Championship Group was launched in 1980 in Atlanta, Georgia and was initially focused exclusively on the emerging motorsports marketing industry, providing strategic planning and promotional expertise for corporate clients.
Just as the culture and origins of other sports marketing firms were often forged on their founder’s passion for golf or tennis, the launch of Championship Group was built upon previous successes in international motorsports, including the management of world championship racing campaigns and the successful negotiation of marketing, intellectual property rights and sponsorship agreements throughout Europe and North America.
Looking back at the business landscape when Championship Group opened its doors in 1980, things were quite a bit different then … email did not exist nor did FedEx priority overnight; Championship Group’s graphics design and creative services team worked at drafting tables, creating layouts and presentations by hand; computers were something used by NASA; the fax machine was not in widespread use; and a mobile pocket cellular phone was something that electronic inventors hoped to perfect someday. A blackberry was something you put into a pie, and spam came in a can. The words ‘google’, ‘twitter’ and ‘laptop’ had no meaning in business.
In the world of sports, in 1980 Bjorn Borg topped John McEnroe at Wimbledon, and McEnroe returned the favor at the US Open; a 23 year old Spaniard, Seve Ballesteros, beat Gibby Gilbert at the Masters, and Lee Trevino claimed the PGA Players Championship; USA Hockey won gold at the Lake Placid Olympic Games; Dale Earnhardt won his first NASCAR Championship title by a narrow margin over Cale Yarborough; the Steelers won the Super Bowl again; and the Atlanta Braves had yet to win anything. Indy 500 standout, Danica Patrick, and Olympic gold medalist Apolo Anton Ohno, would not be born for two more years. Right next door, Home Depot, CNN and the Weather Channel were just getting started, too. It was a good year to launch a business in Atlanta.
Drawing upon years of experience at the top levels of international motorsports, and the founding management team’s background in law, finance and marketing, Championship Group took an aggressive and pioneering stance in the business of racing, literally writing the book on motorsports marketing during an era when racing was rarely discussed in corporate boardrooms, and NASCAR was unknown outside of the Deep South. In 1980, few brand managers spoke motorsports and marketing in the same sentence.
These roots in motorsports served the company well over the ensuing decades, as this specialized knowledge, contacts and expertise within motorsports - from Formula 1 to NASCAR, IRL, CART, NHRA, ARCA, IMSA, SCCA, AMA and more – enabled the firm to create innovative campaigns and provide clients with competitive advantages that other agencies simply could not match.
Anticipating the explosion in sports television coverage with the introduction of cable television, Championship Group added in-house television production capabilities in the early 1980’s. To put this in perspective, ESPN telecast its first live NASCAR event in November of 1981. Championship Group’s intimate knowledge of the sport enabled the company to provide services to networks such as WTBS, ESPN and ABC, as well as to dozens of independent producers and corporate videography departments. Over the course of the next several years the company covered events around the world, from LeMans to Sebring, from Monza to Indy, Montreal and Charlotte. Eventually, as a result of making a decision to return to its marketing roots, the firm spun off the television production facility to focus on corporate sports marketing and promotions.
As the 1980’s drew to a close, Championship Group expanded into race facility management thru relationships with Sears Point International Raceway and Road Atlanta. The firm developed the overall marketing strategy for the first-ever NASCAR event at Sears Point Raceway (now Infineon Raceway) near San Francisco. Additionally, Championship Group produced the events, provided facility operations and handled all corporate sponsorship and marketing for Road Atlanta for several years. Championship Group launched the Road Atlanta Driver Training Center , and pioneered many specialized programs for teen and defensive highway driving.
As Championship Group began its second decade of business, it had earned a reputation for creative thinking, high production standards, flawless execution and outstanding results. Numerous client requests for the same level of strategic planning and activation of sponsorship campaigns outside of motorsports began an expansion into other areas of sports and lifestyle marketing, and led to the integration of full-service sales promotion capabilities.