January 13, 2011 / 8:22 PM / 8 years ago

GM seeks TV role for Volt, ups sponsorship deals

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co (GM.N) plans to step up its spending on sponsorship of TV entertainment in 2011, driven by a growing interest in reaching more women who might be drawn to its long-time support of sports like baseball and golf.

One project in development: landing a role for GM’s plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt in a reality show.

“We’re really getting aggressive in the entertainment space,” Steve Tihanyi, GM’s general director of sports and entertainment, said during the Detroit auto show.

“It’s really going into a whole new arena for us. Rather than just a sponsorship mind-set, it’s actually having an equity position in things,” he added during an interview at GM’s headquarters building in downtown Detroit.

Tihanyi said GM’s spending on sponsorship deals would be up by a single-digit percentage from 2010. That includes GM co-producing TV shows, like a documentary about a year in the life of a Detroit fire station or a three-part Discovery series on the city.

Despite past cuts, GM remains among the largest corporate spenders on sponsorships, including sports — its biggest category — entertainment, festivals, causes and more.

GM, which went through a government-led bankruptcy reorganization in 2009 and returned as a publicly traded company in November, spent an estimated $180 million to $185 million on sponsorships in 2009, according to IEG, a unit of advertising firm WPP Plc. (WPP.L)

GM does not disclose what it spends on such deals, but Tihanyi said its spending was flat last year after previously cutting it about 60 percent from pre-bankruptcy levels.

From 2006 to 2008, GM spent about $230 million to $250 million on sponsorships, with about half that in NASCAR auto racing and other motorsports, according to research firm Navigate. That does not count an equal amount in many cases that GM spent touting those deals through ads and promotions.

Over the last several years — both before and during its bankruptcy reorganization — GM walked away from deals with golfer Tiger Woods and a couple of PGA Tour golf tournaments, NASCAR race tracks and teams and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

GM returned to golf with a new deal that begins this year, and remains a major presence with NASCAR as well as having sponsorship deals with the National Football League and Major League Baseball, as well as numerous individual sports teams. NASCAR deals are handled by a separate racing group at GM. [ID:nN29228288]

During the bankruptcy and immediately after, Tihanyi said GM shied from major sponsorship deals, but that will no longer be the case if executives feel there is a good fit.

And the increased focus on entertainment, including co-sponsoring the post-Super Bowl “Glee” episode on Fox (NWSA.O), shows why GM’s spending on entertainment is growing faster than any other categories.

“We’re probably always going to do a lot in sports, but entertainment is a growing area,” Tihanyi said. “Sports tends to be very male-centric, whereas entertainment gets much more to a female audience.”

GM also is in talks with a reality TV producer about the inclusion of the automaker’s new plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt car in a show under development, he said.

The rechargeable Volt, which can run for about 40 miles on battery power alone, has been the symbol of GM’s attempt to reinvent itself and show off its environmental technology for the past four years.

The long-awaited car, which sells for $41,000, went on sale late last year in select markets.

GM also plans a global digital promotion for Chevy tied to the third “Transformers” movie around its scheduled July release.

Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, editing by Matthew Lewis

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