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Chevrolet drops Woodward Dream Cruise sponsorship

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Chevrolet has quietly dropped its longstanding presenting sponsorship of the Woodward Dream Cruise.

The popular annual street-cruising event that takes place this year on Aug. 19 has since secured a new presenting sponsor that will be announced soon, the event’s executive director said Thursday.

Chevy would not say when it decided to drop the sponsorship after six years in the driver’s seat, other than it was earlier this year.

Since 2011, Chevrolet had been the largest sponsor of the annual classic car cruise, held the third Saturday of August along historic Woodard Avenue. The event, in its 23rd year, stretches from Ferndale north to Pontiac. It draws an estimated 1 million-plus spectators and 40,000 classic, muscle and collector cars.

“We evaluate our sponsorships on a regular basis and make adjustments to our strategy based on our business needs,” a Chevrolet spokeswoman said in an email. “While we are no longer the sponsor, we still see great value in engaging with Chevy fans, so we will continue to have our displays in Birmingham and Royal Oak to showcase our products and celebrate the summer tradition of cruising along Woodward Avenue.”

Chevrolet in 2011 inked a three-year sponsorship deal worth more than $1 million with the Woodward Dream Cruise that Chevrolet described at the time as a “natural partnership.” The General Motors Co. brand replaced MotorCity Casino as presenting sponsor. The casino had been paying $80,000 annually.

A Chevrolet spokeswoman declined to disclose how much money it spent over the six years as presenting sponsor.

Tony Michaels, executive director of the Woodward Dream Cruise, said, “Chevy was a great partner and we have a huge announcement coming.” The announcement of the new presenting sponsor will be made in a week or so, he said.

Ford Motor Co. has been approached about becoming the new sponsor, according to a ranking source familiar with the situation. But a spokesman for the Dearborn automakers said Thursday it is not currently a sponsor. Ford does sponsor the Ferndale Dream Cruise, which includes three days of activities before and during the cruise within Ferndale, including the popular Mustang Alley exhibit. This year’s Mustang Alley will include the updated 2018 Mustang and other vehicles.

None of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ brands have signed on to be the presenting sponsor, an FCA spokeswoman confirmed.

Presenting sponsors typically receive the highest level of recognition. The Dream Cruise’s official name had been “Dream Cruise presented by Chevrolet,” and the Chevrolet name was part of the event logo and official merchandise.

Money from sponsors helps pay for costs of facilities, sanitation, cleanup and support such as policing from communities.

The city of Ferndale received just under $9,000 from the official Dream Cruise organization after last year’s cruise, part of about $100,000 given out to the nine communities that participate, according to Michael Lary, Ferndale’s director of special events and projects.

Lary said if the Dream Cruise has money left in its budget, it is dispersed to the communities. Some years they receive no payments.

In 2015, the Woodward Dream Cruise Inc. reported revenue of $520,276, which was down from $695,634 the year before, according to tax filings. Expenses for 2015 — the last year for which filings were available — totaled $635,998 in 2015 and $696,880 in 2014. The bulk of expenses for 2015 were for advertising and promotion that totaled more than $330,000.

Public support in 2015 for the Dream Cruise added up to $470,444, down from $643,378 in 2014, according to the nonprofit’s tax filings. The filings did not detail which firms provided that support, nor how much.

Last month, GM said it had inked a deal with Olympia Entertainment to make Chevrolet the official vehicle brand of the new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. That deal includes Chevy branding on the arena’s northeast entrance along Woodward at the QLine stop. Chevrolet Plaza, an outdoor event space on the arena’s west side, will have a large video screen for concert and community programs. The Chevy name will be featured in displays, and the brand’s bow-tie will get a home in key locations, including on the ice. The cost of that promotional deal has not been disclosed.

Chevrolet officials said the new arena agreement did not factor into its decision to end its Dream Cruise sponsorship.

Chevrolet has been the official vehicle of the Detroit Red Wings since 2015. It is the official brand of the Detroit Tigers, Fox Theatre and Olympia Entertainment. Chevy has the rights to showcase its vehicles at Comerica Park, home to the Tigers, including two vehicles atop the fountain at Comerica each year.

At the Dream Cruise, Chevrolet will continue to have its performance division display and vehicles at Memorial Park, north of 13 Mile in Royal Oak. It will display historic and current vehicles at the “triangle” where Old Woodward and Woodward meet in Birmingham.

However, Chevrolet will cease running its Silverado Rescue Squad pickups up and down Woodward to fix classics that stall, overheat or run out of gas. In the past, the trucks manned by certified Chevy technicians have helped upwards of 60 cruisers each year.

Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs said automakers are closely watching the dip in auto sales and are “belt tightening” as a result.

“We have reached the peak of the sales cycle and we are seeing auto companies and anyone affiliated with the auto industry scrutinizing all kinds of costs — and clearly, marketing is a big category,” she said.

Brands such as Chevy are being more strategic in spending as they seek a most value for their marketing dollars. And while Chevy has a long heritage of performance cars, many of its new vehicles such as the all-electric 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV represent its future and future buyers, Krebs said.

“Millennials are the hot group to focus on, and the Woodward Dream Cruise is not necessarily a millennial event,” she said.

The Dream Cruise website no longer lists a presenting sponsor. Other major sponsors for the event listed on the website include WXYZ-TV (Channel 7), Cruis’news, WOMC-FM (104.3) and The Detroit News.

Also, AAA is expanding its Dream Cruise relationship after its first year with the event in 2016, when it sponsored the Cruise In Shoes road race. The insurance company will continue to sponsor the 5K race and will add a family activity area in a bid to have a “much bigger presence” at the event, AAA Michigan spokeswoman Susan Hiltz said.