When it comes to marketing, sports and tires fit like a hand in an auto racing glove.
But when there's no sports, there's really not much sports marketing.
As COVID-19 essentially shut down society earlier this year, the idea of live sports with large gatherings quickly was cast aside. And when they ground to a halt, so did the opportunity for tire companies to keep their names front-and-center at both live events and through television and radio coverage.
Many sports have long delivered key demographics for tire makers, giving companies the exposure they want to the audience members and potential customers they seek.
Motorsports and tires, in particular, are a natural combination—a marketing marriage that has stood the test of time. Not only do manufacturers create and supply tires for various racing leagues, but they also use race coverage to promote their products to the general public.
With the suspension of live sports, leagues and marketers started to pivot. There were programming hours to fill and millions of sports fans going through withdrawal on their living room couches. Case in point: live Korean baseball started showing up at one point in the wee hours of the morning, complete with remote English commentary.
And virtual sports, also called e-sports, gained traction among the uninitiated. That's where Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. saw an opportunity.
"Coronavirus has had a significant impact on sports entertainment as the country experienced lockdowns and events were postponed or canceled," said Chris Pantani, director of motorsports at Cooper Tire. "However, we are fortunate to have sports sponsorships with partners that have been very innovative throughout the coronavirus pandemic and have found new ways to reach audiences hungry for sports entertainment,"
The Road to Indy, a drive development program for IndyCar racing, went virtual with two separate, five-race, e-series championships using race simulators.
"The e-series races allowed drivers from Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship to compete against one another using race simulators," Pantani said.
"Fans could tune into the races to continue to be engaged in the sport while the e-series also allowed drivers to continue to compete and get experience on virtual versions of well-known racetracks," he said.