Thinking of Buying a Fast-Casual Franchise? Read this report first.
QSR Feature
Reaching Out to NASCAR Nation

The partnership is a first for Sonic, but, according to Todd Townsend, Sonic’s vice president and chief marketing officer, Nashville Star’s demographics match up nicely with Sonic’s markets.

Although Chick-fil-A declined to give specifics of its sport marketing program, the Atlanta-based chain’s web site emphasizes its ongoing strategy to building national brand awareness and sales through level sponsorships. Chick-fil-A is involved in such major competitions as the recently renamed Chick-fil-A Bowl (formerly Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl), all athletic championship events for the Atlantic Coast Conference (acc) men’s basketball program and Southeastern Conference (sec) and Big 12 Conferences football, and the National Cheerleaders Association.

Taking our place among bigger Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies as a name sponsor of such a major sport was a way of helping us to look bigger than we were.”

While the Chick-fil-A Bowl sponsorship provides the biggest single bang in terms of national TV advertising buys, the ACC, SEC, and Big 12 alliances provide “media exposure via TV, radio, and print advertisement and promotion mentions; in addition, the company has the opportunity to gain exposure to hundreds of thousands of sports fans via on-site promotions and food sales at selected conference events,” according to Chick-fil-A’s press materials.

“Sponsorship of the ACC, SEC, and Big 12 Conference championship events, plus the title sponsorship of the newly-renamed Chick-fil-A Bowl,” continues the Chick-fil-a statement, “gives us strong presence in our core markets (the Atlantic Coast, Southeast, and South Central U.S.).”

For Checkers/Rally’s, the association with NASCAR has had tangible results. The brand’s NASCAR Triple Cheeseburger Combo Meal with souvenir logo drinking cups accounts for an average of between 4 percent to 6 percent of total sales, Turer says. When it is part of an active promotion, as it was in the summer of 2006 while Checkers/Rally’s promoted Sony Picture’s Talladega Nights, that number can increase to around 10 percent, he says.

Such promotions also open up possibilities for tie-in product introductions, the Checkers/Rally’s Fully Loaded fries, for example.

Through its NASCAR association, Checkers/Rally’s has been able to, “double our brand awareness without spending any additional dollars on television in our markets,” Turer says.

Joyce Julius Associates, Inc., an independent sports, special events, and entertainment evaluation company, estimates that in 2005 affiliation with NASCAR through public relations, print, television promotions, sponsorships and other activities combined to produce $20 million in exposure for Checkers/Rally’s.

“We didn’t have anywhere close to $20 million to spend on national advertising,” Turer says. “We can’t afford to buy a lot of 30-second television spots, so we can’t outbuy our competitors in terms of exposure.

“For us, sponsorship is partly a blocking strategy,” he continues. “We own the tracks and the events we sponsor.”

Also through sponsorships that span a variety of sports, Checkers/Rally’s has been able to develop some unique cross-promotional events for its partners. During the 2006 NASCAR Night at the Trop, Checkers/Rally’s brought Nextel Cup stockcars and NASCAR drivers to Tropicana Field for a Tampa Bay Devils game.

And the NASCAR affiliation has helped to foster a renewed team spirit system-wide. “We have more qualified franchise prospects today than ever before,” Turer says.

And, for some, the Checkers/Rally’s/ NASCAR connection helped to put the chain miles ahead of its competitors. New Wisconsin franchise partners Jim Merfeld and Brian Pfitzinger, for example, believe that the sponsorship “brings a tremendous credibility and name recognition to Checkers, especially in new markets like Wisconsin.” Merfeld and Pfitzinger plan to build 10 new Checkers locations in the state over the next 5 years.

Internally, Checkers/Rally’s has built speed- and accuracy-focused incentive programs for its store management and hourly employees around the NASCAR theme. Two examples are its Ready Set Focus manager incentive car-giveaway program and its Guest Obsessed (go!) training program.

However, if 75 percent of the consumers in Checkers/Rally’s markets are NASCAR fans, as Turer estimates, what about the other 25 percent? Is there a risk that the chain’s car-centric marketing could actually drive them away?

Turer contends, the appeal of NASCAR is expanding as motorsports increasingly reaches out to include minority market segments. As part of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, Checkers/Rally’s has sponsored African American driver Bill Lester and female driver Brianne Cronrath in selected races. Lester has also been featured on Checkers/Rally’s beverage cups nationwide and addressed the chain’s franchise advisory committee on the strides made by NASCAR and its sponsor partners in the realm of diversity.

Still, despite Checkers/Rally’s success with its sports sponsorships, Turer cautions others considering similar moves to maintain their objectivity when looking for a partner. “It’s a mistake to base your selection of any promotional partner simply on your own preferences or the preferences of the CEO or any single member of the executive team,” he says. “We’ve always thoroughly analyzed the financial feasibility and potential return on investment of every one of our sponsorships before we ever committed ourselves to anything.”

Allen also warns against being dazzled by the prospects of prime seating at events, behind-the-scene tours, and star-studded meet and greets. And even if the investment seems sound, he recommends capping any sponsorship commitments to no more than 5 percent of the company’s overall marketing budget.

“You don’t want to shortchange any of the other key marketing elements, and you definitely never want to put all of your eggs in one basket,” Allen says.

Page 1 | 2 | Next
Marilyn Odesser-Torpey is a regular contributor to QSR.