Securing a sponsorship deal: Finding out what’s important


Annually for the past three years, the British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) has invited me to deliver a training course on the topic of sponsorship acquisition. The audience has mainly included drivers from the Club’s Superstar and Rising Star programmes, together with some parents and managers. It’s an event I always look forward to, as it provides me with valuable insight into the real world of motorsport at the junior level, particularly from a commercial perspective.

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It’s always a sobering thought when I realise that quite a few of the delegates on each course will be expected to secure upwards of £10 million funding if they are to pursue their ambition of reaching Formula 1. With the expectancy of two-year stints in GP3 and GP2, the best part of £4 million is quickly taken care of! This leaves a balance of just £6 million, which is realistically the minimum contribution towards a Formula 1 drive that’s now demanded by many of the Grand Prix teams.

During the BRDC courses, several drivers have stood out for a number of reasons. One or two for the dubious honour of looking bored out of their minds, whilst many others displayed a serious desire to learn what I feel is a vital skill in their career development planning.

One in particular who has continued to impress for being extremely commercially astute is Dino Zamparelli, I’ve mentioned him in a previous feature. The beneficiary of almost £1.25 million in sponsorship over his career, Dino has worked hard for every penny of it. I’d like to think that some of his skills came from attending my BRDC course and from devouring my book on the topic.

Last year someone else stood out on the BRDC course for a very different reason… I’ll explain why.

I’m sure that everyone in the room thought that I’d paid him to say these things, but I was as surprised as everyone else, believe me!

Sponsorship deal Examples

During my training courses, I always include several case studies based on actual deals that I’ve secured during my own racing career. Whilst my Formula 1 deals are also interesting, I find that it’s those sponsorship agreements negotiated in the lower formulae that are of particular significance to the young drivers on the BRDC courses. These case studies include sponsorships that I put together when racing Formula Fords, back in the mid to late 1970s.

In last year’s course, I outlined the specific FF1600 deal that had allowed me to turn professional as a race driver in 1977. I went into a lot of detail as to why my proposal was successful and how, by agreeing to a budget double the cost of running the car for the season, I could draw a salary enabling me to focus all my energies on making it work.

I remember sensing that a few of the delegates didn’t believe a deal negotiated 37 years ago could have any relevance to them in today’s world of highly commercial motorsport, so I asked them what is the one thing that never changes in the business world. Silence! Then I provided the answer. The one thing that never changes is a company’s need to sell more products or services and to increase its market share. I went on to explain that in my proposal I had shown the company a way of doing just that, in a measurable, sustainable way.

A hand then went up in the audience and the man, who was obviously not one of the young drivers, got to his feet and asked if he could make a comment. I wondered what was coming! To my amazement, he then looked at all of the other delegates before telling them that what I’d outlined in this case study was 100% correct and that he should know as he was, and still is, head of that very company! He continued by emphasising that every criteria I’d identified as being important to that company in 1977 were just as relevant today, nearly forty years on. He also added that my point about a company’s primary objective usually being to increase market share, is the platform on which any sponsorship proposal should be based.

Looking back, I’m sure that everyone in the room thought that I’d paid him to say these things, but I was as surprised as everyone else, believe me!

The sponsorship deal

So what was the company that I’m talking about? It was Sodastream, which after a boom in the 1970s, went out of fashion for some while but which has today again made a big comeback and can be found in many leading retail stores. Google the word and you’ll see just what Sodastream is all about.

I’m sure that many of you who are reading this feature are wondering how I put such a significant deal together, at a time when I was a Formula Ford driver with just two previous seasons’ experiences behind me.

I’m sure that many of you who are reading this feature are wondering how I put such a significant deal together, at a time when I was a Formula Ford driver with just two previous seasons’ experiences behind me. I certainly hadn’t stood out as being F1 material, unlike drivers such as Derek Warwick, Derek Daly and Nigel Mansell, all of whom were obviously something very special.

In the early 1970s, Sodastream was a brand within British company Kenwood, famous for its food mixers. In 1976, Sodastream was the target of a management buy-out and the new company set up its own Head Office in Peterborough.

At that time, I was the UK Sales Training Director of a massive American corporation, ITT. I’d also been racing in the local Formula Ford championship at Brands Hatch, with some moderate success.

