LIQUI MOLY, which produces car care sprays, pastes, greases, sealants, glues, additives, and motor oils
- Ferrari, which is an Italian winery, not the car brand
- Amazon Web Services, which worked with F1 to produce race analytics and statistics
- Rolex, the luxury watch brand
- Pirelli, a tire brand
- Heineken, the well-known alcohol manufacturer
- Crypto.com, a cryptocurrency app
Major IMSA Sponsors
From the biggest motorsports company to one of the smallest, I want to show you the breadth of motorsports sponsorship examples so you can see what’s possible for your own motorsport sponsorship program.
That’s why I figured I’d talk about the International Motor Sports Association or IMSA, which races in Daytona Beach. Founded by former Sports Club Car of America director John Bishop in 1969, IMSA is owned by NASCAR but isn’t nearly as well known.
Most of their sponsors are associated with racing. Per the IMSA website, here’s their current list of sponsors:
- USA Today Sports, a sports news resource
- Aston Martin Racing
- BMW Motorsport
- Ferrari, this time the car company
- Honda Racing
- Hyundai Motorsports
- Lexus Racing
- Austin Hatcher Foundation, a pediatric cancer foundation
What Are the Best Motorsport Sponsorship Opportunities?
By this point, it should be clearer to you what kinds of opportunities sponsors value most when pairing with motorsport organizations.
Here are five such opportunities to add to your assets list!
Naming Rights to Races or Championships
As you’ll recall from the start of this guide, NASCAR frequently offers its sponsors naming rights for its Premier Series. That only stopped in 2020 when NASCAR changed its sponsorship formula.
Many sponsors had years of exposure from having a NASCAR racing event named after them. The benefits of sponsorship naming rights are multiple, which is why this asset is so sought-after by sponsors.
Each time your motorsports commentators read off the name of the event, or whenever the logo pops up on TV or on social media or anywhere, that’s free promotion for the sponsor. If the naming rights appear on merchandise such as t-shirts, posters, or replica vehicles, the free promotion runs even deeper.
What’s nice about naming rights in motorsports–especially when it comes to races or championships–is that they go into the history books and remain immortalized. For example, even though Nextel is long since defunct, the Nextel Cup Series is a part of NASCAR history and it’s mentioned when appropriate.
Now, if there was some track in Daytona called the Nextel Racing Arena, that name could change two dozen times in as many years. The name wouldn’t be erased from the history books, but it wouldn’t be esteemed in the same way.
Branded Logo on Race Vehicle
Another high-value motorsport sponsorship opportunity is a company’s name and branding on a race car.
Most races last for hours, and each time a car zips around on the track, there the sponsor’s name would be, further lending the sponsor free promotion.
The merchandizing opportunities are huge here. I mentioned replica cars before, which will feature the sponsor’s name and logo on them. If a sponsor gets a logo in a prominent spot on the vehicle, photos of the race car with the logo could appear on t-shirts, blankets, mugs, you name it.
Plus, the sponsor’s name and logo could even appear in video games if the car is accurately replicated.
Branded Logo on Race Uniforms
At the very least, a sponsor might attain to get their name and logo on the uniform of a race driver.
Most drivers are hidden out of view except for pre-race and post-race interviews. Still, if a sponsor supports a rookie driver and that driver surprises everyone and takes home the win, that’s a lot of positive attention the sponsor now receives.
Do you ever notice that when a company sponsors a sport that you see that company’s commercials a lot more during breaks? That’s no coincidence.
The sponsor might pay the motorsports organization X amount to get their ad aired Y times per race. The commercial might not be different than the ads the sponsor usually shows, but it can be. Some sponsors might even feature drivers in the ad.
Through audience data, you know the sponsor’s target audience is watching the race, so hopefully, airing the ad will result in more sales and conversions.
Branded Logo on Track or Other Signage
Among the least valuable motorsports sponsorship opportunities are branded logos outside of those on the vehicles or the drivers’ uniforms. For example, maybe a sponsor pays to get their name on the side of the track.
For the fans who attend the race, they’ll see your logo all day, but it’s lost in the shuffle among all the other sponsors who paid for the same opportunity.
On television, you’re lucky if your logo gets more than a few seconds of screen time. The camera people are focusing on the drivers, not the track itself (only if there’s a wreck will that happen, usually).
Motorsports is one of the top sports on the planet, so it’s attracted its fair share of big-name sponsors over the decades. In NASCAR, F1, motocross, and even small-name racing orgs like IMSA, sponsors run the gamut from automotive names to energy drinks and even cloud computing services.
I hope the information in this guide helps you begin brainstorming your own motorsports activations!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.
After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.
Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.