We’ve recently seen a barrage of press releases related to the adoption of Toyota as the title sponsor of the AMA MX Outdoor Nationals. As part of the sponsorship deal, competitors would be required to run a sticker on their front number plates, said sticker prominently featuring the Toyota logo. Understandably, Honda was somewhat upset – the competition between the two companies in the automotive segment is well-known.
When Honda made the decision to abide by the AMA rule book and run the Toyota logo, it should have been quiet about it. Instead, Honda issued a press release that dramatically drew attention to the issue. Cycle News online, for instance, ran the title “Honda to Run Toyota Plates” for its May 21, 2006 article.
Honda also prompted the AMA to issue its own press release (one which will inevitably find exposure through many media outlets), explaining why Honda was required to run the Toyoto logo on its bikes, and even citing historical precedents (remember the Chevy sponsorship of the Motocross Nationals that carried on for several years?).
Perhaps, Chevy (and Chevy Trucks) didn’t seem like much competition to American Honda at the time, but the juggernaut known as Toyota certainly is. Despite history, and despite the fact that Honda should have “seen this coming”, Honda has a good point. If you are participating in a sport to promote your brand (as Honda and other motorcycle manufacturers certainly are), you shouldn’t be forced to simultaneously promote a competitor’s brand. How do you explain to a manufacturer that they should spend millions of dollars participating in a motorsports event (or a championship series in this case) as a promotional activity for their company, and then require them to run the logo of their top competitor on their machinery. It doesnt’ make much sense, and it is a conflict created by the relatively new phenomenom of selling ‘title sponsorship’ of a motorsport series.
You would think that the AMA might be sensitive to the issue of taking on sponsorships which might conflict with the manufacturers who spend millions of dollars to make the AMA Series happen in the first place. In a very real sense, manufacturer participants are “sponsors” of the series — just like the title sponsor. In fact, they may be spending more money to make the series happen than the title sponsor! Maybe it isn’t quite as bad as calling the series the “Toyota AMA Motocross Championship, Brought to You by Honda”, but the logic (or lack thereof) is pretty much the same.
The fact that AMA Pro Racing responded with its own press release is indicative of a fundamental misconception AMA Pro Racing has with the involvement of manufacturer participants, like Honda. This is not supposed to be an antagonistic relationship. The AMA is supposed to encourage manufacturers to spend their time and money participating, not discourage them. Maybe Honda’s reference to Nascar (see both press releases) is only “completely irrelevant” (according to the AMA) because, unlike the AMA, Nascar isn’t foolish enough to sign a title sponsor that directly undermines the promotional value of the series to participating manufacturers – who are ultimately the greatest sponsors of all.