Two years previously, I’d secured a sponsorship deal even before I first climbed into a race car. I added to that by persuading ITT to sponsor my second season. However, I recognised that if I wanted to achieve my ambition of moving up to the next level, perhaps F3, I’d need to spend a full season competing in the national FF1600 championship, requiring a much larger budget in the process.

Thanks to another small sponsorship deal, my race car was stored at a local service station in Maidstone and prepared by one of its mechanics. One day whilst we were working on the car, a customer pulled up at the petrol pumps and whilst his car was being filled, (yes, service still existed then!) sauntered over to look at the Formula Ford.

A pleasant conversation ensued about the car until he was called over to pay for the petrol. Before he walked away, I cheekily asked him what he did for a living; on the basis that unless you ask, you never know what opportunity you might miss! He told me that he was the sales manager for Sodastream. I was none the wiser. He drove off and that was that. Except that it wasn’t! I went across to the till and found that he had a petrol account, meaning that I could find out who he was.

You must remember that in 1976 when you wanted to research a business, you couldn’t simply Google it! Instead, you made a trip to the local library and would trawl through volumes of Kelly’s Trade Directories. Even then the information was pretty sketchy stuff and not very helpful.


Eventually, my hours in Reference Library paid dividends and I discovered a newspaper cutting about Sodastream which provided details of the management buy-out from Kenwood. In an interview with the company’s MD, it became apparent that the new company was really keen to hit the ground running.

To cut a long story short, I managed to make contact again with Don Philpott, Sodastream’s sales manager and I persuaded him that it might be mutually beneficial to meet over lunch to look at possible ways of using my motor racing programme as the platform for a Sodastream business development campaign.

I was very nervous and probably did far too much talking at that first meeting. However, I also listened long enough to ascertain the company’s primary business objectives. We finished our lunch and I was promised a follow-up meeting, this would include the company’s Managing Director.

The key objectives that had been identified were:

  • High level of brand awareness
  • Significant product sampling
  • Innovative Sales Incentives for Sodastream and wholesaler sales teams
  • Staff motivation
  • High-profile PR
  • Database generation

My mind went into overdrive and for the next week or two, I bandied around so many ways of constructing a Sodastream sales development programme, with motorsport as its catalyst that I found myself dreaming about fizzy drinks and swimming pools full of the stuff!

Nevertheless, I came up with a campaign proposal that would show the Sales Manager and the CEO that I was genuinely interested in trying to help them achieve the objectives and not just interested in what I wanted out of it from a racing perspective.

The whole programme was launched by me driving the race car around the pitch at half-time in a Football League match at Peterborough and was actually shown on the ITV evening news bulletin.

To generate product sampling, I suggested that the race car, in Sodastream’s distinctive livery, should be put on display in a number of retail stores throughout the season, accompanied by a sales demonstrator and myself; the idea being that we would encourage kids to come and look at the car and maybe have their photographs taken in it. At the same time, their parents could be given a sample drink – Sodastream, of course! The sales demonstrator could convey the cost-saving per glass compared with buying a conventional can. The Sodastream machines could be sold at a discount during the promotion.

I added an idea for generating a database of people buying their bottles of concentrate so that Sodastream could mail them with promotional offers. This was through a cardboard collar being attached to the bottles, offering entry into a competition, the prize being the Sodastream race car at the end of the season and a course at a racing driver school. By completing and sending off the collar, customers would also receive a free racing car poster and T-shirt.

A sales incentive programme was proposed, based on a motorsport theme, creating opportunities for the factory staff to attend race meetings, with their families throughout the year.

The whole programme was launched by me driving the race car around the pitch at half-time in a Football League match at Peterborough and was actually shown on the ITV evening news bulletin.

Together with a number of other activities, my proposal was accepted by the management of Sodastream and the campaign was launched at one of the top London hotels.

That sponsorship deal was based on one important factor… my listening to what the company wanted to achieve. It wanted to sell more products and increase its market share. All I did was suggest a few ways of doing just that in an innovative, fun way. It’s not rocket science!

Sodastream at Brands Hatch

Sodastream at Brands Hatch

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