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Volume 22 No. 12
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NASCAR fully rolling out paid media effort

After years of relying mainly on house ads as the means to mass market, NASCAR is preparing to open its pocketbook in 2019 to promote the sport outside of its own programming.

Under the direction of new Chairman and CEO Jim France, NASCAR has signed off on a significant paid-media spend this year, with much of it geared toward local television and targeted digital and social campaigns.

NASCAR has come under criticism in recent years for having the lion’s share of its TV advertising only be national institutional inventory that it gets from Fox Sports and NBC Sports as part of their media rights deals. But NASCAR last year tested a pilot program where it began buying local advertising in a few key markets that over-index for NASCAR fans, including Dallas, Nashville and Greensboro, N.C. After seeing positive results, the sanctioning body is fully rolling out the program this year.

The sport will use paid ads to amplify its events.
Photo: getty images

One person familiar with the plan said NASCAR will spend between $10 million and $20 million on advertising this year, a range that President Steve Phelps would neither confirm nor deny. In any event, the spend represents another notable sea change under the new leadership of France and Phelps, and is an encouraging sign to the sanctioning body’s marketing department.

“Last year was almost our test program to augment our traditional media strategy with investments in areas where we can make the most difference and reach fans,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “2019 is using all that data that we acquired in 2018 and putting it into a fully baked annual plan.”

The spend will be on Fox and NBC channels, and  outside of those two media partners. Among the more than 20 priority markets this year are: Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Orlando, Raleigh, Tampa, Greenville, S.C., and Knoxville, Tenn. On the digital front, NASCAR has confirmed a new paid partnership with Barstool Sports.

Gregory said the move to do more local advertising comes in conjunction with NASCAR working more in lockstep with tracks on joint marketing, including using track creative for some of NASCAR’s national institutional ads. There will be some markets where NASCAR will spend money weekly and others where it will be more targeted around specific race weekends. Gregory highlighted the Los Angeles area as one that NASCAR will target specifically ahead of the Auto Club Speedway circuit stop in mid-March.

Fox Sports this year dialed back its quirky “Daytona Day” marketing theme in favor of a more traditional campaign focused on the on-track action, and NASCAR appears to have a similar focus with a storytelling twist. NASCAR this week will debut a TV spot and digital creative around drivers talking in their race shops about getting ready for the Daytona 500.

“Everything we’re doing is storyline driven — the core of NASCAR is about the racing, drivers and rivalries, and that may take a different form or have a different emphasis, but the focus is on the core product,” Gregory said.

Gregory said NASCAR’s marketing will be more nimble than ever this year. For example, Gregory said a campaign will not have a specific end date. Instead NASCAR will shift and optimize its plans throughout the year as things change. NASCAR will also update its media spend throughout the year to either add heft to an area that its data shows is working or stop spending on something that’s not.