Caution flag flies on GM's motorsports budget
By Sharon Silke Carty, USA TODAY
DETROIT — General Motors is going after what was a sacred cow in auto marketing: motorsports.
GM (GM) says it will cut back motorsports advertising, putting in jeopardy its sponsorships of teams, tracks and all the ancillary marketing that goes with racing.
Expected among the biggest losers is NASCAR-related spending of an estimated $120 million to $140 million a year.
Last week, GM announced a program of "self help" to save and raise cash needed to survive the current car market downturn. The $15 billion plan through 2009 includes cutting salaried jobs, slashing production, eliminating the dividend and trimming marketing budgets, which include race promotion.
"Like all areas of the business, these areas have not gone without a certain level of scrutiny, and there will be modifications and changes in our promotional footprint," Troy Clarke, president of GM North America, said in a conference call on the plan. "We're not going to talk about the details today, and specifically NASCAR, but all those areas have been reviewed and will continue to be as we work these action plans through."
One consideration may have been that NASCAR began a transition in 2007 to a so-called Car of Tomorrow. In place of body shapes loosely based on a carmaker's product, all race cars would have the same generic body, differentiated with stickers depicting headlights, taillights and grille, as well as the car number and source of the engine. The goals were safety, lower costs for race teams and an even playing field for drivers.
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston says he's confident GM will continue to see NASCAR as an important advertising investment.
"Obviously, they're hugely a part of our sport and our industry," he says. "Hopefully they'll continue to recognize that the power of our fan base is that they are direct customers of theirs."
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