Dan Griffis (right) with winning driver Dario Franchitti at the Indy 500.
When Dan Griffis was just a couple of years out of Wooster and working at consulting giant KPMG, his career was on the fast track. But he felt like he was being pigeonholed as a financial analyst. “There wasn’t a lot of entrepreneurial spirit,” he recalls. “I was 25 years old and couldn’t see myself doing this long term.”
So he decided to go back to school full time and get an MBA from the University of Michigan. His classmates included a professional chef, a former Navy SEAL, and someone who had worked in auto racing. While neither cooking nor special ops held much allure, the more Dan heard about the world of motorsports, the more interested he became. By 2001, he had an MBA and a new job: with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Inc.
If the words “racing team” conjure up images of a driver, a pit crew, a car, and a couple of 18-wheelers to haul them all from race to race, think again. Ganassi has more than 300 employees, from accountants and publicists to HR specialists, and $100 million in annual revenue. The organization fields two NASCAR teams, two Indy car teams, and a Grand Am team. This year, Ganassi became the first owner in history to win racing's two crown jewels, the Daytona 500 and Indy 500, in the same year.
Winning is just part of the equation, however. “The prize money on a typical weekend covers our tire bill,” Dan notes, “but not by a lot.” Ninety percent of that $100 million in revenue comes from sponsorships, and that’s where Dan comes in. As the vice president in charge of marketing and sales, “I don't push the pedals or turn a wrench, but I make sure we raise enough money from world class companies so that we can hire the best drivers who can wheel a car to victory, and the best mechanics who can make them go faster. There's a lot of creativity involved in my job and the car is my canvas.”
On one level, the appeal to advertisers is straightforward: 19 of the top 20 attended sporting events in the U.S. are motorsports. This year, the Indy 500 drew 330,000 fans; the Daytona 500 drew 300,000. But it’s more than just the sheer number of eyeballs. In a racing season that extends from January until Thanksgiving, at tracks from Florida to upstate New York to Phoenix, a car’s major sponsor can change from week to week. Dan will work with a company like McDonald’s or GE or T-Mobile to tailor a sponsorship package that targets specific geographic areas or times of year — around a new product launch or a major branding campaign, for example.
Target has been a primary Ganassi sponsor for 21 years, and Dan says their relationship goes well beyond decals on cars and customer meet-and-greets with the drivers. By leveraging their real estate experience when it was time to locate and build a new race shop in North Carolina, Ganassi saved $6 million on the project. “In nine years with the team, I’ve never once taken the contract with Target out of my desk,” Dan says. “That’s the difference between a sponsor and a partner.”
Building those relationships and finding new ways to add value for Ganassi’s sponsors is what energizes Dan and keeps him on the move, attending 30 to 35 races a year.
“I do it because I truly love and appreciate the sport and what we can do to help companies succeed,” he says. “There’s also a great camaraderie in motorsports; it’s very team-based.”
Dan hopes his experience will prompt other Wooster students to explore opportunities in the business side of professional sports. He credits a liberal arts education with honing his analytical skills and his ability to break down problems quickly. He also notes that his job involves interacting with CEOs in a wide variety of enterprises, and the breadth of knowledge one acquires in a liberal education is a tremendous asset in those situations.
“Wooster prepared me for that. I feel like Wooster prepared me very well.”
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