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Click Here to Buy Now: The BTCC Sponsorship Game

The distinctive eBay BMWs became a BTCC staple over their 5 year involvement. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The distinctive eBay BMWs became a BTCC staple. Image Credit: BTCC.net

As the depths of winter begin to tighten its cruel grip, the great motorsport machine must go into hibernation until the Spring. The race tracks may have fallen silent, the crowds may have returned to their homes, but the racing world is anything but silent. As the colossal roar of the engines lay dormant, the media world ignites in with fierce intensity. The close season is a time of rumour, conjecture and long-awaited announcements. For the BTCC, there have already been a string of news updates regarding the 2015 season, including new teams, new drivers and possibly even new tracks. The most recent headline to hit the virtual shelves has been the sad announcement from West Surrey Racing that their title sponsor eBay has decided to end its 5-year partnership with the team. This follows the news from the Motorbase ranks that came at the close of the 2014 season, which saw the end of their sponsorship from Airwaves. Within the motosport auto-verse, sponsorship is one of the most vital aspects of the entire enterprise. It really is much more than a fancy logo on the side of your car. The ‘BTCC Sponsorship Game’ is a game with very few rules but one clear aim; get the money in the bank.

To many people (including me in my younger years). sponsorship in motorsport was nothing more than the name and logo on the side of a car, as well as the explanation as to why I kept seeing big name racing drivers appearing in adverts for said company. I am pretty sure that Jenson Button would not voluntarily want to appear in a Santander advert unless it was a contractual obligation. With all these adverts and media prostitution by the F1 drivers especially, is it any surprise that Lewis Hamilton moved to Mercedes whose sponsors strangely do not use the ‘F1 fast car’ angle in their advertising. But I digress. Getting a sponsor in motorsport is probably the single most important thing to the success of the team. It is very much as the same as completing a PhD; one can either attempt to fund it themselves or find someone to sponsor them, for something in return. I know which I would prefer. Well, depending on what I had to do in return of course.  Without the money, you cannot even make it to events, let alone develop the car to make it into a race winner.

The 1990 champion Gravett nearly pulled out due to lack of sponsors. Image Credit. forums.autosport.com

The 1990 champion Gravett nearly pulled out due to lack of sponsors. Image Credit. forums.autosport.com

Into the History Books…

Within the BTCC, the sponsorship problem was even apparent in the late 80s before the exponential rise in costs at the dawn of the Super Touring era. The example of Robb Gravett in 1990 proves that even the top teams can suffer the unbridled wrath of financial woes. In Class A, it was a straight fight between Andy Rouse and Robb Gravett; however Robb and his Trackstar team nearly had to pull out due to a lack of sponsors for the car. Luckily, a last minute deal was made and a sponsor was found. The result was Robb Gravett taking not only Class victory but overall victory in the championship. As the years went on, the sponsor of certain teams became the more prominent name associated with the team, including the Kaliber Sierras, Vodafone Nissan, the Rapid Fit (and most recently Airwaves) Fords, the KX Momentum Tesco Clubcard (or whatever their ridiculously long name happens to be) MGs and of course the eBay BMWs.

If you compare the car liveries from the 1990s and the modern championship, it would not take long to notice that these days the cars are more heavily covered in sponsors than they were in the 1990s. Money; it was always going to be about money. Towards the end of the 1990s, the factory support was so substantial that sponsors did not hold such a high priority. As I sit here watching the 1998 BTCC review, one of the things you notice is teams such as Ford, Audi, Honda and Volvo are an almost factory-livery whitewash. The same explanation can be used to explain the looks of cars today and in fact back in the 80s with the era of multi-class racing; most teams are running from what is essentially an independent backing so must therefore display their sponsors who are near funding the entire operation.

The Kaliber Sierra of Andy Rouse became synonymous with late 80s BTCC. Image Credit: Gary Walton (Flickr)

The Kaliber Sierra of Andy Rouse became synonymous with late 80s BTCC. Image Credit: Gary Walton (Flickr)

Don’t Forget the Politics

In more recent years, there has been a significant intertwining of the sponsorship game with that of BTCC politics. The best example I can muster happens to be something contemporary. Among the ‘old timers’ in the current crop of drivers, it would be hard to ignore the name Jason Plato as somewhat of a legend in the championship. He has worked his way up from his Renault days in the 90s, to winning the 2001 championship, taking a break to become a television personality before returning once more to compete in the BTCC. As a known media name and two time championship winner, Jason Plato now carries a considerable weight when it comes to potential sponsors. For the most part, sponsors are attached to entire teams unless of course you are a high profile driver that is. In the case of Mr Plato, he carries with him his own sponsors that will follow him to the team he drives for.

