SBJ/20101129/This Week's Issue

Sprint, Nationwide increase traffic at tracks




PAUL NOLASCO / JHE PRODUCTION GROUP

The Sprint Experience (above) drew more than
550,000 fans in 2010. Nationwide increased visits
despite cutting back on races and display size.

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Track attendance may have been down in 2010, but two of NASCAR’s biggest partners, Sprint and Nationwide, hardly noticed.

Sprint, the title sponsor of NASCAR’s top series, and Nationwide, title sponsor of its secondary series, both posted record attendance at their at-track displays. Sprint reported more than a 10 percent increase in attendance from 2009, and Nationwide captured twice as much contact information from visitors as it did a year ago.

Those increases came despite International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc., the two biggest track promoters, reporting declines in ticket revenue of 18 percent and 15.6 percent this year, respectively.

Executives at Sprint and Nationwide pointed to improved activation and fewer partners activating at tracks as the primary drivers in the increases.

Sprint erected a 14,400-square-foot display in the midway area at all 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in 2010. The Sprint Experience, as the area was known, offered driver appearances, interactive games and giveaways for Sprint customers. More than 550,000 fans visited in 2010, bringing the total number of visitors to more than 2.5 million since 2004.

“We faced two headwinds this year,” said Tim Considine, Sprint’s director of sports marketing. “The earlier start times created 15 percent fewer hours (to engage with fans), and obviously, attendance was down, so we’re thrilled, and we think it’s a testament to the entertainment we’re offering.”

Nationwide cut the total number of races it activated at from 17 to 15 for the 2010 season, reduced the size of its display and shifted a portion of its savings into a media buy with Turner on NASCAR.com. Its display included photo opportunities with the Nationwide Series trophy, a customized Nationwide motorcycle and a race simulator.

Despite reducing the number of tracks and size of display, the insurer increased not only the number of visitors to its display but also the percentage of leads for new business from 25 to 34 percent in 2010. Jim McCoy, Nationwide’s director of strategic sponsorships, said activating at night races in Charlotte and Bristol, Tenn., played a major role in those increases.

“We had more hours to be open and the lead percentages were particularly high,” he said. “There’s a little less competition in the midway, and that helps, too.”

McCoy said Nationwide plans to increase its spending modestly in 2011 in order to activate at Talladega for the first time and increase the number of races it visits from 15 back to 17.

JHE manages Sprint's at-track display, while JKS Marketing manages Nationwide’s activation. Octagon is Sprint’s sports agency, while Wasserman Media Group is Nationwide’s agency.



NO MORE FANVIEW? The NASCAR Sprint FanView handsets may have worked their last race. The contract between Sprint, ISC, NASCAR and Kangaroo.tv to provide the handsets is up at the end of the year, and it’s unclear if the parties will renew or extend it. The agreement, which was announced in 2006, allowed the parties to provide $49.99 rentals of a hand-held scanner that included video, audio and data capabilities.

The deal initially was signed so that Sprint (then Nextel) could provide advanced technology to fans at the track. But as cell phone technology has developed and allowed Sprint to turn phones into scanners, there is less of a need for the FanView system, Considine said.

“The fan experience with FanView may change next year,” he said, “but our belief and hope is it will be around for years to come. It just may be a different device.”

Sprint is considering everything from exclusively providing a FanView-style experience on phones to partnering with another company that offers similar in-venue technology. Whatever it does, Considine said that fans who bought a FanView device in the past four years will still be able to use it at tracks in 2011.

“We hope to bring a more enhanced device and technology [to tracks],” Considine said. “It will be a better experience for fans.”

ACTION PACKED: NASCAR executives have cozied up to action sports stars as the sport looks to generate new interest among “millennial males” during the 2011 season.

NASCAR chief marketer Steve Phelps has worked behind the scenes over the last few months to assist former motocross stars such as Travis Pastrana, Brian Deegan and Ricky Carmichael as they look to join the Nationwide Series and eventually the Sprint Cup Series.

“We’re thrilled Pastrana is coming to race, we’re thrilled Deegan is coming over and we’re excited they could be racing against Ricky Carmichael again,” Phelps said. “We’ll help them build a new fan base and hope they bring a new fan base to us.”

Phelps said 18- to 34-year-old men are a major focus for the sport in 2011, and he sees the addition of action sports stars to NASCAR as one way to reach them. He said he hasn’t actively courted Pastrana or Deegan but has assisted them after being approached for help. He previously worked at Wasserman Media Group, which represents Pastrana.

“We over-index in the 18-to-34 male segment, but it’s down,” Phelps said. “We need to be sure to stay relevant in that demographic and action sports is one way to do that. That’s why we’ve tried to help.”

WMG principal Steve Astephen, who runs the agency’s action sports division, said that Pastrana was just the first of several of his clients who will look to transition into NASCAR. He said that skateboarding star Ryan Sheckler, who grew up racing go-karts, plans to test next year.

“Steve Phelps and the NASCAR family have been nothing but supportive of this idea,” Astephen said. “This can be great for the sport.”

PRODUCT HEAVY: The closest points battle in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s seven-year history meant NASCAR had to be prepared to offer one of three championship product lines at the conclusion of the season finale.

It had 70 products designed to commemorate Jimmie Johnson’s potential fifth consecutive title, and it had 50 products ready for contenders Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.

When the race went down to the final 50 laps, NASCAR officials stacked boxes of hats, T-shirts, towels and flags commemorating a championship win for Johnson, Hamlin and Harvick on the edge of the championship stage. With two laps to go, they pushed the Hamlin and Harvick merchandise off the stage and unpacked the boxes of Johnson merchandise.

Commemorative hats and towels were given to not only Johnson’s pit crew but also Jeff Gordon’s, which worked on Johnson’s No. 48 car during the final two races of the Chase.

Johnson historically has been one of the best-performing drivers in merchandise sales, and his fifth title is expected to extend that streak as licensees produce a number of commemorative collectibles.


GETTY IMAGES

Jimmie Johnson’s close victory
in the Chase kept NASCAR
merchandisers on their toes.

“There’s something about five that’s pretty intriguing, and licensees are excited about that,” said Blake Davidson, NASCAR’s managing director of licensed products. “People recognize now that you’re watching this guy make history.”

M&M’s SPOT: After 20 years of being an active sponsor in NASCAR, Mars Chocolate has filmed its first NASCAR-themed commercial.

The longtime sponsor shot a spot featuring Kyle Busch in Atlanta this month. Mars executives declined to share details about the ad, but Busch said it features him racing against the red M&M.

“It’s a very M&M’s style ad,” said Suzanne Beaudoin, vice president of sponsorship and sports marketing at Mars Chocolate. “It’s fun, it’s humorous and it’s got a touch of racing.”

Beaudoin said that Mars decided to make its first NASCAR-themed spot because Busch’s success made him more recognizable. The company also believed a NASCAR-themed spot would create a more authentic tie between the M&M’s brand and NASCAR fans.

The spot will debut during the 2011 Daytona 500 and run throughout the NASCAR season. If it’s an effective ad, it will be used during non-race programming as well, Beaudoin said.

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