Craftsman Retools NASCAR Relationship

Craftsman Craftsman revs up its involvement with NASCAR this season, having added a branded entertainment vehicle Sunday before Fox's broadcast of the Daytona 500. Craftsman was the "presenting sponsor" of a special focused on the frequently overlooked pit crews that turn the wrenches and fasten the bolts to propel the cars to jaw-dropping speeds.

The one-hour "Craftsman Presents: Road to Daytona" featured Fox analyst Larry McReynolds hosting from a set at a NASCAR research facility surrounded by the brand's signage. Before certain segments, his lead-ins included a Craftsman reference, and there were other audio mentions throughout.

The special--which aired immediately before Daytona's green flag dropped--had a documentary feel, with a behind-the-scenes look at how crews diligently build their cars to prepare for the upcoming season. Vis-à-vis the drivers, there was an "unsung heroes" element.



It also offered an overview of changes that will affect the NASCAR circuit this year, such as top driver Tony Stewart switching sponsors.

"Road to Daytona" was engineered as a time buy on Fox, which is involved in the production along with sports-marketing firm Intersport and NASCAR Media Group.

Craftsman, the longtime "official tools of NASCAR," was attracted to the sponsorship opportunity largely because the show finds story lines off the track and inside the NASCAR garages. "It's really about before you get your race car on the track--and that's where Craftsman lives," says Erik Rosenstrauch, director of marketing for the Sears brand.

Still, Craftsman was careful to avoid excessively weaving itself into the show, and the content was green-lit by Fox.

"It cannot feel advertorial," says Mike Alvarez, a senior vice president at Intersport, which worked with Craftsman and Fox on the deal. "For the viewer, it [didn't] feel like a stretch--it [was] pretty natural and appropriate for the show."

"Road to Daytona" was not Craftsman's only high-profile presence during the much-anticipated "500" weekend. Saturday brought the debut of a year-long sponsorship of the "ESPN Craftsman Tech Garage." And the brand broke a new campaign, partly via spots during the "500" on Fox.

The "Craftsman Tech Garage"--seen for the first time during ESPN's coverage of the "Nationwide Series" race Saturday--is actually a studio with Craftsman signage that will be trucked to different tracks throughout the season. During races on ESPN, it will serve as the setting for vignettes where a former NASCAR crew chief and others will provide viewers with a look at the mechanics that go into keeping a car on the track at peak performance.

Both the "Road to Daytona" involvement and ESPN link are part of a rejiggering of Craftsman's NASCAR relationship in 2009. The brand had been the title sponsor of the "Craftsman Truck Series" for 13 years. But it has opted to drop the role in favor of opportunities that provide a more direct connection between the brand and the nuts and bolts--literally--of the sport.

The brand has signed on as the backer of the NASCAR Wrenchman Award that will be given to top mechanics at the end of the season. It will also continue its title sponsorship of the annual "Pit Crew Challenge" and as NASCAR's "official tools."

Rosenstrauch would not discuss specifics, but said Craftsman is not reducing its NASCAR budget--just strategically reallocating it. The continued commitment comes at a time when some NASCAR sponsors have been pulling in the reins as a result of economic hurdles.

In addition to NASCAR, Craftsman's other major sponsorship initiative includes a partnership with Scripps' DIY network. About half of its budget goes toward its tool products via NASCAR. The other half backs its lawn and garden products through heavy promotion on DIY.

It's not easy to find a more auspicious spot for NASCAR content than where "Road to Daytona" aired on Sunday. The "500" is NASCAR's signature race--it's the only sport that begins its season with its most attention-grabbing event. Interest was also high because fans have not seen racing for several months.

"It's a very desirable piece of real estate in the programming world," says Scot Thor, vice president of programming and production at Intersport.


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