It is at this point where everything begins to get a little on the complicated side. As much as Plato does have his own set of sponsors, they are not totally promiscuous customers; they will not settle for just anyone. This explains why statements released by Jason Plato have presented a message of uncertainty regarding team choice for next year, if he will even compete next year at all. It is with no doubt that he would get an absolute flood of offers from almost every team on the grid (apart from Honda, a team where a mutual feeling of mistrust and dislike is present), but until there is a team that the sponsors are happy with he cannot settle. The likelihood is that Plato will join forces with WSR, who have of course just lost their eBay as their title sponsor. Plato is one of the names associated not only with the KX Academy, but Tesco Clubcard Fuelsave (whatever it is) so his move to WSR would most definitely fill the eBay shaped void. His sponsors will be looking for a high profile team for him to move to, so as to make them look as good as possible. What better place to move to than the current championship winning team?

How beautifully ironic would it be for Plato to move to WSR and into a BMW, a car that he often complained about in 2014 for having RWD? Bets on him complaining that the new first gear ratio be changed back again? However, if Plato moved to WSR he may want to bring the KX Academy drivers along with him, which might then force WSR to get rid of their current drivers. Can a deal be made? Will it even happen? All very complicated really.

Will we be seeing this livery on a BMW in 2015? Image Credit: BTCC.net

Will we be seeing this livery on a BMW in 2015? Image Credit: BTCC.net

HOT OFF THE PRESS

As I write this, a statement has been issued by Colin Turkington that says with the departure of eBay from WSR, it makes his inclusion in the team difficult and as a result he is looking for drives with other people. This is a similar situation to 2009 where RAC pulled out the championship following his championship victory. He was then left without a drive until 2013 when he returned with eBay motors. This may suggest that with both eBay and RAC, they were giving him direct backing instead of the team itself, so with the departure of these sponsors he was left without the funds to compete in the championship.

Speaking hypothetically, with the eBay departure it may now have indeed paved the way for Plato and KX to move in on WSR leaving Turkington without a drive. One of the true annoyances of the silly season (as is now becoming desperately clear) is the rise of rumour and conjecture. Everything I have suggested may be spot on, or it may be a complete fabrication. When there are only brief statements to work with, the conclusions can never be considered concrete.

What is the future for Plato and KX Momentum/Tesco?

Does Turkington need a big name sponsor to be able to race? Does he need to follow Plato’s route and establish specific driver-sponsors for himself?

Why Sponsor a BTCC Team Anyway?

People have often wondered why you would want to sponsor a team in the first place; is it not just a drain on money? The obvious answer to that question is market exposure; if you have your brand name on the side of a car in a successful and well-covered championship the result can only have a good effect on potential customers. What is always really helpful is when you happen to be sponsoring a car that is a proven race and championship winner. Vodafone have always enjoyed such luxuries in their previous support of McLaren in F1 and the Nissan team in the 98/99 BTCC season.

In addition to this, you can build the race team into your company’s advertising as well as tapping into the legions of loyal race fans. Airwaves were always good at bringing in their BTCC involvement into their advertising, using the BTCC Ford of Mat Jackson to show how much of a ‘kick’ Airwaves can give you, even when you are stuck in traffic on the way to work. At the end of the day, most people love a good race car so it would be silly for companies to ignore this obvious advertising route if they have the joy of sponsoring a team in the best championship in Europe.

As well as the benefits in the public sector, there are obvious corporate benefits when sponsoring a race team. If you happen to be needing to impress potential clients, is there any better way to do so than make them VIP guests of a BTCC race team; meet the drivers, fancy hospitality and general schmoozing sounds like the perfect method to me!

Most importantly, sponsors get a direct involvement with a race team; they get to experience the thrills of the sport from the inside. The exciting narrative that is a BTCC season; the highs, the lows, the shocks, the thrills and potential glory all made more personal to those who have invested.

When you play most games, you have a clear idea of the rules and the overall objective. In the case of ‘The BTCC Sponsorship Game’ the only rule is that there are no rules, and the objective is simple. You want the sponsors to sign on the dotted line and the money in the bank. Along the way you will encounter some obstacles in the form of political decisions and clever movements, but at the end of the day you want more business for your company. It will involve some clever branding, advertising and even some corporate schmoozing, but at the end of the day, it is all worth it.

And as a motorsport fan, I am very grateful for this. We bow down to you, great sponsors. You make my passion possible!

Let me know what you think: @lewisglynn69

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

The Vodafone Nissan Primera. Image Credit: Piston Heads

The Vodafone Nissan Primera. Image Credit: Piston Heads

One comment

  1. simon says:

    We are building 2 cars a require companies to play the game.. so give me a shout

    December 10th, 2014 at 7:47 am