Nascar seemingly is worried about reaching their "core" fans
NASCAR begins campaign that targets core fan base
By Sporting News Wire Service
February 19, 2008
01:31 PM EST
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NASCAR is unveiling a brand message for the season dubbed "Our NASCAR"
that targets its core fans, the same ones who have complained that the sport left them behind during its growth.
The brand message is part of an overall strategy to prevent erosion of the sport's core fan base and reflects the attention NASCAR is paying to declines in TV ratings and attendance, especially among its most loyal fans.
Race caps ratings increase for FOX
Sunday's 50th running of the Daytona 500 on FOX scored increased average audience, total audience and household ratings compared to a year ago, according to fast national figures released Monday by Nielsen Media Research.
SPEED's Duel tops cable time slot
In its second year of live and exclusive coverage of the Gatorade Duel at Daytona, SPEED delivered a 12 percent ratings increase over 2007, with race coverage scoring a final Nielsen Household Rating of 2.10 compared to last season's 1.87, making it the second-most watched program in the network's history.
NASCAR's research indicates the core fans are watching less. Dick Glover, NASCAR's former vice president of broadcasting and new media, attributed the TV ratings drop in 2007 to "heavy viewers watching fewer events [two less]" annually and "lower initial tune-in," meaning fewer viewers were in front of the TV for the green flag.
That information was in Glover's year-end report to sponsors and other stakeholders after a season in which network ratings dropped 11 percent, from a 5.4 in 2006 to a 4.8 last year, the second consecutive year of decline.
NASCAR described that research as proprietary and would not comment.
Glover left NASCAR in January to become CEO of Funny or Die Networks.
TV viewership also dropped among males 55 and over, another statistic that could speak to the loyalty of the longtime fan. These figures offer some support to the more anecdotal complaints longtime fans have voiced about inconsistent start times, the commercialization of the sport and the desertion of tracks in the Southeast such as North Wilkesboro and Rockingham, both in North Carolina, in favor of new markets such as Los Angeles, which is served by two races per year at California Speedway.
NASCAR has responded with a strategy that includes "Our NASCAR" and a more proactive approach with the sport's key stakeholders. Privately, CEO Brian France and his top executives met with top racetrack officials, team executives and broadcast partners in New York during the offseason to share research and talk about NASCAR's marketing plans moving forward. The full "Our NASCAR" plans were unveiled Friday at a sponsor summit in Daytona Beach, Fla.
"It's about looking reflectively at the great things that connect people to the sport," said Jim Obermeyer, NASCAR's managing director of brand and consumer marketing. "We can't address everything in one campaign, but [fan complaints] was an input that led to this strategy. It'd be foolish to assume that one campaign is going to solve that, but it's also about creating a mind-set that focuses on the core fan with everything we do."
It was during Champion's Week in November in New York that France, president Mike Helton, chief marketing officer Steve Phelps and others began these strategic meetings at the Waldorf-Astoria. They met separately with track officials from Speedway Motorsports Inc. and International Speedway Corp., which play host to 31 of the 36 Sprint Cup races, to share the vision for "Our NASCAR" in hopes that tracks might fall in step with the theme of talking to the core fan. NASCAR has no authority over tracks' marketing.
Those meetings complemented France's own individual meetings with track presidents, which began last summer. Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway and an admitted NASCAR critic, said France flew to meet with him in August to talk about how NASCAR could better reach its fans.
"That was a big step," Gossage said. "The old NASCAR never came to talk to me. You know, we're all in this together, but it hasn't always felt that way. It was refreshing that Brian would seek out other opinions."
France's team in those meetings included Helton; Phelps; Obermeyer; Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition; Jim O'Connell, vice president of corporate marketing; Jill Gregory, director of industry marketing; and Paul Brooks, president of NASCAR Media Group. That group also met with teams and broadcast partners to set a course for 2008.
France has said he hopes broadcast partners and drivers will talk more about the action on the track than off it after a 2007 season in which competition was largely overshadowed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. changing teams and AT&T wrangling with NASCAR and Sprint in court.
"NASCAR has been much more out front with its ideas than in the past, and I think that's good for everybody involved. The communication has been good," said Chris Powell, general manager at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "It might be little things, like the music we're playing at the track, but we're going to be paying closer attention to that."
Whatever NASCAR is able to accomplish with its image campaign, however, will need to be substantiated on the track, where fans and marketers have said they want to see drivers express themselves more freely and act less like corporate puppets.
"This 'back-to-the-roots' messaging is only credible -- and will only succeed -- if it's backed up by what happens on the track; how the drivers conduct [and are allowed to conduct] themselves, how exciting the racing is," said Mike Bartelli, president of motorsports for Millsport, whose NASCAR clients include Sunoco and Tylenol.
"Too much changed too fast in the sport for a segment of fans, especially the longtime loyalists, and we lost some of them. The group that has maybe had its fill of change, but has not abandoned the sport, that's the group that needs to be impacted" by this campaign.
"Our NASCAR" -- a campaign of TV, print, online and radio ads -- will target NASCAR's avid fans with an emphasis on great racing moments, fan passion and the sport's heritage. The first spots debuted during FOX's broadcast of the Daytona 500 and more will roll out over the course of the season. They'll also appear on ESPN and SPEED, NASCAR's other TV partners.
