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Volume 24 No. 160

Events and Attractions

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart kicked off the 12th annual NASCAR Motorsports Marketing Forum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas yesterday. Stewart was asked about the recently completed season and stated it was easily one of the best ever. Stewart: “I definitely think so, and not from just our standpoint. Trevor Bayne winning at Daytona, David Ragan also winning in Daytona in July, Regan Smith winning in Darlington -- this was a pretty cool year for first-time winners. Look at so many drivers that ended dry spells. And then you throw on top of that the battle that Carl (Edwards) and I had at the end of the season. You take all those things into account, and this was a very exciting season for a number of people. It was a pretty cool year in NASCAR racing.” Stewart said he learned a great deal about managing during the team’s struggle to even make the Chase for the Sprint Cup and then during the final run to the title. Stewart said his team refused to quit during tough times: “The car ownership side, to me, even though it has been three years, is still new. I don’t have a business background, or management background, but I learned more about my team during this Chase than they learned about themselves.”

NEW WAY OF THINKING: The Stewart-Haas Racing team had a good year on the sponsor front, and Stewart was asked about the team’s approach. “Our attitude is, everyone is trying to fight for the same sponsors, but I think what has attracted new sponsors to us is that we are really trying to think outside the box and how can we work with these partners and really try to maximize their investment and their goals. That has been a part of our company that may be different from other teams. We have a formula and I think it works. I am proud of that.”

* On talking trash to Edwards during the Chase and whether it affected Edwards: “Carl is way too nice to get in that kind of a battle. ... I truly felt it could make a difference. Even if it was just 1% of the difference. It was worth taking four days and taking jabs at my buddy and making him uncomfortable.”
* On flying his entire Stewart-Haas Racing team to Las Vegas to celebrate at the NASCAR banquet: “Probably not my smartest decision. And when I get that hotel bill on Saturday, I’ll probably be sicker from that than the hangover I will have. And I will have a hangover; it’s just part of the business.”
* On whether he is spending time focusing on business metrics: “I can’t even spell 'business metrics.' But I watched the movie ‘The Matrix.’ It was great!”

What can the motorsports industry do to appeal to a younger demographic? That was the focus of the session, “Marketing Motorsports to the Next Generation,” with Wasserman Media Group Principal Steve Astephen, Fuse Marketing Partner Bill Carter, former Fuel TV Exec VP C.J. Olivares and Spin Master VP Craig Sims. Many find it natural that digital and social media should be a way to reach a new generation, and Astephen noted, “This demographic is living in the social and digital media, the Twitters and the Facebook, and this is just the start.” Carter said the initial focus should not be strictly on digital and social media, calling those specifically “tactics,” but added the first focus should be, “What are the belief systems among teens and young adults and what are the key parts to pull out from that to develop a content strategy, and that leads to your digital and social activations.” The panelists generally agreed that the focus needs to be on increasing access to drivers. Olivares: “There is this isolation between the potential audience and the drivers. NASCAR has a lot of young drivers with new personalities, but we are not getting to know them. The access to them is limited. We have to identify interesting characters and tell great stories. My advice is to develop documentary-style shows that would give the committed NASCAR audience and a potential new audience these type of stories.”

Astephen says it is important to diversify distribution
through various social media outlets

DIVERSIFY DISTRIBUTION: Astephen stressed that you have to diversify your distribution through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, not just on the sports networks: “You have to share all that content. ... That will allow all these personalities to be shown even more.” Carter: “The interesting aspect to me is the lack of accessibility to the stars of the sports. That is in direct conflict with how young people consume sports and direct conflict with their expectations on how to consume anything. It is all about accessibility, so to put any sort of barrier between the athlete and the fans doesn’t make any sense to them.” Astephen: “NASCAR has an unbelievable touch and feel, the fan base is very loyal. ... But NASCAR could focus on making their drivers to be more tangible, to be more touch-and-feel with the consumer and the fan base.” He compared the access points within the pits and other parts of Supercross and Motocross and added, “A lot of what NASCAR could do to differentiate itself from the NHL, NBA and others is to allow these athletes to be more accessible.”

HOW MANY STARS CAN WE HANDLE? Carter cautioned about focusing too much on developing stars, saying that the American population has a limit on how many “stars” they can identify with. Carter: “Everyone says the NFL has all these stars. That’s just simply not true. There are a handful of stars in what by far is the most popular sport in America. I bet all of us could name five true NFL stars, we’d name less in baseball, probably zero in hockey and a handful of stars in golf and tennis. In motorsports, you have to set realistic expectations when you look to develop stars, and pick one or two, because that is how many the general sports public is going to accept. In action sports, it’s one, it’s always been one. It was Tony Hawk, and now it’s Shaun White. Motorsports has to set an reasonable expectation of how many stars it can market.”

