Sponsorships are ubiquitous in motorsport, from karting all the way to F1, but the costs of sponsoring a race car vary a lot. There’s big money involved, and whether you’re a casual fan or a racing driver yourself, you might be wondering how much race car sponsorships cost.
The cost of sponsoring a race car can be hundreds of dollars or it could be $1 million+. It all depends on which motorsport you are trying to get involved with, and also the level of that motorsport. It will also depend on the drivers and teams that you wish to sponsor.
With so many different options out there, it can be tough to know where the best place is for your brand. Below, I’ll go into more detail about racing sponsorships in general to help you understand the kind of money involved at different levels of motorsport.
The Basics Of A Racing Sponsorship
A sponsorship in the context of car racing involves a brand or company investing money into a car, team or driver in order to have their brand, logo or products broadcast to those watching the sport. The main way to achieve this is through direct placement of their brand on the car or clothes of the driver, although there are a few other ways you can do it as well.
For example, a driver may actively promote the brand on their social media or to the general media, or they may star in an advert for the company that could be shown on TV. They may wear their clothing in pictures, or perhaps while they are performing or receiving awards. The classic example of this would be a company like Rolex sponsoring an athlete who wears one of their watches on the podium.
However, in car racing, the most popular way to sponsor a team is to have your brand or logo placed somewhere on the car. This could be as simple as your normal logo painted on the front of the car, or a subtle print of your brand’s name on a specific part of the car. The key factor in how the sponsorship process is carried out is how much money you are willing to spend. But first you need to know why you want to sponsor a race car in the first place.
Why Should You Sponsor A Race Car?
Brands are essentially looking for a return on their investment when they sponsor a race car. This means they are looking to put money into a team in order to get more money out than they put in. The idea behind it is that the sponsor money is invested by the team in order to build a better car or pay better drivers more money. Then, in theory, the team should perform better and look better for the brand.
Brands may sponsor cars and teams as an endorsement. In this case, they believe that the team can produce results and reflect the core values of the brand, and so it is a show of support. The team and brand both benefit from the sponsorship by working well together, with values that are aligned.
If a team starts to perform very well with your brand on the side of the car, your brand also looks better as a result. Your brand is then involved with a successful team, and so people associate your brand with success, and then want to buy things from your brand. It is a basic principle of advertising, but with the added element of endorsement to try and boost sales.
This is where it becomes essential for brands to sponsor the right kind of people. For example, a brand selling general sports equipment and clothing might try and sponsor a football team, as fans of that team will no doubt be buying some form of sports clothing at some point. If the team does well, the idea is that fans of that team will buy clothes from the sponsoring brand.
That brand would probably not look to sponsor a NASCAR team, as fans of NASCAR are not as likely to be buying sports socks (although they obviously could be, but that is not why they are watching NASCAR). So, choosing who and what you get involved with as a brand is key if you want to build a working relationship that gets results.
This doesn’t always pan out of course, as some brand deals don’t yield any success and therefore collapse. But in practice, many brands do tend to stick by their teams for many years, as they know a good relationship will take time, and consistency is usually more important than simply firing loads of money into an ‘okay’ team in the hopes of making them into an overnight success.
Enhance The Brand’s Image
The main reason a brand will sponsor a race car team is if they support that team themselves and believe they have the potential to be successful, in order to hopefully make them more successful and make a profit in the process. Sponsorships don’t always lead to increased sales right away, and in fact they rarely do. Instead, they help to enhance the brand’s image, which over time (ideally) makes them more successful.
KEY POINTS• Race car sponsorships can vary in total cost by quite a lot
• Brands will usually work with drivers or teams they believe share their values
• At the end of the day the sponsor aims to get a return on their investment
Different Tiers Of Race Car Sponsorships
The idea of aligned values and goals is essential. This is why you will often see race cars sponsored by technology and chemical companies. Take the Mercedes F1 team for example. They have plenty of sponsors, with two of the biggest being Petronas and INEOS. Petronas is in their full team title, as they pay them a lot of money each year to do so.
INEOS also has prime placement on the back of the cars’ wings, which are broadcast throughout the race to millions of viewers worldwide. Petronas is a chemical company, and INEOS is a technology firm. They are huge companies that you might have already heard of, but you are very unlikely to be buying products directly from each brand.
Focusing On The Right Market
This is where the key detail of race car sponsorships comes in. Many brands don’t target the viewers of the racing with their sponsorships (especially in F1), although some do, which I will touch on in a moment. The biggest sponsors are trying to show other businesses and companies that their brand is associated with a successful race car team, and so these other companies should buy their products.
Other race car teams might look at Mercedes and see that Petronas seems to be providing them with high quality engine oils, and that it might have something to do with their success. They might then start buying their engine oil from Petronas. Then, an up-and-coming tech startup might see INEOS on the back of the wings and look to them for other products that might help their business out.
Targeting The Right People
Race car sponsorships (at least at the top levels) are therefore often aimed at those with the biggest wallets, which are usually other companies. They aim to build trust with these other companies before they even communicate with them by showing them that they sponsor a winning race car. But there are also a lot of sponsorships that are aimed at the viewers and fans.
Take the Red Bull F1 team and various other motorsport teams. Their team name is a sponsorship for themselves, as the team is owned by the giant drinks company. So, their success might help to associate their drinks with success, which drives customers to the stores to buy their energy drinks.
