SBJ/March 19 - 25, 2007/SBJ In Depth

NASCAR, Clarkson try ‘swapping fan bases’

By the time Kelly Clarkson’s third album is released this summer, she will have performed at the Daytona 500, appeared in a NASCAR commercial and served as ambassador for NASCAR Day.

Kelly Clarkson chats with driver Kasey
Kahne and performs at Daytona (below).

For all of that free air time, Clarkson agreed to lend her name to NASCAR for the year as an ambassador for the sport. It’s an arrangement unlike anything NASCAR has ever done and the plan includes steadily integrating her into events over the course of NASCAR’s season.

“This is the most extensive relationship we’ve had with a celebrity talent,” said Sarah Nettinga, NASCAR’s managing director for film, television and entertainment. “We’ve done some similar things, but nothing to this level. The idea is that you’ll see her quite a bit throughout the year, that she doesn’t fade away.”

That’s critical for Clarkson, too.

The winner of two Grammy Awards in 2006, Clarkson is one of music’s hottest names and her association with NASCAR opened both of their worlds to the other. It’s an arrangement NASCAR has used with other celebrities, such as actor Will Ferrell, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jewel and Lenny Kravitz — NASCAR and the stars theoretically benefit from exposure to a new group of fans.

“It’s a trade,” Nettinga said. “NASCAR fans have the opportunity to see her at a race and her fans see her associating with NASCAR. It’s about swapping fan bases. Let each fan base try out the other.”

Clarkson packed several duties into her time at Daytona last month. In addition to her at-track concert, she filmed a commercial for the fourth annual NASCAR Day that is played during races on Fox and ESPN2. NASCAR also is creating a “How bad have you got it” commercial from her concert at Daytona using one of the songs expected to be on her new album, which comes out around early summer.

Teaming with a talent that has an album or movie coming out is important, Nettinga said.

“From the celebrity’s point of view, it makes them current,” she said. “It gives them something to talk about. It’s more natural for them if they’re already in the news when they release something.”

Even though Clarkson has touted herself and her family as NASCAR fans from way back — “I’ve got family in North Carolina,” she told reporters last month — she attended her first race last September at California Speedway, where she was grand marshal. That served as a sort of soft launch for her spokesmanship this year.

She’ll continue to make appearances throughout the season and will perform at the season-ending awards banquet in November. “We’re going to keep getting creative throughout the year,” Nettinga said.

NASCAR first contacted Clarkson’s managers at the end of 2005 and those talks continued into 2006. Clarkson has said in interviews that she’s not being paid, that it’s simply an exchange of exposure for her and the sport. NASCAR wouldn’t confirm or deny that she’s not being paid.

“We look at her as ‘A list’ talent and we had to find a way to appeal to her,” Nettinga said. “She gets offers from all kinds of people, so we had to lay out a plan to offer her a great benefit, as well as benefits for NASCAR. We had to look for as many ways to help her with her goals as we could.”

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