SBJ/Sept. 1-7, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

For Chase, a March Madness-style grid game

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NASCAR is rolling out its most comprehensive promotion of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

The effort includes TV advertising, digital promotions, driver appearances, track marketing and a social media campaign and is designed to raise awareness of the new Chase format in hopes of keeping the interest of existing NASCAR fans and attracting casual fans.

“We needed to make sure we are putting our best foot forward against what we think is a terrific format,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR’s chief marketer. “Every single department is doing whatever it can to push this new format. It will create significant buzz and excitement.”

NASCAR revamped its Chase

Kyle Busch (top) is among those featured in the brand campaign for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
Photo by: NASCAR (2)

before the start of this season. The sport expanded the number of drivers from 12 to 16 and changed the structure from one that rewarded the best driver over 10 races to one that eliminated drivers over 10 races.

The first round of the Chase kicks off at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 14. Four drivers will be eliminated every three races until four drivers remain. Those four drivers will race for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.

To help capture the interest of existing and casual fans, NASCAR this week will announce a digital bracket competition called the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge. The competition, which will be hosted by NASCAR.com, allows fans to fill out a Chase Grid, NASCAR’s term for its playoff-like bracket. Fans who correctly pick the drivers who will be eliminated in all three elimination rounds and the finishing order of the four finalists will win $100,000.

NASCAR.com also plans to offer a round-by-round game called Chase Grid Battle, in which entrants pick which drivers they think will advance. They will accumulate points for correct picks and have a chance to win prizes.

The games were designed by NASCAR’s digital staff and its digital agency, Omnigon. They were aiming to develop competitions that would appeal to fans and encourage viewership in the same way that the brackets fans fill out for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament promote interest in college basketball.

“We think this is the opportunity to hook people who could be fans,” Phelps said. “Being in an office pool, competing against friends or family provides a little bit of a hook … for that three-week period, and they’re engaged with the sport. We think we have an opportunity to do that, and the opportunity to create a potential lifelong fan by changing the format.”

NASCAR is complementing the digital game with other efforts. It will have a social media promotion around #MyChaseNation. It joined with ESPN, which is broadcasting the Chase, to encourage fans to submit photos using that hashtag. They will collect those photos and feature 40 winners who will have their Twitter handles displayed on their favorite driver’s car.

It also is taking the 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase to 16 markets, including Mexico City, Toronto, Los Angeles and San Antonio. It will be the first time it has taken Chase drivers to those four markets and the first time it has taken drivers outside the country for promotional appearances around the Chase.

NASCAR has a series in Mexico called the Toyota Series, and it is trying to expand its fan base there. It has TV distribution in Canada and held a Nationwide Series race there until 2013.

“We wanted to show support for fans, media and partners in Mexico City and Toronto,” Phelps said.

The anchor of NASCAR’s Chase promotions is its media campaign. The sport last month rolled out a series of ads featuring the slogan, “Sixteen nations. Ten battles. One will prevail.” The concept was developed with NASCAR’s agency of record, Ogilvy. It plays on the concept that each driver’s fan base is a “nation” that will follow them into “battle” in the Chase. There’s “Jimmie Nation,” “Gordon Nation” and “Edwards Nation,” for example.

The spots will air on ESPN throughout the Chase.

NASCAR has been encouraged this year by the interest it has seen in the new Chase. It estimates that 20 percent of each weekend’s media coverage of NASCAR has focused on the Chase, doubling what it saw a year ago. Of that coverage, 69 percent focused on the sport’s new qualification system for the Chase, which awards race winners an automatic spot in the end-of-season competition.

“It started back in February with win-and-in,” Phelps said, “and there’s been a constant buzz that I think will crescendo around the Richmond race [Sept. 6].”

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