SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2007/This Weeks News

Craftsman, EA Sports team on racing video-game events

The normally sedate shopping environment inside Sears and Kmart stores is about to undergo a culture transplant.

Screenshots from the game that competitors
will play at 11 Sears and Kmart sites around
the country.

EA Sports and Sears Craftsman are teaming to stage the first “EA Craftsman NASCAR Challenge” video-game tournament beginning in late July. Sears and Kmart stores in 11 markets will serve as qualifying sites and they hope the rollicking, high-energy setting planned for the competition will create a different atmosphere than shoppers are used to.

Event organizers intend to awaken these stores with celebrity appearances, autograph signings and the buzz that comes from hundreds of gamers competing in a national tournament on the soon-to-be-launched NASCAR ’08.

“Who would have ever thought that Craftsman would have been part of a video game?” said Scott Howard, Sears’ manager of brand development and sponsorships.

Craftsman, the official tools of NASCAR and the title sponsor for the Truck Series, sought involvement with EA Sports to bring a younger audience into Sears and Kmart stores. Craftsman, an 80-year-old Sears brand, has sold its tools in Kmart since last year, after the two retailers merged in 2005.

Howard hopes to leverage Craftsman’s NASCAR relationships, as well as EA’s relationships with celebrities and athletes, to arrange appearances during the tournament. Some might even compete.

It’s all designed to make Sears and Kmart the cool place to go when a consumer needs a tool.

“We’ve been exploring emerging new media on the Craftsman side,” Howard said. “With DVRs and TiVo, a lot of TV advertising is zoomed over. We were looking to tap into different areas and tap into a younger audience.”

Craftsman’s integration into NASCAR ’08 began as in-game advertising. In addition to the authentic NASCAR race cars displayed in the game, Craftsman also has a branded car, as well as branded equipment in the garage.

The partnership grew into a national tournament that involves an investment from each company, believed to be in the low six figures.

Preliminary rounds
Indianapolis July 27-29
Nashville Aug. 11
Bristol, Tenn. Aug. 22-25
St. Louis Sept. 1
Richmond, Va. Sept. 7-8
Loudon, N.H. Sept. 15-16
Dover, Del. Sept. 22-23
Talladega, Ala. Oct. 6-7
Charlotte Oct. 12-13
Martinsville, Va. Oct. 20-21
Atlanta Oct. 27-28
How it works
Players qualify on NASCAR ’08 at a Sears or Kmart in one of 11 markets.
The four fastest drivers from each store advance to head-to-head competition at the track.
One winner from each site and five online winners advance to the finals in Miami.
The champion earns $10,000 plus other prizes.

“We wanted to do more than just be in the game,” Howard said. “We wanted more of a connection. Then we wanted to take it outside of the game and pay it off at the store level.”

Sixteen finalists will advance to the championship rounds at Homestead-Miami Speedway during the NASCAR season finale on the weekend of Nov. 16-18. Each of the 16 finalists will win an expense-paid weekend in Miami and the champion will go home with $10,000, as well as other prizes to be determined. The players will be treated to a champion’s breakfast and at-track hospitality.

Sears and Kmart stores will serve as the qualifying sites in 11 race markets, beginning July 27-29 in Indianapolis, site of NASCAR Nextel Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck races that weekend.

The four fastest qualifiers at each Sears and Kmart advance to the head-to-head phase of competition inside the Craftsman “Official Tools of NASCAR” fan experience at the track. One gamer from each of the 11 sites will advance to Miami, while the other five finalists will come from online competition, details of which are being finalized.

“This is one of the first big programs that will bridge Kmart and Sears, rather than involving just Sears,” Howard said.

Participants register at the store and each player will receive some sort of giveaway. EA and Craftsman have no cap on the number of qualifiers at each site; each player gets one qualifying attempt and the game will be played on an Xbox console. The registration will allow Craftsman and EA to capture personal data from the gamers.The tournament is similar in format to EA Sports’ other “Challenge” events, which are played on its Madden NFL, NCAA Football and NBA Live games. While EA Sports’ other “Challenge” contests feature sponsor involvement, including presenting sponsorships, the NASCAR tournament will be the first to have a sponsor’s brand incorporated into the event’s title.

The “Madden Challenge” has risen to such stature that the winner takes home $100,000 and parts of the tournament are televised by ESPN. “Madden” even worked its way into an episode of “Entourage,” the hip Hollywood hit on HBO.

“I know the ‘Madden Challenge’ is more established, but they have 1,000 to 1,500 people show up in a four-hour period,” Howard said. “I expect us to have hundreds of participants at each site.”

Randy Chase, EA product manager for NASCAR ’08, said the success of the “Madden Challenge” has helped other tournaments start quickly.

“We’ve found that our consumers support these events,” he said.

The timing of the first qualifying round at Indianapolis is timed with the launch of NASCAR ’08, which is scheduled to be shipped to retailers on July 23, marking the earliest the game has ever launched, Chase said. EA also has a launch event scheduled for Times Square that day.

EA and Craftsman also are working with ESPN to help drive promotion. The opening round of competition at Indy coincides with ABC/ESPN’s first Nextel Cup broadcast of the season. Chase said the idea is to have ESPN use shots of the NASCAR ’08 competition inside the Craftsman fan experience as the network goes in and out of commercials. EA and Craftsman have not planned TV ads, although that could change.

EA also is preparing a “sizzle reel,” a fast-paced sample of the game in a condensed video. That video will run on a loop on the bank of televisions in Sears and Kmart stores. For stores not in the race markets, displays will direct consumers to qualify online.

Craftsman is making significant local market media buys to support the tournament and it plans radio remotes from the stores during qualifying. Craftsman also will have a wrapped tour bus that will travel the country promoting the tournament, which will have a dedicated tour manager, master of ceremonies and tournament commissioner.

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