NASCAR, whose total spending on the campaign was not available, receives a certain number of units in each race as part of its broadcast agreements. The campaign will touch all three of its major series, Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck. The Martin Agency and Jump Company, agencies that have worked with NASCAR in the past, co-developed the spots.
"This approach really gets back to connecting with fans on the ways they came to know and love the sport," Obermeyer said. "Hey, dance with the partner who brung you."
In other words, NASCAR wants to make sure its marketing talks to the fans who have been with the sport the longest and not just the casual fan, who has been the target of NASCAR's message through its growth period this decade.
For example, last year's brand messaging encouraged the casual fan to buy a ticket and try a race.
NASCAR knows the new advertising will take it only so far, so other mechanisms are being put in place to gauge reaction from fans.
Obermeyer's consumer marketing team is creating an online panel of fans who will serve as a focus group of sorts. NASCAR will use this online community for feedback on issues confronting the sport. Fans who will make up the panel are being recruited, Obermeyer said.
"The core fans of today might be different than the core fans from the 1960s and '70s," said Max Muhleman, a veteran marketing and research consultant. "They might be more technology-driven, they might be driven by the personalities. The idea of creating a panel to better understand that is very progressive. There are too many sports that don't pay enough attention to the fans."
So far, Jump Company and the Martin Agency have produced eight spots, ranging from 30 to 60 seconds in length. They feature tag lines such as "My. Your. Our NASCAR," "What's more real than that" and "You're somebody here." More could be added later in the season.
"My only question would be why the core fan needs to be reminded why he fell in love with the sport," Muhleman said. "If they're a core fan, do they need to be reminded? Their reasons for following NASCAR today might be different than why fans followed the sport years ago."
One 30-second "image spot" features the band Matchbox Twenty and its song "How far we've come" playing behind historical footage.
Another 60-second spot with the same "How far we've come" theme celebrates NASCAR's 60th anniversary. NASCAR has purposely kept the 60th anniversary low-key because it didn't want to steal any thunder from the 50th running of the Daytona 500, Obermeyer said, but the 60th has been worked into the creative and will be featured on the infield and on licensed merchandise.
The ads are scheduled to run through most of the season and more spots could be developed this year, Obermeyer said.
NASCAR.COM also is planning editorial features and video vignettes focused on the sport's greatest moments.
Other tactical moves have been evident in the preseason, including the selection of longtime country star Garth Brooks as spokesman for NASCAR Day. Pop star Kelly Clarkson and actor Will Ferrell have played that role in previous years. While Brooks' selection was not technically part of the "Our NASCAR" campaign, it reflects the tone NASCAR wants to emphasize when talking to the fans.
"Embrace the past," France has said -- a fact that was evident at the Daytona 500, where all 24 living past champions were invited to participate in prerace ceremonies and other promotional activities.
"It's a lot easier to retain the fans you have than get new ones,"
Gossage said. "Give NASCAR credit, they're not turning a blind eye to flat attendance and the ratings being down a bit. It'd be easy to say that ratings are down for everybody, but that doesn't make it OK."
Ok I know noone ever asked me but I have a few ideas on how to bring the sport back to the core fans. But first let me tell you who I think the core fans are.
They are the military men and women of the United States.
They are the working class of America, the factory workers, the retail workers, the teachers.
They are middle class America.
They work 40 hours a week to make ends meet.
They work for minimum wage, or pretty darn close to it.
They are the people who can not afford $200 for one person to attend a weekend at the race track without scrapping and saving all year for it.
If Nascar is truly interested in getting back to the core fan base then they need to remember this when they price their tickets. It costs too much for a family of 5 to go to a race, even a truck race or Nationwide race.
For our family of 5 to attend the spring race in Atlanta in a couple of weeks it would cost us $500, to attend one Sprint cup race.
These are not even the "good" tickets, nor are they including getting up close and personal and doing any of the "fun" extras.
Nor are they including any food or drinks that we might need, gas to get to Atlanta from our home, hotel prices, or souvenirs.
Now I know that we could get tickets from ITT with our military discount and save quite a bit. But that isn't the point.
My point is that the big time track owners, and the big time officials of Nascar have forgotten the roots of the sport. They have changed it into a sport for the top 1% of the American people. It has turned into a sport that only the rich and famous with deep pockets can get into.
There is no way that a person growing up today poor could become the next Dale Sr, or Jeff Gordon. Because they can not afford to get into the lower tier racing in the first place.
Nascar started out small and back woods, and it seems to me that the France family has forgotten the roots of the sport.
Is it any wonder that they are loosing the common man, the core fan?
The core fan can no longer afford to go to the track on the weekends, with their family.
The core fan is working on Sunday afternoons to make ends meet.
The core fan is one who's daddy took them to their first race when they were little, and it didn't hurt daddy's wallet to get them in.
The core fan is one who was able to meet the greats of the sport and not worry about being taken out by either crazy security or crazy fans, who think that they are taking over.
And they are not getting this any more.
If Nascar wants to get back to the core fan, they need to address these issues. I know they are in it to make money, but they are losing money by forgetting where their roots are at. They are loosing fans by forgetting where their roots are at.