Thousands of viewers in person and watching on television saw an exciting NCAA football game as the Tulane Green Wave defeated the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, 41-24, in the AutoNation Cure Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando this past Dec. 15.
But for automotive retailer AutoNation, the game served as great publicity. Sports fans saw the AutoNation name associated with the event and charitable giving. The Cure Bowl is part of AutoNation’s Drive Pink campaign, which raises money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
“We have used sports to push our brand and to do community service as goodwill in the markets where we live and work,” said Marc Cannon, chief marketing officer and executive vice president for AutoNation.
Larry H. Miller Dealerships is another example of how the automotive industry and sports organizations are benefiting from partnerships with each other. About six years after starting his dealership group, Larry H. Miller acquired one-half of the Utah Jazz NBA basketball team in 1985. He later became sole owner of the Jazz, and his family has owned the franchise since he died in 2009.
Miller “saw that there were connective tissues between a competitive sports franchise and car dealerships,” said Paul Nygaard, senior vice president of marketing for Larry H. Miller Dealerships. How do they connect? “In the desire to achieve things, the desire to satisfy customers … those things are all competitive. There were things he viewed that were important to have in both,” he said.
‘Competitive nature’ creates drive
Miller saw connective tissues between sports and auto dealerships early in his career, when he was hired to work in the parts department for an auto dealership in Denver, and he also pitched for the dealership’s softball team.
He went on to a stint as a professional softball pitcher, and he eventually acquired various auto dealerships that formed the Larry H. Miller Automotive Group.
“The competitive nature that sports brought out is what kept driving him to acquire and grow businesses,” Nygaard said.
Miller also loved basketball, and his ownership of the Jazz has been beneficial to his dealerships. During basketball season, it’s a sports news story almost every night.
“People will very commonly refer to the ‘Larry H. Miller Utah Jazz.’ You get this great name connection,” Nygaard said. Involvement in sports helps the Miller dealership team live up to its “mission, vision and values.” Its mission statement is “to enrich lives.”
“It’s kind of a simple statement, but … someone buying a car is improving their life, someone going to a Jazz game, they’re enjoying themselves,” Nygaard said. As part of its “vision” to be the best place in town to work and to do business, the company gives Jazz tickets to those who purchase cars from Larry H. Miller Dealerships.
And as part of its “values” of hard work, stewardship, service and integrity, Jazz players and dealership employees donate their time to charity. At a recent event, players Georges Niang and Royce O’Neale of the Jazz joined dealership employees in helping to serve turkey meals at a Utah shelter.
Miller’s sports involvement doesn’t stop there. The company is a title sponsor of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah professional cycling event. The seven-day race travels throughout Utah, accompanied by caravan vehicles from the dealerships that display the company name.
“It … has a benefit to the communities that it rolls through and helps provide a great deal of recognition and awareness for us,” Nygaard said.
The Miller family also owns the Salt Lake Bees Triple A baseball team and the Salt Lake City Stars NBA development league team, and it is a corporate sponsor of the University of Utah athletic program and others.
‘You can make a mark for yourself’
In terms of finding areas in which it could get quality exposure, AutoNation has found sports and arts as vialble options, “where you can make a mark for yourself, and you can reach a vast audience, and in many cases or most cases, exactly the buyer you’re looking for,” Cannon said.
The company launched its Drive Pink initiative, with help from auto racer Ryan Hunter-Reay, whose mother died of cancer. That led to the AutoNation Cure Bowl. Then the company partnered with race car driver Jack Harvey, who expressed a strong interest in cancer causes and participated in another AutoNation advertising campaign.
“Before we know, we’ve got the … AutoNation Sirius car, which is a beautiful pink Indy car,” Cannon said. “This is sort of how it all started to develop. It was about the brand, it was about Drive Pink, and you look for people who had passion and understanding and a connection to what we were doing with cancer.”
AutoNation’s affiliation with sports has helped people in need, and Cannon likes to talk about how sports helps push the AutoNation brand.
“When you’ve got a brand, it also changes your advertising portfolio. Now you can advertise bigger, lighter and smarter because you’ve got a brand that has its name on 70 percent of your stores,” Cannon said. “So with that, we looked at high-visibility sports events to advertise on. Whether it’s the Indy 500, the NBA playoffs or the college football playoffs, those types of activities give us an opportunity to draw large audiences, and they’re people who are obviously great customers.”
The late AutoNation founder Wayne Huizenga owned the Florida Marlins (now known as the Miami Marlins) baseball team and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. “But that’s not how we got into sports. We got into sports because we’re good branders and we see the marketing capabilities,” Cannon said.
That will continue as AutoNation participates in various sports sponsorship programs, including a vehicle giveaway program involving the Marlins.
“We gave away a car every weekend, and then at the end of the year, the last six cars we gave to six people who were either battling cancer or are parents that are helping somebody battle cancer in their house,” Cannon said. “It was an incredible experience.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of Auto Remarketing's “DRIVING FORCE: The Business Intersection of Sports & Automotive” series, which will discuss the car industry's involvement in sports business — be it through marketing partnerships, ownership stakes, working as sister companies under the same corporate umbrella or other business ventures. Stay tuned for the print edition of this series in the Feb. 1 edition of the Auto Remarketing magazine.