Front Row Motorsports Says Bah Humbug to Sponsorship StrugglesBy Mary Jo Buchanan
In fact, FRM has been so successful at attracting new sponsors to their company that they were named to Inc. Magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest growing privately held companies in the United States, ranking 800 on the list. They were also the first NASCAR Cup team ever to make that prestigious list.
“All of the headlines now seem to be focused on sponsorship woes,” Mike Laheta, Director of Marketing and Business Affairs for Front Row Motorsports, said. “We are finding sponsorship dollars in a time when a lot of the garage area is struggling.”
“I think it’s a nice opportunity for our race team to be recognized,” Laheta continued. “The Inc. 5000 recognition is a great way to be able to get on a ‘good’ list that gives you credibility in the marketplace.”
“Being named to the Inc. 5000 is certainly a victory for us off the track and shows that we are capable of winning in corporate America,” Jerry Freeze, General Manager of FRM, said. “It’s a nice way to be recognized for our hard work and resiliency.”
Front Row Motorsports, fielding the No. 34 Ford driven by David Ragan and the No. 38 Ford driven by David Gilliland, has garnered twelve new primary sponsors this season alone, including the likes of Glory Foods, ModSpace, Maximum Human Performance, Scorpion Coatings, Barrett-Jackson, House-Autry Mills, Big Machine Label Group, Classic Media (Where’s Waldo), Green1 Performance, Peanut Patch, 1-800LoanMart and US Shredder and Castings Group.
“We’ve not only added the twelve new partners this season but we are now working on next year’s renewals, with expectations of turning them into even bigger programs,” Laheta said. “We’ve not only weathered the storm, but prospered through that rough time.”
“And we’re really starting to see some growth now.”
To what does Laheta contribute the success of Front Row Motorsports, both in the sponsor marketplace, as well as in their recent honor?
“We’re old school,” Laheta said. “We get on the phone, cold call and send out emails, sometimes hundreds a day.”
“We just try to get meetings with people,” Laheta continued. “Our biggest goal is to get someone to hear us out and from there, all we ask is that they try a race with us and let us prove that NASCAR is all it is cracked up to be.”
While Laheta has worked on creative promotions, such as ‘Race Cars and County Stars’, he also advises that race teams do not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to sponsorship opportunities.
“We’re selling them on the sport and our full turn-key activation program,” Laheta said. “We can build a program from the ground up and are nimble and efficient.”
“We’ll listen and we’ll talk to anyone,” Laheta continued. “We believe that NASCAR can work for anyone, if you put the right program in place.”
Laheta did acknowledge two keys to their sponsorship success, including access on the track and business off the track. But he also credits the hard work and commitment of his team drivers to the growing success of their sponsor program.
“When we bring prospects or even new sponsors to the track, we give them the entire access, not just the track and driver access, but we take them around the sponsor areas and show how they can activate their own sponsorship roles,” Laheta said. “It all depends on what a sponsor is looking for.”
“We are honest and upfront with our sponsors and share where we are in the points,” Laheta continued. “We have great drivers but we position ourselves as a top-20 team.”
“Companies get involved in the sport in many different ways and sometimes it is more about the business relationships than in being in Victory Lane.”
“Our drivers go out of their way to do an appearance, do a golf tournament, and to sell the sport,” Laheta said. “For example, we asked David Ragan to attend a sales meeting, a two and half hour driver for a half hour appearance, and he did it and stuck around three times longer than anyone ever expected.”
“We have really passionate drivers who want to succeed on the track and also work with our partners off the track as well.”
In spite of the economic challenges all around that are facing the sport of NASCAR, Laheta sees the glass as definitely half full when it comes to seeking sponsorship for Front Row Motorsports. And he is definitely enjoying the challenge.
“For me, this is fun,” Laheta said. “I’m a young guy and I’m an entrepreneurial person.”
“Here at Front Row, I see the opportunity to really build a sponsorship base,” Laheta continued. “The company is growing, we are doing better on the race track and we are showing that we are getting where we want to be from a performance and business stand point.”
“To be a part of that is an exciting opportunity is great for a person like me.”
And at the end of the day, Laheta firmly believes, as evidenced by his company’s most recent honor, that sponsorship is attainable even in tough economic times.
“You can build a program with the right message that can show a return,” Laheta said. “Any company out there is willing to spend money if they are going to make money.”
“The challenge is being able to show that return,” Laheta continued. “When the economy was booming, everyone wanted to be a part of NASCAR. But some didn’t have goals or objectives.”
“But when the economy went bad, some questioned those expenditures and cuts were made,” Laheta continued. “It really makes all of us just work harder to prove that NASCAR is worthwhile for sponsors and is working as a sport.”
“We are selling sponsorship and raising corporate dollars in a time when very few teams are,” Robin Johnson, Chief Marketing Officer for Front Row Motorsports said. “It’s not a negative that companies are placing more scrutiny on their budgets.”
“It just forces us to be smarter with how we go about building and executing our programs.”