Getting involved in motorsports can be a cost-effective method of advertising and marketing a tire brand, a prominent industry ad man told attendees at the Clemson Tire Industry Conference March 9-11.
``We're in motorsports because they demonstrate the high quality of our product,'' said Peter Tyson, vice president of advertising, public relations and motorsports for the Pirelli Group. ``Our motto is, `Race on Sunday, sell on Monday.'''
Pirelli has been deeply involved in auto racing since it won its first race in 1907, according to Mr. Tyson. But its commitment to the sport is far from universal among tire makers.
``Motorsports are fun, but unfortunately very few companies are interested in fun,'' he said, adding that it takes some effort to get unconvinced industry executives to see them as good business as well.
For instance, at one time the influence of motorsports on mass-production tires was obvious, when race cars were essentially modified passenger cars, according to Mr. Tyson. This changed rapidly after World War II, as race cars became more and more specialized and less and less connected with real-world road conditions.
Nevertheless, auto racing is still important in driving technology improvement in tires, he said. Pirelli's pioneering low-profile, high-performance road tires had their birth in the company's rally program, and silica as an ingredient in compounding was first used in racing tires.
Before tire makers get involved in motorsports, however, they need to evaluate each type of racing to see which ones are most likely to pay off for them. Some tire companies, Mr. Tyson noted, stake much of their reputation on motorsports, which means that expense and technology applicability are of secondary importance to them.
``In motorsports, winning is the dominant factor in everything you do,'' he said. ``And if winning is everything, what does it matter if a racing tire costs 10 times as much as a road tire? So in racing you can use sophisticated technologies you couldn't use in road tires. The need for cost-effectiveness isn't there.''
But despite this cost, motorsport participation can still be a cheaper, more spectacular way to get a tire company's name before the public than traditional advertising, Mr. Tyson said. The company merely needs to decide which branch of racing to go into.
NASCAR and Formula One racing are the most profitable branches of motorsports, with their vast TV audiences. ``If motorsports are part of your mass communications program, they must be on TV,'' Mr. Tyson said. Yet many tire companies choose not to participate in Formula One because it requires the construction of a factory dedicated to building Formula One tires.
``Pirelli doesn't participate in Formula One, but it would build a factory if it decided to participate,'' he said.
NASCAR offers the biggest TV ratings and potential profits but also the biggest costs, because there's a NASCAR race virtually every weekend, Mr. Tyson said. ``But NASCAR participation can be a big benefit to a company with big connections,'' he added. ``It's no surprise that Goodyear supplies NASCAR.''
(Goodyear and NASCAR officials recently announced that they have been meeting to discuss extending their exclusive tire supply contract, even though the agreement doesn't expire until after the 2007 racing season.)
For tire makers that are interested in building a sporty public image and willing to do their homework, there is no substitute for motorsports, Mr. Tyson said in conclusion. ``Some people think motorsport is just the play side of the company,'' he said. ``It can be that, but if you see it only as that, you sell yourself short.''