Objections to Sponsoring a Woman Driver
Editor's Notebook, June 2001
Acquiring sponsorship is a many-faceted art form. For women drivers serious about moving up the ladder to one of the premier racing series, that art form includes subtleties and nuances that their male counterparts don’t encounter.
The special problems that women drivers face as they try to close a sponsorship sale can best be illustrated by the objections that they must address along the way. I’ll try, here, to state some of those objections and discuss them.
First, however, let’s not lose sight of the many marketing advantages that women drivers bring to their potential marketing partners.
Active, young women represent the fastest-growing segment of the auto racing audience. Sponsor loyalty among race fans is by far the highest of any sport and these women fans are eager to find role models and bestow their loyalty.
Strong, active women athletes reach and influence broad audiences, delivering a sponsor’s message well beyond the audience for their sport.
Women race car drivers, because of their relative novelty, attract free media. This media coverage is not restricted to auto racing magazines, but is found in a broad cross-section of newspaper, magazine, radio, and television vehicles.
Women-in-athletics is a cause that is applauded by the public and can enhance a sponsor’s corporate image, address internal communications needs, and build loyalty among the full family of corporate suppliers, key customers, and national sales forces.
Take a look at the introductory piece I use as I approach potential sponsors. A version of that piece is available on the Internet at:
Now, let’s talk about the objections to sponsoring a woman in racing. Beyond all the cost and marketing concerns that potential sponsors address when considering any auto racing sponsorship, they also raise objections like:
A woman driver is just a novelty.
This is probably the first objection that is raised, sometimes non-verbally, with a smile or some slight patronizing of the driver’s presentation. Women drivers learn to handle this objection in a variety of ways, most relying on a demonstration of their serious commitment to the sport. I think it is important for a driver to distance herself from the ‘celebrity’ women drivers and the models dressed in racing suits who sit in cars and have their pictures taken. Some drivers downplay their gender as they seek sponsors. Others address the novelty factor as a marketing advantage.
A woman driver can’t win races.
This is an objection that I have heard spoken very directly to me by potential sponsors. It is also one that is frequently unspoken. I address the issue by talking about a race car’s neutrality when it comes to the gender of the driver. I talk about the testosterone-based ‘red mist’ that male drivers must overcome in order to keep their cars shiny side up. Adrenaline is the enemy. I also talk about the small motor skills and quick reflexes that successful racing requires, skills that women, traditionally, excel in. If a female driver has defeated male drivers who have gone on to higher steps in the racing ladder, that fact could prove helpful.
A woman driver can’t really be serious about racing in the long term.
This is the typical ‘glass ceiling’ objection. What if we pour all this money into a sponsorship and the driver gets pregnant or her boyfriend doesn’t want her to race any more? You won’t usually hear this objection, but it is frequently there nonetheless. Young drivers seeking sponsorship can refer to their female role models, women drivers who have been in the sport for decades. They can map out for their prospective sponsor a vision for their climb to the top of the racing ladder. The trick is to make the prospect believe that they fully intend to make the climb.
Women’s place in racing is to be a sexual adjunct to the sport.
Racing has a lot of stereotypical baggage to overcome. It is a ‘good old boy’, backwoods pissing contest. Its fans are beer-swilling louts who shout "show us your tits" to every passing woman. A woman driver seeking sponsorship ought to have good demographics at hand to overcome this objection. The age, gender, income, education, and other socio-economic ingredients of the racing audience belie these stereotypes and it is important to make that point. (If Las Vegas can transform itself from the sin capital of the world to a family-friendly Disneyland with gambling, we can demonstrate the female-friendly nature of racing.)
What would happen if our woman driver were injured or killed?
This is an objection I have never heard and probably never will hear, but I greatly fear that it is out there. It is the ‘women in combat’ objection. Do we want our young daughters facing injury and death? Worse!! Do we want to be the sponsor of that potential injury and death? I talk about the special courage that it takes for a woman to compete in a male-dominated sport, but minimize the physical risk. We’ve all seen tragedy at the track. (We’ve even seen women drivers as part of that tragedy.) Without dwelling on tragedy, I like to talk about the impact on girls and young women that a brave woman driver can make.
I’d like to be able to tell you that, with an understanding of these potential objections and with preparation to address them, I have been successful at finding sponsorship for women race car drivers. Unfortunately, that is not yet the case. In my thirty years of fund raising and successful marketing of some of the most difficult properties imaginable, the securing of sponsorship for women race car drivers ranks as the most difficult.
As with many of you, racing is my passion. I accept the challenge of finding sponsorship for women drivers as an element of my role in the world of auto racing. It’s a good role, an admirable role, and I have a vision for ultimate success. As a mentor of mine once said, "You’ll see it when you believe it." Like you, I believe it. Let's wish us all good fortune.