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Students Experience the Power of Sports Marketing at COTA Racetrack During Formula One

By Rob Malcolm

Marketing Fellows Practicum class at COTA

Business students recently got a whiff of fuel and tire rubber as they gained a look into the power of sports marketing.

On the morning of Oct. 23, 16 students in Senior Lecturer Kapil Jain's Marketing Fellows Practicum class at the McCombs School of Business spent two hours at Austin's Circuit of the Americas (COTA) racetrack during practice sessions for the Austin Formula One race. 

The class, focused on sports marketing, featured a panel of experts representing race teams, a motor sports marketing agency, and two client case studies who led informative presentations and discussions about using motor sports to accelerate business growth. Red McCombs, an investor in COTA, stopped by the class to share his passion for marketing, which he called "the greatest tool in the world" for driving interest.

The Marketing Fellows Practicum course is a core part of a unique Marketing Fellows curriculum that features a number of top-notch speakers who introduce real-time business challenges to the students. The students are provided with a cutting-edge "live" case challenge where they get to interact directly with the key company executive who is the decision maker. The executives also benefit from feedback and ideas from MBA students at McCombs. 

The program was developed and supported by the Center for Customer Insight and Marketing Solutions (CCIMS), Marketing Department Chair Wayne Hoyer, CCIMS Executive Director Lamar Johnson, and Executive-in-Residence Rob Malcolm.

Zak Brown, group CEO of CSM Sports, kicked off the class with background on sports marketing and the power of sports to motivate consumers and build brands. Brown is a former high-level racer himself who founded JMI, the global leader in motor sports marketing, and is now part of the CSM network.

Mike O'Driscoll, group CEO of Martini Williams Racing, shared his company's story to illustrate the power of a motor sports partnership to transform both a consumer brand and a racing team. In 2013, Martini and Williams were each in search of an extra "spark" to accelerate the growth of their brands. Williams had embarked on a significant performance-rebuilding program in 2012 and was making great technical progress. However, it needed "something special" to signal the magnitude of its resurgence to the company's various audiences. Martini, a global aperitif brand, was also looking to rebuild its image as a stylish and aspirational lifestyle brand. Martini had a history in motor sports, but had grown tired with age. They came together and created something new. According to O'Driscoll, "Martini made Williams cool again and Formula One gave Martini a major lifestyle boost… It's been a great success for both."

Simon Points, director of client management at McLaren Racing, shared his experiences in designing and executing marketing programs that grow clients' businesses. This was followed by two case studies showing the strategies and tactics two different companies used to leverage motor sports to advance their brand objectives. Johnnie Walker has used Formula One, the McLaren team, and former champion driver Mika Hakkinen to advance their "don't drink and drive" responsibility messaging via a driving expert challenging consumers to "sign the Pact" to not drink and drive. Hisense, a new Chinese entry into the U.S. TV market, is leveraging the scale and reputation of NASCAR to reach its core middle-market target and accelerate its growth.

Rebecca Seay-Molloy, MBA '16 and current Marketing Fellows student, said she benefited from hands-on learning experiences like this day at the track. "The Marketing Fellows class session held at COTA was the perfect culmination of using theoretical lessons from the classroom and applying them to real-world problems," she says. "Combining that with access to top business leaders in sports marketing, the opportunity to meet Red McCombs, and the chance to experience the product of Formula One made the COTA session hands-down my favorite Marketing Fellows experience."

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