Driven Tigers Finish First
The roar of the crowd is deafening. Blurs of speed flash by as the racecars zoom around the track below at over 200 mph. One blur stands out in particular, though, because of its distinctive coloring and a giant tiger paw on its hood - it is NASCAR driver Mike Wallace's racecar and it has been Clemson-branded, thanks to lecturer Amanda Cooper Fine's Creative Inquiry class.
What started out as a simple conversation between NASCAR driver Mike Wallace and the Clemson alumni office turned into a full-scale venture with a goal of obtaining a one-year sponsorship for Wallace's Ford EcoBoost 300. Cooper Fine, a Clemson MBA graduate and lecturer of marketing, was recruited to lead a Creative Inquiry project devoted to this goal due to her prior experience in sports marketing.
Senior marketing major Tyler Reinhard explains the motivation behind the project: "Mike gets to use us college students with our unique and creative minds; we aren't jaded by the sports industry, so we can have some brilliant ideas. And it works out for the school to get their name out there more." While other colleges have partnered with NASCAR before, it has always been on the engineering side of racing. Cooper Fine explains that Clemson is the first to partner with NASCAR from a marketing standpoint, and everyone is interested in seeing how the partnership will unfold.
The team's first semester goal was to create a Clemsonbranded car and cover Wallace's costs for one race, the final race of 2012 in the Nationwide series in Miami. While the team wasn't able to generate the funds to cover the costs (which are close to $170,000), they learned a valuable lesson about the successes and failures that take place in real-world business ventures. The team is now focused on securing sponsorships for the car and spreading the word about the project through social media and other marketing avenues.
Junior marketing major Ellen Fitzgerald was attracted to this Creative Inquiry because it provided the potential to interact with companies and make contacts that would serve her well in her career. "I think it's really unique for college students to get this type of opportunity, and we get real world experience with trying to obtain a sponsorship, market the brand, and the one-on-one contact with Mike Wallace. So, a lot of people we've talked to think it's an amazing opportunity for us and kind of want to see the storyline of what we do and where it ends up." Fitzgerald and the other students are working with both the Clemson Alumni Association and firms associated with The United Service Organizations (USO) to bring the cost of the car down in time for next season's races.
For Reinhard, the experience has been nothing short of eye-opening. He has been able to see firsthand what it takes to market a national sports event, delving into such details as efficiently pricing every square inch of advertising space and using the right words during social media blasts. He was in charge of executing the entire social networking initiative leading up to Wallace's "meet-and-greet" during the Clemson-Georgia Tech game to promote his company JD Motorsports last fall. He managed to obtain coverage from ESPN and a couple of local news channels for the event. It hasn't been all work and no play, though. Thanks to Wallace, he was able to watch his first race last fall in Charlotte. "I was also granted pit access, making the experience a memorable one," says Reinhard.
The experience of leading this course has been bittersweet for Cooper-Fine. While she has been glad to see her instruction being applied to a live project, she often becomes discouraged seeing her students fall tantalizingly short of their eventual goals, as was the case during the first semester. However, she maintains that it is good that her students experience such disappointment in the classroom setting, so that they are prepared for their eventual work places. The Creative Inquiry's motto, "Driven Tigers finish first," is inspiring their commitment to their project and leading them to always push for a successful finish.