TNT Looks to Gas Up for Daytona

Still has sponsor openings in Nascar Coke Zero 400

With just days before the checkered flag goes up at Daytona International Speedway, TNT is still looking to nail down a few sponsors for its “Wide Open Coverage” of the Nascar Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400. 

The Turner network has lined up six sponsors for its uninterrupted race coverage, including returning clients Coke Zero, Coors Light, Pfizer, Sprint, and Toyota. Also revving up for the July 2 race is Warner Bros., which will promote a pair of upcoming comedies in Horrible Bosses and Crazy, Stupid, Love.

This time last year, TNT had secured eight “Wide Open” sponsors. Notably missing from Saturday’s roster is a representative of the fast-food category; TNT’s 2010 coverage of Daytona boasted a pair of QSR sponsors (Burger King and Subway). Analysts say the fast-food business began suffering the ravages of the recession about nine months after the automotive category began to feel the burn.

That Burger King bowed out is not terribly surprising, given the chain’s recent marketing travails. In February, the company sent global chief marketing officer Natalia Franco packing; two weeks later, it broke ranks with longtime agency partner Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Last year, the nation’s No. 4 restaurant chain spent $301 million on measured media, down 2 percent from 2009 and 8 percent versus its 2008 outlay.

Now ranked second among all fast-food purveyors, Subway will once again serve as the presenting sponsor of the July 1 race at Daytona, the Nascar Nationwide Series Subway Jalapeno 250. The qualifier will not be televised.

Subway in 2010 laid out $429 million in media buys, up 11 percent versus the previous year.

Turner Sports hopes to lock in at least one more sponsor before Saturday’s prime-time race. Presented in letterbox widescreen format, the “Wide Open” construct cedes the lower third of the screen to advertisers, allowing TNT to limit the number of ad interruptions during the race. The stretched-out aspect ratio also provides a more unobstructed view of the action.

In place of the standard spot load, TNT’s Daytona 400 showcase places animated sponsor messages in the lower third, rotating them throughout the race. Because the sponsor brands are present throughout the race, fans see nearly 100 percent of the action. In the last two years, TNT hasn’t missed a single lap of Daytona, and since the network launched the concept in 2007, it has failed to present a grand total of nine laps.

The Daytona positioning has helped sponsors cut through the clutter of a standard Nascar broadcast. According to Nielsen IAG Research, sponsor messages featured during the 2010 Daytona race delivered a 68 percent brand recall score,  significantly higher when compared to standard 30-second spots that ran during other Nascar events.

Advertisers also reap the benefit of a large national TV audience. On July 3, 2010, TNT’s Daytona 400 coverage averaged 6.13 million viewers and 3.27 million adults 25-54.

Out-of-home viewership should significantly lift TNT’s deliveries. The 2010 Daytona 400 drew a large audience beyond the family room, as viewers crowded around barbecue pits and barrooms to watch Kevin Harvick win a rain-soaked race that was marred by a 20-car wreck. According to Arbitron data, TNT enjoyed a 40 percent lift among viewers 18-34 who watched the race outside their homes.

TNT does not provide ratings guarantees based on the additional boost of OOH.

“We always get a lot of family viewing on July 4 weekend, so we’re want to articulate the full value of those out-of-home numbers,” said Jon Diament, evp, ad sales and marketing, Turner Sports. “And because it’s a seasonal event, there are a lot of contextual opportunities available in and around the race.”

For example, the Disney/Pixar theatrical Cars 2 bought :30s in TNT’s first three Nascar broadcasts of the 2011 season. That the film stars a bunch of animated automobiles and is a sure-fire summer hit made it a particularly apt fit for Turner’s racing coverage.

If the early numbers are any indication, TNT can expect a slight uptick in viewers over the Independence Day weekend. On June 12, in the first race of its six-event slate, TNT averaged 5.18 million viewers, up 2 percent from a year ago. The following week the Turner net delivered 4.89 million viewers, an improvement of 13 percent.

Last season, TNT’s Nascar coverage averaged 4.93 million viewers, down 9 percent from 5.39 million viewers in 2009. TNT has every reason to believe that the numbers will improve this time around; according to Nielsen, Fox’s slate of 13 Sprint Cup races drew 8.6 million viewers, up 10 percent from last year’s 7.8 million.

While the sports TV market has been able to sidestep much of the fallout from the Great Recession, Nascar hasn’t been immune. Race teams suffered reductions in sponsor commitments and outright defections, and attendance slumped as fans found it difficult to justify forking over $100 for backstretch tickets.

“Nascar is rebounding and it’s become evident on the advertising side,” Diament said. “Obviously, the auto category is back in a big way, but we’re also seeing a lift in other endemics like telco and beer. After-market products, like gasoline, have also been way up.”

TNT’s Nascar contract runs through 2014. The network pays nearly $85 million per year for its six-race package. ESPN/ABC Sports forks over $270 million for the rights to air 17 Nascar events, while Fox pays $220 million per year for its package. Like TNT, the contracts held by ESPN and Fox expire in two years.