Do Sports Drive Auto Sales?

by Adam Rapp

We are already a week away from July which means that Summer is in full swing. We are also halfway through baseball season, if you’re watching the reruns and replays from years past. As the pandemic persists and the number of cases continues to rise, it is becoming increasingly apparent that (even as they plan to resume) normal professional sports activity is far from returning. For many individuals, watching and attending sporting events is their favorite pastime. More importantly, it is a commonality that most people from all walks of life share with each other. It makes for easy, enjoyable and engaging conversation, especially in the auto sales world. A customer will feel more inclined to purchase a vehicle from someone with whom they share some interests. This creates trust, and more desire from the consumer to follow through on the sales process. However, as this form of recreation is now postponed indefinitely (or coming back in a tenuous format), how will this affect daily conversation and more importantly – car sales?

When Wisconsin comes to mind, your first thoughts might be of America’s Dairyland and some brutal winters. While these two characteristics paint a general picture of the state, they are still part of a large and enjoyable puzzle. If you’re a Wisconsin native, sports come well before cheese and blizzards. Whether college or pro, Wisconsinites are either spending their off-time at the game or waiting in eager anticipation of the next event. This year is of course different. The lack of sporting events provides room for dullness in all aspects of life. With less to look forward to, motivation can easily dwindle. This said – how are those car sales faring? With less mobility and inspiration, are people passing on car purchases at the moment?

During a recent Dealer News Today Podcast, Mike Darrow, President and COO of Russ Darrow Auto Group, shared his thoughts on the subject. This auto group was established over fifty years ago and has dealerships in Wisconsin’s three major market’s (Milwaukee, Madison and Fox Valley). Even in the worst moments of the pandemic, the auto group kept their doors open, as dealerships are deemed an essential business in Wisconsin. According to Darrow, this bold move is a product of “Wisconsin Pride”. ‘It’s less transient in this area with a lot of roots and multigenerational families” says, Darrow. Pride also shines through in Wisconsinites ability to be resourceful and positive during difficult times.

According to Darrow, the state has seen a shift in recreational activities due to the lack of sporting events. More Wisconsin residents are now finding themselves swimming in the lakes, hiking on the trails and playing golf. While there is no question that people are to a degree disappointed, they are still managing to find other outlets. Wisconsin is a great lesson for how to navigate your leads in these upcoming months. Darrow makes an excellent observation regarding the parallels between lake activity and watercraft sales. “Personal recreation has never been higher. Boat and watercraft sales are up”, says Darrow. With shutdowns forcing individuals to change up their hobbies, this might also affect the next type of vehicle they purchase. If more consumers are purchasing boats in Wisconsin, then they will need either a sports utility vehicle or truck to tow that watercraft. Considering the change in consumer needs in Wisconsin, now may be the time to evaluate the current personal recreation trends in your area.

While Darrow is concerned that the economy may struggle as a result of the event cancellations, he is still optimistic that he can maintain his sales. Darrow is of the mind that incentives and deferred payments are critical in order to help customers who may be impacted by the recent economic downturn. He also makes the important point that a large percentage of the consumer’s disposable income goes towards sporting events. This leaves consumers considering other areas to invest their recreational dollars, and recreation is drastically changing. Airline and hotel travel is down as more people look to local excursions for fun. Understanding and marketing to these trends becomes increasingly critical, and Darrow believes that now more than ever, dealers must go the extra mile to ensure sustained customer satisfaction.

So, access to traditional sports has changed, which has helped change the face of recreation enough to be classified as a trend. If our basic motivation toward general activity wanes, it’s likely to affect to markets far beyond automotive. Part of our “new normal” is the guarantee that this normalcy will be changing again. Identifying and marketing to these trends will help you define your own momentum.

Still the question remains, do sports have any impact on car sales? The answer is complicated. Sporting events do matter and have an effect on both a large and small scale. However, as we are seeing, people in Wisconsin (and everywhere else) typically find a way to adjust and find other hobbies to satisfy their recreational needs. Be part of that recreation – that trend. Market to the now. Learn how to implement the characteristics of these consumer preferences into your dealership and your business will weather this storm.