GANASSI KEEPS STRONG FUNDING FOR 2012
By Nate Ryan, USA Today
CONCORD, N.C. (USA TODAY) — If Earnhardt Ganassi Racing's sponsorship were predicated solely on its NASCAR team's success, 2011 would have been a tough sell.
Team owner Chip Ganassi wasn't pitching prospects with his blunt assessment of last year's results by Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray.
"Hopefully, this is the last time I have to say we finished 21st (Montoya) and 27th (McMurray) in points last year," Ganassi said Tuesday morning during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour, later adding, "That's pathetic for a team with our ability and resources."
Flagging performance, though, hasn't impacted the team's bottom line.
During an era in which championship teams are struggling to fill their sponsorship lineups, EGR has its Chevrolets filled for all 36 Sprint Cup races this season. Target (through the Energizer, Clorox, Huggies and Degree brands) will remain a full-season sponsor on Montoya's No. 42, and McDonald's (13 races) and Bass Pro Shops (20 races) will pick up the bulk of the schedule on McMurray's No. 1 with Belkin (Martinsville Speedway in April), Banana Boat (Pocono Raceway in June) and Liftmaster (New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September) adorning the rest.
Amidst critically assessing the results that caused his team to make roughly 20 personnel changes in the offseason (including new crew chief Chris Heroy for Montoya, new team manager Max Jones and new technical director John Probst), Ganassi saved all the praise for his sales team.
"We didn't give them a lot to work with," he said. "We're certainly fortunate to have the partners we have."
EGR President Steve Lauletta said the approach is to focus on what its sponsors are trying to sell rather than guaranteeing on-track success. The hope is by generating a return on their investment, companies will want to expand their deal after starting as partial-season primary sponsor or an associate (as Liftmaster was last year).
"It takes a lot of work," Lauletta said. "We spend a of time with our partners to make sure we're aligned with their goals and objectives, so we're always thinking of ideas that help them reach those. We worked on activation plans with Liftmaster, and it worked out so well, they asked what more can they do. That's how you build it.
"Chip likes to say there are two things to say to our partners: 'Yes' and 'thank you.' He's right. You have to be dedicated to understanding that partnership is not just an exchange of stuff where you give us this money, we give you this stuff. I think we do a really good job of that. It's about learning their business and understanding that we don't default to putting logos on our race car. We default to what is their problem as a business, and how can we bring whatever assets of ours to help them solve that. There's no one-size-fits-all approach."
But the team doesn't bring results into its sponsor negotiations.
"It's the one thing in sports; you can't guarantee it," Lauletta said. "You've got to have successful programs before you get on the track on Sunday. If you do that and win or get the pole, that's the icing on the cake. It's not calling someone the next day and saying, 'Ooh, sorry we finished 15th or 20th.' If you build that model, you're in trouble."
EGR co-owner Felix Sabates said the team benefits from Ganassi's success in the Izod IndyCar and Grand-Am series. Chip Ganassi Racing has won the past four IndyCar championships and four Rolex 24s at Daytona. In signing with McMurray, Banana Boat also became an associate sponsor with four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti.
"The sponsorship is pretty tough out there," Sabates said. "You have to have more than a race team. We work with our sponsors and activation and helping them promote the product. We go out of our way to work with the sponsors in supporting a race car. In the old days, they'd pay a million dollars a year and never be at the races. Now all our sponsors are very involved. This weekend, we'll have the No. 2 man at Target all weekend at Daytona (for the Rolex 24)."
Target, which sponsors both Franchitti and Dixon in IndyCar, is beginning its 23rd season with Ganassi and its ninth season as a primary sponsor in NASCAR's premier series.
While sponsor retention has proven to be Ganassi's forte, he said the team doesn't want to add any more companies until its existing stock cars are worthy.
"I used to say if sponsorship turns up, I'll have a third (Cup) car," Ganassi said. "As tough as the sponsorship market is today, that's still the easiest part of the puzzle is the sponsorship. Putting the rest of the team together to mesh with the two cars we have — that's the hard part. I've changed on (adding a third car). We need to get two cars running well before we add a third."