SBJ/August 15-21, 2011/Opinion

NASCAR Kinetics helps put marketing careers in motion

The key to success for sport management students at universities across the country is simple: Soak up as much knowledge as you can in your coursework, find an internship and build on that foundation with hands-on experience outside the classroom. However, few opportunities allow aspiring sports marketers the chance to fully develop concepts and present them to high-level executives.

NASCAR Kinetics: Marketing in Motion is a semi-annual national collegiate competition that hinges on real-world experience through an academic focus. Students in the program get unmatched hands-on marketing experience, and have the opportunity to work directly with representatives from the sanctioning body by presenting innovative concepts for NASCAR’s consideration.

NASCAR Kinetics started with four universities in 2009, and will expand to 20 in the fall. Teams vie for an expenses-paid trip to a NASCAR event weekend featuring opportunities to meet with representatives and official partners.

As the winner of this spring’s competition, our undergraduate sport administration program at the University of Miami’s School of Education topped 11 NASCAR-selected host schools, including Oklahoma State University, the University of Central Florida and Virginia State University.

In January, our team of Ethan Alpern (Encino, Calif.), Alex Bryant (Durham, N.C.), Matt Small (Rutherford, N.J.), Lucas Schutt (Trumansburg, N.Y.), and myself (Clearwater, Fla.), signed up, strapped in and set out to contend in the national competition. Each team was assigned two case studies and challenged to devise unique activation concepts to help meet the program objectives of a NASCAR official partner. Each team also executed an official NASCAR viewing party sponsored by M&M’s.

The first case study featured Growth Energy, the ethanol advocacy group and NASCAR’s newest partner behind American Ethanol and the Sunoco Green E15 racing fuel used in NASCAR’s three top series. The study challenged teams to present creative solutions to reach casual and avid fans at the track and at retail locations while creating strong connect points between NASCAR and ethanol production.

From our experience as sports marketing consumers, we agreed the best way to connect to a new product was to let consumers touch, feel and experience it. After researching how the sport’s major players, such as Sprint, Coca-Cola and the car manufacturers, activate in the sport, we concluded that the most productive idea to accomplish this at the track was a mobile marketing unit with interactive displays, video presentations and giveaways designed to immerse fans in the story behind ethanol production and NASCAR.

We also discussed the sports-related promotions that the five of us had recently participated in and researched articles from SportsBusiness Journal that cited successful NASCAR retail programs such as Kroger’s Daytona 500 program and Sunoco’s Free Fuel 5000 Sweepstakes. We adapted a similar retail promotion that activated around the American Ethanol rings seen around the fuel port on all NASCAR national series race cars and trucks. We presented that our concept provided an important connection point between E15 ethanol and NASCAR while rewarding advocacy for the American Ethanol partnership, and creating an enticing promotion for casual and avid NASCAR fans.

The second case study featured the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dash 4 Cash, a competition initiative that awards a cash bonus to eligible drivers in the Nationwide Series. Each team was assigned to come up with an idea for a unique consumer program that would promote the on-track competition and connect consumers to Nationwide Insurance’s messaging, as well as a promotion plan for the new program. We drew our core concept from a variety of similar fan-related competition promotions from Major League Baseball and the NBA, as well as NASCAR. We presented the idea for a fan-driver pairing program that allowed fans to register to win a VIP experience to one of the four Dash 4 Cash races and be eligible for a matching cash bonus should their driver win the race. Our concept integrated the core values of the Dash 4 Cash program by directly paralleling the program, while enhancing the competition with an added incentive for drivers to win cash for their paired fan.

TODD LEISER
The University of Miami team threw a successful race-day viewing party sponsored by M&M’s.
The crescendo to the program was the execution of the M&M’s Makes Race Day Fun viewing party at a restaurant across from the University of Miami campus. Our objectives for the event surrounding the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway were simple and correlated directly to those of a track promoter: gain a lot of media coverage, get as many people in the doors as possible, engage them with activities that enhanced the NASCAR experience, and activate our event partners all at the same time.

We blanketed the campus with messaging in social media, email blasts, campus media advertising and plenty of word-of-mouth, just as a track would do for an upcoming race weekend.

Our goal for the party was to create activities that were engaging and directly relayed the NASCAR experience to the guests. A perfect example was our M&M’s NASCAR Trivia, where guests spelled out the answers to trivia questions using M&M’s. The offer of free food, tailgate activities, the “NASCAR 2011” video game and prizes ranging from tickets to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway to gift bags from Coca-Cola made our party a smashing success.

This program is unlike any other learning experience in sports and in marketing. Students are empowered by NASCAR and get rich hands-on experience in public relations, consumer marketing, event management and partnership marketing. The chance to work as team was great practice for the most important lessons in business, and the ability to brainstorm and fully bake a marketing concept and then receive feedback from industry professionals was an amazing opportunity. As the five of us look ahead to our careers in the sports and entertainment industry, we know the experience we gained from NASCAR Kinetics is what will help us accomplish our career goals and those of our employers. In other words: hire us!

Justin Leiser (jleiser@nascar.com) was hired on full time by NASCAR in June, joining the industry services team as marketing services support and an event operations liaison for NASCAR’s three national series.

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