Stewart-Haas Racing goes Hollywood in appeal to sponsor

The dichotomy of sweat equity and equity capital required to race in Sprint Cup was on display — and illuminated by klieg lights — last month at Stewart-Haas Racing. As crewmembers scurried around the shop floor of team headquarters making last-minute touchups on the Daytona 500 Chevrolets for Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart, a crew of a few dozen production assistants, sound technicians and creative personnel scouted camera angles and checked scripts.

In between takes of a commercial for new sponsor Quicken Loans, the firesuit-clad drivers chatted with their pit crews (who doubled as co-stars) and checked on seat fittings.

"It's convenient for everybody and important it doesn't take away from what's happening in the shop," Newman said. "This is crunch time for everybody nutting and bolting the cars. It's the best of both worlds."

Turning a NASCAR's team headquarters into a makeshift Hollywood production studio is an example of the extra lengths and preparation being taken to woo sponsors and meet their business objectives.

Stewart-Haas' deal with Quicken, which will be Newman's primary sponsor in nine Cup races in addition to being a full-season associate sponsor, took about a year to complete before its announcement last October.

"All of these sponsorships are taking longer to cultivate," said Stewart-Haas vice president Brett Frood, who oversees the team's business operations. "Back several years ago, some of these took a month. As a company that makes wise, strategic decisions, (Quicken wasn't) going to jump in without completely understanding, so their diligence was exhaustive. But we appreciated that."

The company's careful vetting process helped produce the commercial, which makes its debut during the Fox broadcast of Sunday's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It promotes a fan sweepstakes (the premise being a chance to be "boss of Stewart-Haas for a day") that was cooked up while hammering out the deal, and Quicken's in-house creative team of 18 requested the shop for its set location.

Though the shoot was scheduled only a few days before his team's haulers hit the road for Daytona, Stewart embraced the opportunity.

"We're proud of this facility and feel we've got a nice place everyone likes to work," the defending Cup champion and team co-owner said. "To shoot a commercial here is cool for us. With the downtime, you still can get stuff done at the shop."

Stewart-Haas opened up its 140,000-square-foot building for show business, setting up shoots in co-owner Gene Haas' office, cordoning off part of its fabrication shop and paint booth and commandeering the shop's front entrance (closing the gift shop to fans for the day). Though it could have been obtrusive, particularly given the partnership hadn't made it's official on-track debut, Frood said the long lead time of signing the sponsor fostered a solid working relationship.

"We feel we've been partners for a year because of the brainstorming we've done since Day 1 before we signed contracts," Frood said. "It's neat for our company and employees to do something different, and it gives us exposure being in a real setting and adding a real flavor."

The team also gave the sponsor wide latitude in charting its entry into NASCAR. President and chief marketing officer Jay Farner said Quicken played an integral role in helping design the car's matte finish (as well as creating and producing the commercial).

Quicken's deal is among the biggest this season for sponsors that are new to NASCAR's premier series. Many longtime primary sponsors have decreased investment in recent seasons, but Farner said Quicken was enticed by research proving the brand loyalty of NASCAR fans.

Stewart-Haas' U.S. Army sponsorship also was a hook for the mortgage lender, which counts more than 11,000 active and retired military clients and sponsored the Carrier Classic college basketball game in November.

"We spent a lot of time looking at different sports and teams," Farner said. "We didn't start off saying we're going to do NASCAR. But meeting the team pushed me over the edge because they were creative, good people. The fans understand it's more than just a sport and want to support the sponsors, and Stewart-Haas was very aware of how to make the sponsorship work that you didn't get in other sports."

Frood said Stewart-Haas employs a staff of six that focuses solely on helping sponsors generate revenue by increasing business via its race-oriented marketing or "activation" (i.e. the promotions and at-track displays geared around the driver and car).

"We have to understand their businesses and know if it's a brick and mortar store trying to drive people to retail or a business to business relationship or brand awareness," Frood said. "As a team, we are just as responsible for meeting goals as (the sponsor's) internal team. We have to be marketing as much as doing client maintenance." USA Today

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