Wal-Mart and Jeff Gordon? The odd partnership is possible

It may seem a little bizarre that a driver who owns a winery and is married to a European supermodel would drive a car sponsored by Wal-Mart, but according to Sports Business Journal, the retail giant is "deep into negotiations" with Hendrick Motorsports to sponsor Jeff Gordon's car in 2011.

"It's very significant," said Mark Dyer, senior vice president at IMG and formerly chief of the licensing division at NASCAR until 2007. "We tried for years to get Wal-Mart's attention when I was at NASCAR and we made some inroads. If they truly decide to take a position in the sport, that's a big deal to get a company that should have been in that space all along."

It does make you wonder why Wal-Mart hasn't been involed in NASCAR, given that – wait for it – much of NASCAR's core demographic is Wal-Mart's target audience. But Wal-Mart's advertising budget has consistently been a lower part of their operating budget than their competitors.

It's possible that part of Wal-Mart's sponsorship could be opened up to the store's vendors, raising some interesting scenarios. Sources told Sports Business Journal that six official NASCAR consumer package goods sponsors had a meeting to talk about a retail strategy for Wal-Mart. Two of those, Mars and MillerCoors, currently sponsor cars in the Sprint Cup Series (Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch, though in 2011 the Miller deal moves to Brad Keselowski) and Coca-Cola is a direct competitor to Pepsi, which is still associated with Gordon.

Wal-Mart was not present, but sources said the consumer packaged goods marketing executives met to discuss ways to take national programs to Wal-Mart, with the belief that the retail giant is close to finalizing sponsorship and merchandising agreements to enter NASCAR.

"We've never been able to put together a national program with Wal-Mart," said one source familiar with the talks. "A multivendor campaign, which would be exclusive to NASCAR partners, would put more weight behind it."

The meeting, which took place just outside of Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., was described as an all-day brainstorming session to form plans for a 2011 promotion that would be exclusive to NASCAR official partners.

Of course, the deal is far from official and could ultimately fall apart. But either way, sponsorship activation seems to be the key phrase for the future, given the partnerships and marketing opportunities a potential Wal-Mart sponsorship affords. Budweiser has already said that despite sponsoring 20 races for Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress in 2011 that it will be spending as much as it did for Kasey Kahne in 2010 thanks to increased spending on activation.

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