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Volume 24 No. 157

Events and Attractions

Attracting more fans to the race track was a central topic on a panel during the second morning of the ’13 NASCAR Motorsports Marketing Forum. Speaking on the “Creating The Ultimate Fan Experience” panel, NASCAR Senior VP/Racing Operations Steve O’Donnell said that the governing body’s first priority is making sure the on-track product is competitive, but that star power among drivers also plays a role in drawing fans. O’Donnell said, “We’ve recognized over the years that -- drivers coming up through the system -- fans need to recognize them. Building those names and brands before the fans see them on Sunday is important for us. We have really taken the initiative to not just look at Cup. If (Nationwide Series driver) Kyle Larson gets in that Cup car, people are going to know who he is.” Newly appointed Hulman & Co. Chief Revenue Officer Jay Frye credited the on-track product with success at the gate. Frye: “It comes back to the product. If the product is on good ground, a lot of these things will fix themselves.”

LOOKING AT THE ECONOMICS: Circuit of the Americas Chief Marketing & Revenue Officer Geoff Moore said spending habits largely dictate whether fans will attend an event. “It comes down to what events people are willing to spend money on,” Moore said. “The fan has to take into account the total cost of their trip to your venue. We have to do a better job of being the concierge to the fan to help them find the best combination. That’s been a bit of an evolution for us.” Meanwhile, NHRA Senior VP/Marketing Gary Darcy said NHRA fans "still have a very high interest in the sport," but their personal economic circumstances “are preventing them from coming.”

ABILITY TO CONNECT: In addition to the on-track product and star power among drivers, O’Donnell said that NASCAR puts a prime focus on fans being able to access digital properties while at the track. “It’s the connectivity,” O’Donnell said. “It’s not necessarily going to bring hundreds of thousands of new fans to the track, but it is going to shore up the expectations that any fan has. We’re seeing tracks invest heavily to put these plans in place. You see that with Daytona and Texas with the big board.”

ONLY AT THE TRACK: Moore said that for November's F1 Grand Prix, COTA “invested a lot of money” in creating “unique areas around the track” for fans to explore. Moore: “The big advantage that tracks have is that you can have the physical experience you can’t have at home. We gave the fans access to areas they hadn’t had before … people responded in an overwhelmingly positive manner.”

For more from the Motorsports Marketing Forum, please see our On The Ground blog.

NBC Sports Group CMO John Miller told ’13 NASCAR Motorsports Marketing Forum attendees that the key to intriguing creative in NASCAR is “trying to engage the core (fan) and then broaden it out.” Miller said NBC has done that recently with creative around F1's Monaco Grand Prix and U.S. Grand Prix in Austin. “What we want to do is capture the size of it all, the international scope,” he said. “In the first race we put on the network, we really focused on Monaco and the stars and the parties and the yachts, as well as the racing. But we wanted to make it bigger than the race. We thought we would have the F1 fans -- they are very loyal and were going to be there anyway -- but we wanted to broaden beyond that.” NASCAR VP/Marketing Kim Brink said that before '13, there were “two narratives that we were missing from a creative perspective." Brink said, "We were underutilizing our drivers. In many cases we didn’t use the drivers in our campaign at all, which is kind of crazy because the drivers are a critical part of our family.” She also said NASCAR was not highlighting the unpredictability of the sport enough. But NASCAR attempted to find those missing traits in its “Twist” spot, which debuted during February’s Daytona 500 and featured an array of drivers both young and old. The spot also highlighted the dangers involved in NASCAR. Ogilvy & Mather Account Dir Dan Langlitz said, “It’s not something the core fans are used to seeing, but crucially, it’s something that I think provokes reconsideration for new fans.”

TAKING A HUMOROUS APPROACH: Brink said NASCAR’s goal with its “Resume” fantasy racing spot was to bring out the humor and personalities of the Sprint Cup drivers participating: “We would kind of prompt them on what we wanted them to say, but we really just let them roll. At some point we’ll pull on the drama, like with ‘Twist’, but other times we’ll use a sense of humor.” Langlitz: “You don’t very often get to see (drivers) with their helmets off acting like themselves. That’s crucial to building relationships with the fans. That spot was to promote fantasy NASCAR, but it was also to let you know that these guys have personalities. They’re funny. They’re like us.”

REVERSING RATINGS: Average IndyCar viewership in ’13 dipped below 1 million, but Miller said the fact that NBC in the future will carry three motorsports properties should allow the network to cross-promote and send ratings back up. However, NBC shares IndyCar rights with ESPN/ABC, and Miller said that keeps the network from being able to “utilize our full muscle from a marketing standpoint.”

For more from the Motorsports Marketing Forum, please see our On The Ground blog.

Seven-time NHRA champion Tony Schumacher told ’13 NASCAR Motorsports Marketing Forum attendees the drag-racing series is “100% different” now than when he started racing in ’96. Schumacher said, “It’s business (now), and in that we lose some of the fun. We lose some of what built the sport. People want to see the rivalry. ... We’re going to lose viewership with these new kids if it’s, every time I get out of a car I have to name sponsors and not talk about the runs.” To change that trend, Schumacher said sponsors would have to “come forward and say, ‘Look, we don’t need to hear Army.’” Schumacher has been sponsored by the U.S. Army since ’00, and his buzz cut hair style earned him the nickname “Sarge” in the garage. However, he said he is “not in there to win for the Army." Schumacher: "I’m really in there to win because there’s some sucker in the other lane who thinks he can beat me. That’s ultimately what built me up. We didn’t have names on the side of the car when I started racing.” However, he believes he is a “perfect fit” for the Army brand. Schumacher: “I’m not a very good fit for Budweiser. I don’t drink beer. You’ve got to find your guy, find out what he believes in and live with it.”

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: Asked what his plan would be should his Army partnership end, Schumacher said, “Honestly, I don’t know if I would want to drive. If the Army said, ‘We’re done, we don’t want to race anymore,’ I might just be done. I think it’s a great way to end. It’s been an amazing career and I’ve done so many things. Not that I don’t want to drive for 10 more years and run a race team, I just don’t know that you can replace that.” However, if he did have to replace the Army, Schumacher said it would “have to be something tough." He said, "I’d have a hard time getting out of the car after the Army and talking about Pampers. It just wouldn’t go right.”

OWNERSHIP FUTURE? The 43-year-old Schumacher drives for his father’s team, Don Schumacher Racing, and said owning his own team down the road might be a possibility. “I’d love to own a race team, I really would,” he said. “I think I would be good at motivating and selecting, which is really what it’s all about.”

For more from the Motorsports Marketing Forum, please see our On The Ground blog.