Starbucks and NASCAR Are Perfect Together

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer INovember 13, 2009

Starbucks announced that they will make their NASCAR debut at Phoenix International Raceway as a sponsor for Martin Truex, Jr. this race weekend.  Starbucks will be an associate sponsor on Truex's Earnhardt Ganassi Inc. No. 1 Sprint Cup Chevrolet.

The Seattle-based coffee chain plans to use their NASCAR sponsorship to introduce a new version of their instant coffee, Starbucks VIA Ready Brew.  The company plans to distribute samples of their new product via a fleet of Starbucks-branded golf carts.

While the NASCAR world rejoices with the addition of a new sponsor in these tough economic times, a bit of controversy about the sponsorship has been stirred up by a Seattle-based author. 

Caleb Hannan, writing for the Seattle Weekly , shared his view of the Starbucks sponsorship in an article entitled, "Attention Starbucks:  NASCAR Fans Might Not Be in Your Target Market."

The thesis of Hannan's article is basically that "hick" NASCAR fans have no idea what Starbucks is all about, much less patronizing the gourmet coffee maker. 

From the picture of a hairy-backed NASCAR fan with a No. 3 shaved into his back to his notion that NASCAR fans would only use a Starbucks coffee cup for a spittoon, Hannan pulled out every stereotype about NASCAR fans that he could to ridicule Starbucks for investing in a target market that he perceives is clueless about the brand.

The following is one snippet from Hannan's dissing of NASCAR fans based on an experience he had in college standing outside the Richmond International Raceway:

"And if the people tailgating there were any indication of the sport's primary clientele, I've got a bit of unfortunate news for Starbucks...$4 doesn't describe what NASCAR's Average Fan might spend on a cup of coffee so much as it describes what he might spend on an outfit ."

While Hannan is totally off base about the characteristics of NASCAR fans, the most serious inaccuracy of his article is the mismatch he writes about between the upscale Starbucks and what he sees as ignorant, redneck NASCAR fans.

Contrary to what Hannan thinks, Starbucks and NASCAR are actually the perfect match between sport and sponsor.  While there are many reasons for this, one of the most important synergies between Starbucks and NASCAR is their appreciation for their customers and fans respectively.

Starbucks has this to say about their customers, "When we are fully engaged, we connect with, laugh with, and uplift the lives of our customers—even if just for a few moments."   

NASCAR has the same appreciation of their fans, with their mission of creating entertainment that lifts the spirits for as long as the cars are on the track.  In fact, NASCAR was recently honored with two awards for their Fan Council and for focusing on the fans in making changes to the sport.

NASCAR and Starbucks are also perfect together because of the camaraderie created by both.  Just listen to what Starbucks says about their stores, "When our customers feel this sense of belonging, our stores become a haven, a break from the worries outside, a place where you can meet with friends."  

NASCAR can make the same claim as a safe haven, from the bleachers to the infield, for fans and friends from around the country who come together on race weekends.  NASCAR fans are instant friends and become family, often meeting each other in the campgrounds and at the tracks year after year, race after race.

Starbucks and NASCAR are also both deeply committed to their communities.  Starbucks philosophy of helping the community as follows is echoed in every race team, garage and track across the country. 

"We can be a force for positive action—bringing together our partners, customers, and the community to contribute every day."

Both NASCAR and Starbucks are focused on diversity as part of their mission statements.  As Starbucks says, "It’s only natural that as a guiding principle, diversity is integral to everything we do."

NASCAR also focuses on diversity, particularly through their Drive for Diversity program.  In fact, ten drivers from this program will soon be chosen to compete in the driver development programs that will race in the Whelen All-American Series and the Camping World Series East around the country.

Needless to say, both Starbucks and NASCAR also focus on speed.  While NASCAR focuses on the speed of the race cars and who is fastest on the track, Starbucks focues on speed in a slightly different way.

"It’s about enjoyment at the speed of life—sometimes slow and savored, sometimes faster. Always full of humanity."

Starbucks, welcome to NASCAR.  And by the way, with Martin Truex, Jr. carrying you on the car, welcome to your first NASCAR pole.

There is no doubt that my NASCAR and your coffee are indeed perfect together.  Now, I'm off to get my Cinnamon Dolce Latte with Sugar-Free Syrup.