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Volume 22 No. 23
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Fanatics upbeat on change in NASCAR track retail

Fanatics Authentic tent-based retail villages, shown here at Pocono, replaced the merchandise haulers at NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in 2015.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (2)
Heading into his company’s new partnership with NASCAR, Fanatics Authentic President Ross Tannenbaum predicted that the merchandiser was about to tackle its most logistically daunting effort ever.

A tad more than a year later, Tannenbaum says he was right. Fanatics transformed the sport’s at-track retail system from a sprawling hauler-based model to a tent-based “retail village.” The village, which travels to all 36 Sprint Cup Series races, is designed to be a better shopping experience than its financially challenging, yet oft-beloved, predecessor.

There have been growing pains since Fanatics first erected the village in August 2015, and some fans still yearn for the old model. But Tannenbaum and other industry executives are upbeat about how the first year of the 10-year deal went and think things will continue to improve.

Who’s On Top?
Top 20 Sprint Cup driver merchandise sales rankings

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2. Jimmie Johnson
3. Kyle Busch
4. Chase Elliott
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Tony Stewart
7. Danica Patrick
8. Carl Edwards
9. Brad Keselowski
10. Kasey Kahne
11. Joey Logano
12. Denny Hamlin
13. Matt Kenseth
14. Martin Truex Jr.
15. Kurt Busch
16. Kyle Larson
17. Ryan Newman
18. Austin Dillon
19. Ryan Blaney
20. Jamie McMurray

Note: Full-time drivers
Source: NASCAR

“I don’t think there’s anything more challenging in sports retail in the United States than what we’re trying to do [with NASCAR],” said Tannenbaum, whose company also runs NASCAR’s e-commerce website. “It was no easy feat trying to reproduce that store every single week. … Once you start doing it, you learn a lot, and we evolved a lot over the last year.”

Fanatics’ NASCAR operation is divided into three branches: an at-track team, a buying team and a logistics team at its warehouse.

From a logistical standpoint, Tannenbaum said Fanatics was prepared heading into the deal in areas such as product variety and checkout process. But it was less ready on the back end with things like analytics, transporting the tent on a weekly basis and where to set it up at different and often uniquely designed tracks.

The company, though, has been able to be more responsive under the new model. For example, it boosted its Kyle Busch inventory last season during his second-half surge following injury. It also will be fully stocked through this season, which wasn’t always the case under the old system. Upticks in items like headwear can also be attributed to fans having time to try on gear in a store format, as opposed to the old model when they were standing at the front of a line.

The company also is happy with the model’s new checkout process, which features up to 60 stations in a separate tent, reducing wait times.

“We’re really happy where it’s at a year into it; we know it’s going to continue to evolve and get better,” said Blake Davidson, NASCAR’s vice president of licensing and consumer products. “Ross tells me that all the time: ‘We’re only a year into this, and we’re going to improve.’”

Fanatics' retail tent, shown here at Texas Motor Speedway, features up to 60 checkout stations, which has reduced checkout times.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The change to the new model has been an adjustment for teams. Under the old model that Motorsports Authentics ran, the company produced the apparel and ran the haulers. Under the new model, Fanatics — and the teams by extension — work with third-party licensees to create most of the apparel.

“Have there been some growing pains? Of course there has been, as there would be with almost anything,” said Dave Alpern, Joe Gibbs Racing president. “This is a massive shift from where we were. … I think [Fanatics] has done extremely well, and I think like anything, every year they’re going to get better.”

From a bottom-line standpoint, Tannenbaum said per-cap spending is up solidly year over year, indicating fans are buying more product under the new setup. Financial results for Fanatics, a private company, weren’t available, but during NASCAR’s RFP process in 2014, the sanctioning body said companies could expect $26 million to $40 million in annual trackside sales revenue, according to sources.

“We certainly want to continue to work on our attendance, because that will only drive the gross number up,” said Craig Neeb, International Speedway Corp.’s executive vice president and chief development and digital officer. “But I think the fact is that people are spending more with this [model].”