Olivares says new fans might latch on to
action sports stars in NASCAR
WILL ACTION SPORTS STARS MAKE A DIFFERENCE? Carter said he was not sold on the slew of action sports stars coming to motorsports. Carter, “I think these guys’ intentions are totally in the right place. But who they are going to bring to NASCAR are their own fans who are willing to watch them essentially do anything. I think it has a very short shelf life. ... It feels like a spectacle to me, like Michael Jordan playing baseball. It doesn’t feel authentic. We will see how it plays out.” But if the new fans come, could the fans stay interested in the sport? Olivares: “Getting action sports stars to come race in NASCAR is a tactic. But if NASCAR is committed to getting more people engaged and telling more stories around these athletes, these new fans might latch onto another driver that they didn’t know about.” Astephen said that by bringing these new athletes into the sport, “It will allow NASCAR a chance to diversify. ... If they get to those races and there is more for them to do, these type of fans could stay. These young people need to be stimulated, young people want stimulation.” He likened it to the Vans Warped Tour with all the different music elements provided. “NASCAR has an interesting opportunity to maybe diversify their business.” Carter chimed in, “There are lifestyle elements that are interesting to young people that you could add at the track, mainly music or video games, that could fit in.” Astephen: “I agree, I think it should be around music.”

An afternoon theme of “storytelling” in motorsports yesterday started with a “Storytelling through Social and Digital Media” panel that featured Weber Shandwick Exec VP & Managing Dir of Social Media Stephanie Agresta, Cie Games President & CEO Justin Choi, Taylor VP/Digital Strategy Jackson Jeyanayagam and Buddy Media co-Founder & Chief Strategy Officer Jeff Ragovin. An early theme was the goal of finding an audience. Ragovin said, “At the end of the day it’s about developing content. Content that is engaging and that people want to share. You have to think about how you’re going to give them something to make them say, ‘This is cool, I want to hear from you.’ Not everyone wants to hear from you.” But it is not just about throwing up content, “it comes down to understanding who your core is and developing a strategy around it.” Choi noted that companies should not look at social media through a funnel, saying, “Facebook is a communication channel. It’s not a miracle brand. It’s not a silo. Share your content everywhere -- Twitter, YouTube, TV, everywhere.” Jeyanayagam: “If you look at some of the best brands in the world, they are starting to generate good content and then leveraging their influencers to push that out. The idea of brands publishing content, which takes many forms, is where we are going. I could see a world where media companies, who are usually looking for advertisers, maybe in the future going to Red Bull and saying, ‘Can we buy space on your digital network or mobile app?’” Agresta: “But all that takes resources. You can’t just get into publishing. And some brands that do this, they hire two people and think it’s going to be a publishing company. One key is not to be looking at this through the marketing department of a company, but also through customer service and research and development. There are a number of areas within an organization that can benefit from this and too often it’s purely through the marketing department.” Choi: “If it’s done right, it’s still extremely cost effective to market through social media … because Facebook is not charging you.”

* Choi: “If you want people to share it, say it. When we say ‘share it,’ they are far more likely to actually share it."
* Jeyanayagam: “Giving up control and crowd sourcing content and getting consumers opinions on your products. That is a real benefit to social media. I think big and large brands are afraid to do it. Smaller brands feel they have nothing to lose. The big brands have difficulty doing this.”

Developing sports projects in Hollywood remains difficult because sports films need to appeal to a broad audience to drive enough box office receipts to justify the production expense. During the panel “Storytelling through Entertainment: How Hollywood Showcases Motorsports and Ultimately Builds Awareness,” producer Neal Edelstein, who was behind the films “The Ring” and “Mullholland Drive,” said that Hollywood’s approach to sports is cyclical, and that only after a successful sports movie, like “The Blind Side,” is made are there opportunities for other sports productions. NASCAR Managing Dir of Entertainment Marketing & Business Development Zane Stoddard agreed, saying, “The advice we get is: You want projects that appeal to women and men will tolerate.” The other challenge is the lack of international interest in sports movies. Edelstein said, “International is driving the box office. It is something like 65% of a movie’s (box office) run.” Another challenge is managing and ensuring cooperation between a producer or show and a league or sanctioning body. Elle Johnson, a writer-producer for A&E's “The Glades,” said, “There’s no way we would have done an episode without NASCAR’s full cooperation.”

* Johnson, on drivers being paid for TV: “The drivers showed up on the sponsorship deal and we said, ‘We have to pay you.’ They bent over backwards, but a lot of them didn’t think they were going to get paid for it. Carl Edwards flew himself out.”
* Edelstein, on the movie “Senna,” about the F1 driver, “It’s such a powerful film and it’s irrelevant about racing. It’s about life and character and these eternal truths that make for great drama and storytelling. It could win an Academy Award.”
* Stoddard, on how NASCAR makes decisions about being integrated into existing programming: “David Stern was a lot more ‘nos’ than ‘yeses.' We’ve always said that NASCAR, if it’s going to be in the space, has to have some level of appetite for drama. Otherwise, there’s no reason to be there. We have tried to expand NASCAR’s perspective on this a bit to be open to telling some grittier stories with great texture. The biggest concern is you end up with something that goes sideways, like ‘Playmakers.’”