NEW YORK -- A new sports marketing agreement between the NASCAR auto racing organization and Food Lion, the Salisbury, N.C.-based supermarket chain, promises to inject new power into the account-specific marketing activities of Pepsi-Cola Co., Anheuser-Busch, R.J. Reynolds and Quaker Oats' Gatorade.
The expanded relationship between Food Lion and the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was unveiled here Dec. 1 at a joint news conference that was also attended by top executives from the four brand marketers.
"It is a rare and important opportunity in sports marketing when a company can connect a sport the size of NASCAR and its major vendors directly with the customer at the shelf," said Tom Smith, Food Lion chairman, president and chief executive officer.
He said it was too early to go into detail about tie-in plans involving Pepsi, Bud and Gatorade, but "I can tell you we have plans in place for a major chainwide retail promotion featuring our NASCAR sponsorship and incorporating our fellow official sponsors."
Food Lion's multiyear agreement to become the "Official Supermarket of NASCAR" is a first for both the retailer and the racing organization. The two anticipate working together to create "a new level of marketing partnership in the sport," said Brian France, vice president of marketing and corporate communications at NASCAR.
"For years NASCAR has provided one of the strongest returns on sponsor's investment in sports," France added. "Now, with Food Lion providing a guaranteed retail conduit, our sponsors' return should reach even higher levels."
Brand marketers present for the announcement
announcement at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel included Tony Ponturo, president and CEO of Busch Media Group; Craig Weatherup, president and CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America; Bill Schmidt, senior vice president for worldwide sports marketing at Gatorade, and T. Wayne Roberston, president of Sports Marketing Enterprises, a unit of R.J. Reynolds.
All four companies have had existing sports marketing relationships with NASCAR. The Food Lion sponsorship promises to create new account-specific marketing opportunities.
Said Smith, "Looking down the list of NASCAR sponsors is like looking down the aisle of one of our supermarkets. You see such household names as Pepsi, Gatorade and Budweiser; they've been a part of Food Lion for a long time."
Smith said Food Lion's geographic presence was a nearly perfect match for NASCAR's. "If you took a map and looked at Food Lion's territory and NASCAR's territory, you'd see they overlap significantly. Food Lion currently operates 1,050 stores in 14 states. Even though NASCAR has become a national sport, 74% of the NASCAR, Winston Cup and Busch Grand National Series races are in Food Lion's back yard."
He continued, "We discovered through research that compared with other major supermarket chains in this country, Food Lion's customers index higher as NASCAR fans than any other supermarket."
Anheuser-Busch had a head start on the Food Lion/NASCAR connection this past summer, said Ponturo of Busch Media Group. "We did a summer-long contest with Food Lion in conjunction with the Brickyard 400 race."
Gatorade's relationship with NASCAR goes back nearly to the drink's beginnings, said Schmidt of Gatorade. "We were one of first consumer packaged products to get with NASCAR. NASCAR was Gatorade's first sponsorship." Robertson of RJR said Food Lion is the largest seller of Winston cigarettes, a performance that correlates well with heavy use by NASCAR fans.
Said Smith: "For the first time, Food Lion is closing the loop. We are linking NASCAR and the products advertised on cars and at races with the customers who are going to buy those products in our stores. Food Lion brings those products home. This adds value for the vendors and value for Food Lion, because we become the supermarket of choice for NASCAR fans."
Jay Abraham, senior vice president of Food Lion, said in an interview, "Our intent is to make the official sponsors the marquee vendors we're dealing with on these events, giving them the right of first refusal to leverage their business.
"We are probably looking at the second quarter of 1996 to really get the promotional aspects up and running," he added.