The drivers also wear the logo on their sleeves and even drink it themselves (or at least drink something out of a Red Bull branded bottle!), helping to push the brand further, along with other consumer-targeted sponsors such as Castore. Another example, this time from NASCAR, would be Kyle Busch’s long-time sponsorship with Mars Inc, with his car typically covered in M&Ms.
But these different tiers of sponsorship illustrate the kinds of involvement and audiences that are required for each one to be worth it for both parties. The sponsor hopes to see a return on their investment, and the team hopes to gain money to invest in their future, in order to drive their own success and in turn help out the sponsor too.
Sponsorships At The Lower Levels Of Racing
So, now that you know why you would want to sponsor a race car team, and what kinds of sponsorships there are, it is time to look at the costs. First, let us look at the lower level ones. These are the kinds of sponsorships that hope to bring a return on investment through the general market, at the smallest cost upfront.
The Bottom End
If you are a brand without much capital, you will want to look at sponsoring teams in the lower leagues of motorsport, rather than the likes of Formula 1. If you have a local team or racing series, you may be able to sponsor one of the cars for as little as a few hundred dollars, or at most a few thousand, per year. This obviously depends on what series they race in, and how lucrative it is.
Prize money is a good measure for this, but anything recognized at a national level is usually where you will find sponsorships costing anywhere from a few thousand dollars and up. Really small teams might not even ask for any money, but instead may just ask you to provide the team with equipment, clothing, or even food and drink, depending on the nature of your business.
This kind of sponsorship exists in all levels of motorsport, with some teams in higher up series working with sponsors using their equipment or have them supply the uniforms and driving suits. But this is very popular down in the lower ranks too, and it’s not just your local race team that might offer you an easy road into sponsoring race cars.
The Scottish Rally Championship is one example of an internationally recognized event that offers some good sponsorship opportunities for businesses with smaller budgets. One driver, Garry Pearson, notes on his website that you can sponsor his car for as little as £1,000. He offers various packages above that, all of which come with various different benefits for the sponsor.
Garry won the championship in 2021, and so this is the kind of money that is required to associate yourself with someone that has had great success in their motorsport. There will be teams that charge less and teams that charge more, but for smaller motorsports, the figures usually range from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars each year.
Higher Level Racing Sponsorships
If you are a business that is looking to put your brand on the most visible parts of the fastest cars in the world, you are most likely looking at motorsports that are televised every weekend. These are the races that are shown to hundreds of thousands if not millions of fans week in, week out. This is where the return on investment can be huge, but you need a lot of money to start.
These kinds of motorsports are where placement matters most, and the size and shape of your logo, brand name or other sticker can make all of the difference in not just the price, but also your ROI. Small stickers next to the wheels will cost much less than massive logos on the back of the car.
It also depends on how long you want to sponsor the car for. You could pay anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 for a single race deal, or several hundred thousand dollars to have your brand there for the full season. If you were looking to take center stage on the car every race for multiple seasons, you could be well into the millions of dollars.
There are a lot of oval races in NASCAR, and so in a lot of the races there is one side of the car that is going to be shown off the most. This is obviously going to be the most lucrative, and so you can expect it to cost anywhere from a few hundred thousand dollars per year to a few million if you want a spot on the ‘best’ side of the car.
But NASCAR teams will also have primary sponsors, and these are the ones that have their brand in multiple places on the car. They will also be there every race (although they might alternate with other sponsors), usually for multiple seasons. These deals are regularly in the millions for the bigger teams, with some paying up to $30 million a year to have their name in a prime spot on the car.
We have already discussed Mercedes’ deal with Petronas, where they are supplied with oil in exchange for brand placement all over the car. But they are also paying Mercedes for this, at an estimated cost of around $75 million every single year.
Ferrari is one of the biggest teams in the sport, bringing in nearly $200 million in sponsorships each year. This has a lot to do with the fact that they are F1’s oldest and most successful team, and everyone has heard of Ferrari. But even the lower ranked teams, such as Alfa Romeo and Haas, still attract massive amounts in sponsorship every year.
Like other motorsports, where the sponsorship is placed on the car is what matters most in F1. The front wing might cost your business $10 million for the season, while the rear wing could be double that. The wing mirror might cost a few million, but to have your brand in many places in clear view could run you into the hundreds of millions each year.
This really is the top end of the scale, and so it is a place where only the biggest companies tend to venture in terms of motorsport sponsorship. But there are sports such as Formula 2 and Formula 3 below F1 that serve as good places to get in if you do have a few hundred thousand dollars to spend on marketing, and this could eventually lead to partnerships in the top level if things go well.
KEY POINTS• Motorsport sponsorships aren’t just targeted at the fans
• Many brands aim to attract the attention of other businesses that could become customers
• Sponsorships at the lower level can cost hundreds of dollars, while at the top it can cost hundreds of millions
There is no hard and fast figure when it comes to the cost of sponsoring a race car. It depends on a variety of factors, such as how lucrative the motorsport series is, and how lucrative your brand is too. If you have a popular brand, most teams will be excited to take you on. But it can be harder to get into race car sponsorships if you are a relatively unknown brand.
This is where lower tier motorsports are the best choice, costing from hundreds to several thousand dollars each year to sponsor a car. Above these levels it quickly starts to cost many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, for the likes of IndyCar. NASCAR is where it gets into the tens of millions, but F1 sponsorships usually cost the most overall.