Good investment: Ford sees brand value in Homestead
By Scott E. Pacheco
The Ford Championship Weekend and the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway mean more than just a good time for tens of thousands of spectators.
For the Ford Motor Co., the event is a major marketing tool to get through to its strongest demographic target in a time of economic uncertainty.
"Homestead is our time to be big — it's the only track that we have an entitlement to," said Tim Duerr, NASCAR marketingmanager with Ford Racing - North America Motorsports.
"It's very important for Ford Racing to continue to utilize the racing platform," he said. "We are in racing strictly to sell vehicles. When there are fewer dollars to spend in the marketing area, we want to make sure we are using them in the most productive way possible."
Research shows that 56% of Ford owners are racing fans, while 60% of F-Series truck owners are NASCAR fans.
Ford's market share is 100% higher among race fans than non-race fans, and consideration to buy Ford products also is 100% higher among race fans than non-race fans, according to Ford. Also, racing fans are more likely rate Ford higher in areas like proud to own, well-engineered vehicles than non-race fans.
"With those kinds of statistics we feel we need to stay in the sport of NASCAR," Mr. Duerr said.
But that investment is getting harder and harder to make.
General Motors, Ford, Chrysler LLC and the United Auto Workers have asked the federal government for $50 billion in aid for the industry — $25 billion for general business use and $25 billion for the union's trust fund for retiree health care.
Also, President-elect Barack Obama has said stabilizing the auto industry is a top priority, calling it "the backbone of American manufacturing."
Ford's automotive operations lost $2.9 billion in the third quarter, while industry sales in the US have fallen 14.6% this year, including a 31.9% decrease in October.
"With the economy the way it is we have scaled back our expenditures within NASCAR and in all of racing," Mr. Duerr said. "We're trying to be as efficient as we can. We want to be there to market to the consumers…"
He also admitted that "we have seen attendance down at the track this year" and "we're selling [vehicles] one at a time."
Still, the company sees events like Ford Championship Weekend, now in its seventh year, as worth its time and money, said Dan Zacharias, spokesman with the Ford NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
"Attendance at the track may be down, but viewership is up or similar to where it was last year," he said. "The return on investment that Ford still gets is still well worth the investment."
This year, Ford will unveil its Fusion Hybrid as the pace car of Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup season finale. The car won't make its showroom debut until the LA Auto Show that begins Nov. 21, said David Finnegan, marketing manager for hybrid vehicles.
"We think it's going to be something that will be exciting for race fans," he said. "Certainly it is a great audience and it's certainly a great event to leverage — it's a fantastic media opportunity."
Added Mr. Zacharias: "The South Florida market is very important to Ford. It's an opportunity to have all of that signage and publicity where everything is Ford Championship Weekend."