In the world of NASCAR, partnerships between teams and outside organizations are a key component to a race team’s success. From being a source of revenue to helping with marketing, when a team creates a healthy partnership with a business, both sides reap the benefits.
Veteran Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) driver Aric Almirola has continued his partnership with Go Bowling this season, while the company has also partnered with his Stewart-Haas Racing his teammate, up-and-coming NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) competitor Cole Custer.
For Go Bowling, which operates more than 3,000 bowling centers across the United States, there is a draw of being associated with both a veteran driver and young, new talent. The company will be on Almirola’s No. 10 Ford for the Watkins Glen MENCS race and on Custer’s No. 00 machine for the NXS race at Richmond Raceway in September.
“Aric (Almirola) is a veteran in this sport and has won races at the Cup level,” said Stewart-Haas Racing VP of Sales and Marketing Mike Verlander. “He’s an elder statesman when it comes to pushing brand messages and is professional. Cole is younger and represents many different brands very well. It’s part of the reason we assembled a two-pronged program. He can speak to the future of bowling as a young guy and millennial, and we get to reach a whole different crowd through Aric.”
Go Bowling understands just how effective their partnerships in NASCAR have been.
Said John Harbuck, President of Strike Ten Entertainment, the centralized sponsorship activation arm of the entire bowling industry: “Our racing partnerships have proven to be very effective at reinforcing the bowling brand among consumers. This new endeavor with Stewart-Haas Racing and primary sponsorships of its teams during our two NASCAR race weekends at Watkins Glen and Richmond allows us to drive tremendous top-of-mind awareness for bowling by reaching a huge audience with similar demographics.”
This is not the first year that Go Bowling has been associated with Almirola. The company actually aligned with him prior to his move to Stewart-Haas before the 2018 season, but when Almirola went to SHR, Go Bowling followed.
“They’ve been a big fan of Aric’s,” said Verlander. “When Aric came to SHR, it sparked interest with them to come over and be a part of the program. Tony Stewart (team co-owner) has bowling lanes in his house. Not only can we push the message of Go Bowling, but Tony even believes in bowling so much so that he has lanes in his house to bowl in his free time.”
Verlander knows that the landscape of bowling has changed over the years, so the marketing strategy of Stewart-Haas has to cater to what people see bowling as today.
Bowling has changed from simply putting on shoes and bowling. Now, there’s food (many times it’s full-service) and arcade games often associated with bowling centers. There’s a big push to show everyone just how much you can do at a bowling center. For Stewart-Haas Racing, it’s about getting fans to the bowling center and also engaging their current partners.
Explained Verlander: “If you look at the marketing that makes NASCAR so different is that we can put different partnerships together. We work with Hunt Brothers Pizza, one of the largest quick-service pizza companies in the country. We also work with Anheuser Busch. When you think of bowling, beer and pizza go along with that. We’re making introductions there.”
For both Almirola and Custer, there is activation planned around a specific race. Almirola’s car will feature Go Bowling as the primary sponsor for the August Watkins Glen event.
August 11, the Saturday following the Go Bowling at The Glen Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, is National Bowling Day, so Almirola’s scheme will highlight that event.
Custer’s No. 00 Ford will feature Go Bowling on the hood for the Richmond race on September 21. Go Bowling will also serve as the race sponsor, as the race is the Go Bowling 250.
The Richmond race coincides with the Professional Women’s Bowling Tournament, which will be highlighted on Custer’s car.
“This partnership is so much bigger than us as a race team,” said Verlander. “It’s about the industry. The NASCAR fan is actually 18 percent more likely to bowl than the non-racing fan, and through this partnership, we’re developing NASCAR and bowling fans alike.”
As the two entities work together to engage both NASCAR and bowling fanatics, the future of the partnership certainly looks bright.
“Go Bowling wants to continue establishing equity with SHR and maintaining what they’ve done working with the No. 10 team,” stated Verlander. “Hopefully, in a few years, when people look at NASCAR, they know that Stewart-Haas and Aric Almirola were the ones who partnered with Go Bowling. It should be a conversation we’re able to have with people down the road.”