Time Is Money

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It's been more than a month since the Winston Cup season ended and it's time for a little RacingOne test.

OK, quick, name your favorite racing commercial. Come on, we'll give you a minute.

Theme to “Jeopardy” now plays…

OK, time's up. Could you name one? How about two? Too hard, you say? Well, you're not alone.

The question comes about because the folks at Joyce Julius and Associates, the company which tracks sponsor mentions, has recently released its research for the 2000 Winston Cup season.

According to the Sponsors Report, the industry guidebook for sponsorship progress, companies generated more than $1.6 billion in commercial value last season through their race team deals.

For each event, the folks at Joyce Julius record and calculate how many seconds each sponsor's image is clearly on the screen, or how many times an announcer mentions a sponsor's name.

So it is, each time Benny Parsons mentions Rusty Wallace driving the Miller car, researchers count the time. Then, they take the total and compare it to what a typical commercial spot would have cost during the race to put a value on the time.

The Sponsors Report statistics are the key measurement tool for the business, and - like the Nielsen system for measuring viewership - it isn't perfect. It’s simply all there is.

TV networks have no choice but to use Nielsen's statistics to base viewership judgments. Likewise, team sponsors have little else from which to put a value on the exposure they're gaining in racing.

Based on the latest figures, 838 sponsors amassed more than 335 hours of on-screen time, and 18,890 verbal references during the races.

This season there was something of an upset in the final tally. Budweiser, backer of Dale Earnhardt Jr's Monte Carlo, unseated Valvoline, which for the past seven seasons has garnered the largest value for its involvement with Mark Martin.

Budweiser was seen or mentioned to the tune of $58 million. That is, had Budweiser bought commercial time equal to the time of its mentions, that's how much it would have cost. Valvoline, however, totaled $35 million in value, falling to fourth overall.

Miller Lite amassed $52 million in mentions. Texaco got $43 million, and Interstate Batteries, sponsor of series champ Bobby Labonte, was fifth with $34.9 million in mentions.

First, a few caveats about the statistics. Year-after-year Valvoline has come out in the top spot for a couple of reasons. Of course, Martin is a great driver so his car is on the screen a lot of the time in most races. More important, Martin's car often carries an in-car camera - which has a Valvoline sticker on the dashboard - which helps rack up the time.

To that end, the time accumulated for the in-car cameras really shouldn't count since sponsors in many races pay to carry the cameras. In short, each time the camera is on in the car, it's really a paid commercial.

The Sponsors Report also reports that 182 corporate sponsors earned more than $1 million in comparable exposure during the 2000 season.

Overall, the 2000 tally was up 12.8 percent from the previous year, which was up 19.7 percent the year before that.

In general, these are the figures sponsors and teams will use to sell new sponsors down the road. Look here, they'll say, "Our sponsor got a gazillion dollars in exposure for, well, $10 million."

On paper, it sounds like a good deal, of course. Budweiser is spending $10 million to be on Earnhardt Jr's car, and if it really is getting $58 million in value, that's the kind of math that warms a bean counter's heart.

However, millions aside, how many people really remember the commercials? Moreover, does the exposure during the race really go toward swaying consumer habits?

Has anyone who was considering buying a Ford, gone and bought a Chevrolet because of a mention of Earnhardt's Monte Carlo during a race? Or, has anyone been moved to do something because they saw a small decal on a car's shock absorber that was shown nationally via a wheel-cam?

It's doubtful on all points. The real point is, don't get bogged down by the razzle-dazzle of the numbers.

Would Valvoline be better off if it simply paid $35 million for commercial time on race telecasts than on a car? No one really knows, and it's likely they probably don't want to find out, either.

This isn't to pooh-pooh the value of racing team sponsorship's either. Instead, folks should simply be realistic about the value and returns on their investments.

OK class, pencils down. Could you name any commercials?

Honestly, I racked my brain and could remember two: A Valvoline spot, using a simulated sonogram of Mark Martin as a developing baby. And a Chevy spot with Dale Sr. and Dale Jr., where Jr. is mimicking his father, who is driving.

Funny spots, both, however each remembered because they were regular commercials and not decals stuck on a quarterpanel. Go figure.

If you have questions, comments or ideas you'd like to send to Richard Huff, you may do so at RichMHuff@cs.com

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2001

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