SBD/Issue 243/Media

NASCAR Debuting Reality Show On BET In Push To Improve Diversity

Siegel Had Choice To Put Show On Speed Or
ESPN, But Went With BET For New Audience

NASCAR, which has "struggled with diversity issues for decades, is taking its message to BET" as it debuts "Changing Lanes," a reality-competition show, according to Richard Huff of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. The series, premiering tonight at 8:00pm ET, is "built around drivers in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, aimed at minorities." Thirty drivers were "invited to a NASCAR diversity combine last fall to try out for the program." In the show, the group is "whittled down in competition before the cameras" as they compete for a "spot with Revolution Racing," a team run by The 909 Group Founder Max Siegel, whose company manages the Drive for Diversity program. Siegel said that the idea was to "create a show that would appeal to both the sport's core fans and those unfamiliar with racing." Siegel: "I was pretty pleased with the end product. What wound up happening is compelling entertainment, but it has motor-sports integrity." If the project is successful, Siegel said that he "hopes there will be a way for the show to get additional telecasts on BET's sister channels, which include MTV, VH1 and CMT" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/1). In Daytona Beach, Godwin Kelly notes the show, narrated by rapper Ludacris, is "patterned after reality shows like 'Big Brother' and 'The Real World,' with contestants living in the same house and being eliminated one at a time." Siegel said that he "could have worked with any number of cable networks on this project, including Speed and ESPN, but decided on BET to expose NASCAR racing to a new audience." He added, "Strategically, for the first run of this show, this was the best fit. It's no secret we're targeting the African-American population. ... It brings credibility that NASCAR would partner with that network. It's a great place to start and make a statement and hit a focus group of people" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 9/1).

PART OF A BIGGER PUSH: In N.Y., Viv Bernstein notes it "may seem odd to find a sport so closely tied to white Southern men featured on a Web site devoted to African-American entertainment, but it represents NASCAR's latest attempt to build a following for minority drivers it hopes to develop into stars." NASCAR has spent "seven years on its Drive for Diversity program, which has struggled to add minorities to the mainstream of the sport," and no driver from that initiative "has made it full time in the upper-level Cup, Nationwide or Truck Series level." Siegel stressed that "Changing Lanes" not only "seeks to build a fan base for minority drivers, but also to give sponsors reason to support them." He said, "What really struck me as a huge impediment to be able to get corporate sponsorship was, no matter how talented these athletes were, no one knew who they were." Siegel said that he has "signed up sponsors including Sunoco, Freightliner and Goodyear and expected to name others in the coming months." NASCAR Managing Dir of Public Affairs Marcus Jadotte: "Not only will it allow us to tell the story of the Drive for Diversity program, but it will be for many an introduction to the sport and that is important for growing NASCAR audiences" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/1). NASCAR Media Group COO Jay Abraham, an Exec Producer of "Changing Lanes," said, "(The show) continues to show the commitment the sport and league has toward diversity. We are very proud of the efforts we've made in the field of diversity, and we have a great program in place now. The series is going to help highlight and showcase ... what we're doing in that area" (NASCAR.com, 8/31).

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