First in a seven-part series
When the Washington Redskins play at home this season, the sideline in front of the bench will not be the only piece of turf at FedEx Field controlled by Joe Gibbs. Joe Gibbs Racing has leased a 24-seat luxury suite at the stadium to entertain sponsors, fans and assorted VIPs to generate marketing opportunities for his successful NASCAR team.
The convergence of Gibbs's renewed role as football coach and his ongoing business interests outside the game has been generating a financial and marketing windfall for the Redskins, Gibbs's family and his NASCAR corporate sponsors since he announced in January that he was returning to the NFL after an 11-year absence.
The Redskins' coach is at the center of a marketing blitz this season for companies as diverse as Wix oil filters, Cintas uniforms, Interstate Batteries and Home Depot, each of which has ties to his family's NASCAR operation.
"We are not capitalizing on him getting back into coaching," said J.D. Gibbs, the coach's son who now heads the family's North Carolina-based NASCAR team. "But yes, we are capitalizing on him and the race team as far as him being the team owner."
Many NFL head coaches have cashed in on their fame by building side careers as entrepreneurs and corporate promoters. But the scale of Gibbs's side business interests in which he has parlayed his coaching success into a lucrative second career as a NASCAR team owner and corporate backer is unique. "When all is said and done, what Gibbs has done is build himself into one of the most successful personal brands in the [sports] business," said David M. Carter, a principal at the Sports Business Group, a consulting firm in Los Angeles. "Joe Gibbs is not just a NASCAR personality and not just a football personality, but he is one of the most well-branded individuals in this country's sports industry."
Gibbs and his business associates, including his son, J.D., said the commercial blitz is merely an extension of the advertising that is in place around NASCAR. He said his return to the NFL makes his NASCAR connection even more attractive. "If you don't like motor sports or the NFL, you're probably on life support," Gibbs said. "It kind of gets everybody."
Joe Gibbs Racing's marketing around the Redskins is consistent with Redskins principal owner Daniel Snyder's approach of driving the franchise's strong brand into new marketing and revenue opportunities. Indeed, Gibbs's successful business ventures are paying dividends to the Redskins as well.
FedEx Corp., whose chairman and founder Fred Smith is a minority owner of the Redskins and close associate of Snyder's, has tentatively agreed to sponsor a third Joe Gibbs Racing team in time for next February's Daytona 500, a breakthrough deal that could earn Gibbs Racing millions annually and strengthen a team already in the upper echelon of NASCAR. Gibbs said he had been in discussions with FedEx for two years.
Atlanta-based home improvement retail giant Home Depot Inc., primary sponsor of one of Gibbs's two racing teams, paid "in the mid-six figures," according to one source, to become the official sponsor of the Redskins' training camp, a one-year deal that included a sweeping white tent and extensive advertising at the camp.
Home Depot, whose co-chairman, Arthur M. Blank, owns the Atlanta Falcons, has purchased a handful of Redskins' season tickets and will fly major customers into Washington for tours of the training camp at Redskins Park near Dulles International Airport and for intimate meetings where Gibbs discusses the upcoming NFL season.
"These efforts reflect a continuation of the relationship with Joe as well as a new relationship with the Redskins," said John Costello, Home Depot's executive vice president for merchandising and marketing.
When the Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 27, longtime Gibbs Racing backer Interstate Batteries, which pays Gibbs Racing around $15 million annually to sponsor the No. 18 car, will troop a parade of customers and VIPs to the game as well as some practice sessions.
Cincinnati-based uniform giant Cintas, another Gibbs Racing sponsor, flooded the Washington-Baltimore radio airwaves with Joe Gibbs commercials after he announced he was returning. The company will also entertain its national customers at Redskins games.
Wix Filters, another Gibbs racing sponsor, has already mapped out its strategy of entertaining its customers at the Gibbs-leased luxury suite at FedEx Field, including which games they will attend (Dallas and Tampa Bay). After a Wix-sponsored dinner the night before, top Wix customers will be brought to the stadium early on game day and brought to the playing field for a close-up view of the pregame preparations. Then they will head up to the Gibbs Racing suite, where they will enjoy the game and find a Joe Gibbs autographed football waiting for them in their chair.
"Who wouldn't want that?" said Bruce Johnston, brand manager for Wix.
Nothing prohibits NFL coaches from endorsing products, charging for speeches or doing any other deals with businesses, as long as it doesn't involve using NFL trademarks. However, the league prohibits coaches from endorsing products related to alcohol, tobacco, casinos or gambling.
Current and former NFL coaches, including Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka and ABC "Monday Night Football" analyst John Madden, all have endorsed products. Ditka owns a Chicago restaurant and former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula owns a chain of steakhouses.
Many former coaches go on to become television announcers or public speakers. But none has won championships in two major sports like Gibbs, who has won in the NFL and NASCAR, and few have a powerful business such as Gibbs Racing whose interests dovetail with big-time football.
"It allows us to use NASCAR as well as the NFL, which no one from NASCAR is able to do," said J.D. Gibbs. "That gives our corporate partners exposure."
Norm Miller, chairman of Dallas-based Interstate Batteries and a close associate of Gibbs, said his company is hoping to get Gibbs to make some personal appearances or speak at a lunch with Interstate guests during a home-game weekend.
Sterling Chevrolet is mounting a television and radio campaign hyping its role as the local distributor for the Joe Gibbs Performance line of Chevrolet pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles. Joe Gibbs Performance is owned by Coy Gibbs, one of the coach's sons, according to Gibbs's associates. Coy Gibbs is also on the Redskins' coaching staff.
"Obviously, he felt the Washington market was one of the markets he wanted to market this car because his name is so big in this town," said Burke O'Malley, owner of Sterling Chevrolet, which is the only Washington area dealer for Joe Gibbs Performance.
Gibbs has been around business opportunities for decades, starting with several get-rich-quick schemes that Gibbs documented in his book, "Racing to Win." Gibbs lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in several investments from racquetball courts to real estate, dating from the 1970s. It took years for him to dig out from under those setbacks.
By all accounts, Gibbs Racing is a success. Gibbs started the NASCAR racing team in 1991 with help from Miller and funding from Gibbs's speeches for the Washington Speakers Bureau. His racing team is considered one of the best-run in NASCAR and returns several million dollars a year, according to J.D. Gibbs. The family plows most of the profits from Gibbs Racing back into the business, which includes 240 employees, two airplanes and a state-of-the-art race shop in North Carolina.
Gibbs is reportedly being paid more than $5 million a year to coach the Redskins. He has written at least two books based on his life in coaching and auto racing and, according to the Washington Speakers Bureau Web site, commands between $25,000 and $40,000 per speech. He owned a fraction of the Atlanta Falcons until NFL rules required that he sell it when he took the Redskins' coaching job.
Gibbs said he has been talking to FedEx about a third car for about two years, but that the overnight delivery giant had expressed concerns about taking such a big step. The talks were ongoing until recently, when "the timing hit right," Gibbs said.
FedEx spokesman Howard Clabo said Gibbs and FedEx have a letter-of-intent to work together on a new car. The details are still being worked out, said Clabo.
A FedEx third car would make Joe Gibbs Racing stronger.
"Certainly, it would make [the racing operation] more profitable," said Tom Morgenthau, who co-owns Gibbs's own NASCAR team. "It's simple economy of scale. It should increase his [profit] margin."
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.