SBJ/May 14 - 20, 2007/This Weeks News

NASCAR trip builds ties in China

With China’s automobile market tripling in size over the past five years, making it the fastest-growing car market in the world, can NASCAR be far behind?

Potential customers look over Chinese-made
automobiles at an auto fair in Beijing.

NASCAR CEO Brian France was curious enough that he spent part of the last week of April in Beijing and Shanghai, meeting with government officials, industry and marketing officials and potential broadcast partners. Robbie Weiss, NASCAR’s international managing director, accompanied France, as did Paul Brooks, NASCAR’s senior vice president, and Ken Clapp, a consultant.

Contrary to initial reaction about the trip, France and crew were not in Beijing and Shanghai to find a track for their events.

“We are not focused on taking our races abroad,” Weiss said. “This is about making long-term relationships with the right people and we’ll see what opportunities exist from there. The automobile is being introduced to the Chinese really for the first time. It will be interesting to see how their passion develops for motorsports as more and more people purchase and get interested in automobiles.”

While there is an interest in attempting to put NASCAR on Chinese television, which also could lead to licensing opportunities there, NASCAR’s contingent was just as interested in educating Chinese companies about the brand-building power of its series in the United States.

Just last week, China-based Haier, a maker of home appliances and electronics, signed with Ginn Racing to sponsor a car at Darlington. That deal was not affiliated with NASCAR’s trip, but Weiss envisions that the Chinese market could provide an untapped source for sponsorship dollars in the future.

“The long-term play is to bridge the gap for these Chinese brands coming to the U.S.,” he said. The other two objectives were to gauge the interest level in motorsports, for which they visited China’s premier track, Shanghai International Circuit, and to gain insight to the Chinese consumer.

In addition to meeting with government officials and marketers, such as JWT, NASCAR’s group met with Central China Television, the country’s major broadcast network, and the Shanghai Media Group, which operates TV and radio channels, as well as newspapers and magazines.

NASCAR typically establishes seasonlong broadcast agreements with its partners, but starting small with, say, the Daytona 500, might be another way to go.

“That would be a good starting point if you wanted to showcase an event on TV,” Weiss said. “It’s going to take time for viewers to gravitate to motorsports … so time will tell what kind of opportunities are there for us. We’re not on any kind of a timeline.”

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