It’s Always Good to be Reminded

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to work with one of our clients at the 105th Indy 500. The event proved noteworthy for many reasons, including the distinction of being the largest fan-attended event since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as someone who works in sponsorship, Indy reminded me of a powerful toolbox tool: athlete/influencer endorsement.

Helio Castroneves won the Indy 500 that day, joining a prestigious list of four-time winners. Those who know Helio appreciate his immense exuberance highlighted by his 2007 championship run on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. He drove for the underdog Meyer Shank Racing team, supported by AutoNation, SiriusXM, and Honda. Typically, sponsors benefit from exposure on a race car or driver’s race suit. However, Helio demonstrated the immense value of athlete integration in sponsorship, either organically or through endorsement.

While winning the Indy 500 would have sealed a great day of exposure for the team’s sponsors, Helio generated so much more:

  • He drove the entire 2.5-mile racetrack in a pace car celebrating with the tens of thousands of fans waiting to see him after the race.
  • Helio carried the celebration into Victory Circle.
  • He climbed the catch-fence (his trademark move after a race win) in front of thousands of fans.
  • After the race, Helio visited the house of fans who had decorated the exterior of their home with his imagery.

And, best of all? NBC continued coverage of the celebration on the event broadcast. A fantastic race, a storybook finish, a veteran driver getting movie-like redemption with a small team victory.  Wow.  Whatever exposure AutoNation, SiriusXM, and Honda received was amplified exponentially.

In any sponsorship (sports, entertainment, or non-profit), the inclusion of a celebrity influencer can amplify the platform’s impact on sponsors. I had not forgotten this strategy. However, its power was brought home for me last Sunday.

When we recommend such a strategy for clients, we counsel them to keep several best practices in mind:

  • Ensure that a chosen influencer matches the sponsor’s brand. A large audience does not offset a brand mismatch.
  • Research the public persona of the influencer. It never hurts to do a deep dive into the influencer’s social media account for a history of tweets and Instagram posts.
  • Get granular with the influencer’s commitments in the sponsorship. Some influencers will generously promote the sponsor. Others will stick to one contracted tweet and one only.
  • Ensure the sponsor’s written agreement with the property and/or the influencer conveys the appropriate intellectual property to permit use over the right platforms, geographies, and timing.
  • Include a morals clause in case the unexpected happens. To err is human. But, if an influencer gets crossways with social ethics or the law, the sponsor must be protected from brand blowback.

Our entire agency extends a hearty congratulations to Helio on his historic Indy win. We also thank him for reminding us of the power of athletes and influencers on sponsorship.

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