tampabay.com

Tracking new customers

Bank of America, the new "official bank of NASCAR," hopes race fans will share the love.

By HELEN HUNTLEY
Published November 28, 2006


Bank of America is betting that NASCAR fans' legendary loyalty to sponsors will translate into big business for the financial services giant.

The bank said Monday that it has signed on to be the "official bank of NASCAR " in a five-year deal that covers an array of financial services. The price tag was not disclosed, but published reports put the value at $15-million to $20-million.

It's easy to see why Bank of America is interested, says a University of Central Florida sociology professor and NASCAR fan. The breadth of NASCAR's popularity - second only to the National Football League in TV sports viewership - isn't as impressive as the depth of fan involvement.

"Consumer studies show that NASCAR fans are intensely loyal consumers of products of entities that sponsor NASCAR teams, races and events," said James Wright, who has written a book about NASCAR and its fans.

"Ask any NASCAR fan 'Who's your favorite driver?' and they'll all tell you," he said. "Then ask 'Who sponsors that driver?' and every single one of them will tell you with 100 percent accuracy who that sponsor is. That cannot be said about any other segment of the consumer market. That's what makes entities like Bank of America interested in getting in on the action."

Bank of America replaces SunTrust Bank as the official bank of NASCAR, but its agreement covers broader territory, including credit cards, consumer and business checking, mortgages, mutual funds and securities.

"Bank of America certainly has a leg up over any other financial institution, with its national reach," said Steve Phelps, NASCAR's chief marketing officer. "We consider this agreement a significant step for the future of our sport."

The auto racing organization has grown from a Southern institution - born in Daytona Beach - to one with a national reach, staging 1,800 races a year at tracks in 36 states, Canada and Mexico.

In fact, SunTrust said it chose not to renew its sponsorship because a national sponsor was a better fit. "They should have partners whose marketing strategies reflect their national presence," Craig Kelly, chief marketing officer, said in a news release. "SunTrust wants to ensure that NASCAR's growth is not restricted by geography."

SunTrust is continuing 10 other auto racing sponsorships including its partnership with Michael Waltrip Racing in NASCAR's Nextel and Busch series.

NASCAR, which receives more than $1-billion a year in sponsorship revenue, said the Bank of America deal reflects its strategy to consolidate smaller sponsorships into larger ones that cover an entire industry.

Bank of America, based in Charlotte, N.C., is no stranger to big-time sports marketing, including auto racing. It is the official bank of Major League Baseball and owns the naming rights for the NFL Carolina Panthers' stadium in Charlotte.

The bank is already the title sponsor of the Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, a NASCAR Nextel Cup event, and has a multiyear agreement with International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc. for 10 track sponsorships.

In addition, it has its logo on NASCAR credit cards featuring the faces of a popular drivers, a marketing deal it inherited when it bought MBNA Corp. Card users earn points that can be redeemed for NASCAR experiences and collectibles.

"Our hope is that we can take that terrific program, that marketing model MBNA perfected, and drive it through our entire set of consumer products," Bank of America spokesman Joseph Goode said. "It's about creating an integrated business relationship with the entire NASCAR industry."

Helen Huntley can be reached at hhuntley@sptimes.com or (727)893-8230.