Bye-bye Jeeps. Hello Fords.
As the TV cameras roll on one of the richest and most competitive professional downhill ski racing series this season, Ford Division sport-utes - not the Jeeps of years past - will grace five popular ski resorts. When Jeep pulled out of the event that it had sponsored since 1993, Ford eagerly stepped in as lead sponsor by putting up the $500,000 prize purse.
'Skiing is a sport that indexes high with SUV customers,' says J.C. Collins, Ford Division multipurpose group brand manager. 'That's what I'm in it for. I want the association with the sport with my SUVs.'
The Ford Downhill Series, held at five venues, runs through March 5, when the series culminates at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe, Calif. Earlier competitions occurred at Aspen, Colo.; Beaver Creek, Colo.; Mammoth, Calif., and Sugarbush, Vt.
Collins, who is responsible for developing marketing plans and programs for the Windstar minivan and Explorer and Expedition sport-utilities, had had his eye on this ski event for at least two years. That's when he met the promoter through a counterpart at Jeep.
For its half-million dollars, Ford Division and its Explorer and Expedition nameplates get prime-time exposure on the NBC and Fox TV networks, which are broadcasting the competitions. Ford dealers will then be able to use footage from the events in ad campaigns.
'We're not just the on-air sponsor, but also the 'on-mountain' sponsor, where we display the Expedition and Explorer,' Collins says.
The races pit two-man teams from Austria, Canada, Switzerland, France and the United States that vie for a $100,000 purse at each event on an individual and team basis. The two team members that finish the series with the most points also win Explorers.
'This is a relatively minor investment in the scheme of things,' says Collins. 'But I believe it will help build the image of the Explorer and Expedition.'
Showcase for concepts
The division also will show some concept sport-utilities at the resorts - the Himalaya, an even brawnier version of the already brute-like Expedition and a Park Ranger edition of the Expedition that runs on compressed natural gas. Collins says Ford Division may use the downhill series to introduce its new U204 sport wagon to the press. That wagon is due in the 2001 model year.
'We look at this as a totally integrated marketing effort,' Collins says.
The racing series was established in 1993 by Vail, Colo.-based Eclipse Television & Sports Marketing, LLC, a sports marketing and TV production company. This is Ford Division's first sponsorship of a major ski event. The division signed a one-year contract, but has options for future years.
Collins says brand-building isn't always something that can be measured on a short-term basis. So how will he gauge the success of his effort? 'Basically, the ratings of the program,' he says. 'Sometimes it's just broad reach.'