The New Souvenir Experience
As most of you know, one of NASCAR’s decisions over the last few years that was met with the greatest amount of angst from the fan base was the decision to change way in which fans would be able to shop for souvenirs on race weekends. The merchandise trailers that have so long been a raceday tradition for many a fan would be replaced by merchandise tent superstore run by sports apparel company Fanatics. Many fans immediately took to social media to claim that NASCAR was ruining not only a hallowed tradition but also the souvenir shopping experience as well. After seeing this new setup for the first time this past weekend at Kansas Speedway, let me say that not only are those concerns overblown but that NASCAR and Fanatics have hit a colossal home run with this new setup.
Like most of you reading this, I was pretty skeptical when I first read about plans to eliminate the souvenir trailers. Not only had I always enjoyed shopping at the trailers, I also thoroughly enjoyed showing them to friends attending their first race as well. I didn’t think the experience with a tent could be anywhere near as good as the experience of going to the trailers. However, after this past weekend, I can say without a doubt that the experience at the new tent superstore was incrementally better than any at-track shopping experience was before.
First of all, allow me to explain how this new tent is setup. The outsides of the tent are organized according to drivers, with a large poster above the section indicating the particular driver. The driver’s merchandise is organized in a U-shape with the outside of the U featuring shirts, jackets, and hats. Inside the U are stands for kids’ merchandise and novelties such as license plates, key chains, and window clings. There are also sections for NASCAR branded merchandise, NASCAR Classics (drivers such as Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty), and a section for up-and-coming drivers and drivers from smaller teams (such as Cole Whitt, Michael Annett, and Michael McDowell). In the middle of the tent is a section for track and event merchandise as well as a clearance section. At one end of the tent is the checkout section. This part is in two stanchioned lines. When you get to the front of the line, a Fanatics employee points you to an open register to keep the whole thing moving.
This is a better setup for a few reasons. First, there is more merchandise than was available with the trailers. Also, you no longer have to crane your neck over the line in front of you to try and see what merchandise there is and then hurry to make your selection once it is your turn to keep from holding up the line. With the new setup, you can simply browse merchandise and wander from driver to driver at your leisure. With the trailers, there were many times I decided not to shop at a particular trailer because the line was too long and I wanted to either go to my seats or back to my vehicle. Lastly, I really enjoyed the section for up-and-coming drivers. This is really important because under the trailer setup the last few years, I almost never saw merchandise from drivers on teams like BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing. With this new setup, these drivers are able to sell their merchandise along with the stars of our sport.
This new setup is a winner for both fans and our sport as a whole. First of all, a better shopping experience generally leads to increased sales. Even though most people tend to see this only in terms of benefiting NASCAR’s bottom line this also helps the teams as well. Think of it this way. Every time you buy your favorite driver’s gear, you are also helping to spread the sponsor’s logo as well. More gear sold means the sponsor’s logo is spread more as well. The more the sponsor’s logo is spread, the more advertising they get, and the more they can see the value of sponsoring our sport. In today’s tough sponsorship climate, you better believe sponsors are looking are looking at this as one way to determine how effective their sponsorship is. If more merchandise is sold, the teams can show the sponsors that this is one more way they are getting their money’s worth and can use this to retain and recruit more sponsors as well.
I think the one weakness with the new souvenir setup came with its unveiling. When the plan was unveiled, I think part of the problem was that NASCAR did not sell (bad pun intended) us on why this change was necessary or how it would benefit us. However, after experiencing it in person this past weekend, I can say that NASCAR definitely improved the at-track shopping experience beyond anything I could have imagined.