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* Projected 4.2 pct increase would double 2010 growth
* Comes two years after spending declined in motorsports
By Ben Klayman
DETROIT, Feb 9 (Reuters) - NASCAR and the rest of motorsports should see corporate interest in marketing further rebound this year as the U.S. economy improves, a research firm said on Wednesday.
Spending on motorsports sponsorships by companies based in North America is expected to rise 4.2 percent to $3.51 billion in 2011, according to IEG, a unit of giant advertising company WPP Plc (WPP.L) that tracks such budgets.
The projected increase is double that of last year, when spending hit $3.37 billion. and a big improvement over the 6 percent drop in 2009, which marked the segment's first decline in 25 years, IEG said.
"Without a doubt, the tide has turned in terms of corporate interest in motorsports," IEG Sponsorship Report senior editor William Chipps said. "Although it's still a difficult sales environment, corporate purse strings have significantly loosened as compared to the last several years."
NASCAR, one of the most popular U.S. sports with an estimated 75 million fans, like many motorsports properties had a tough 2009, as lower corporate sponsorship spending forced many race teams to cut jobs and some to merge to survive and race tracks saw lower attendance. Some of those issues remained last year, including lower TV ratings for many NASCAR races.
Many officials remain optimistic about 2011, even though motorsports' expected growth still lags IEG's projected 6.1 percent increase for all sports properties.
"Obviously we want to be trending up, not down," NASCAR Chief Executive Brian France told reporters last month. "We want to see the economy get better. We want to see a lot of things with attendance improve.
"Every sport is going to have periods where, for lots of reasons, you're in a peak or a valley," he added. "But over the long term ... we're setting ourselves up to work through any issues that we have."
With the exception of several new deals with the Izod IndyCar Series, most recent activity has occurred at the team and track level, IEG's Chipps said.
Companies with a new or expanded motorsports sponsorship presence this year include Coca-Cola Co (KO.N), Meijer Inc [MEIJR.UL], Kimberly-Clark Corp (KMB.N), Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc HOT.N, Navistar International Corp (NAV.N), ethanol producer trade association Growth Energy and the American Association of Retired Persons, IEG said.
The NASCAR season officially opens on Feb. 20 with the Daytona 500 race, dubbed the Super Bowl of that sport by many analysts. (Reporting by Ben Klayman, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)