Some Nashville-inspired Thoughts on the Future
I can’t get this thought out of my head. With the Mr. Rogers movie doing so well, and with NASCAR’s end-of-year celebrations keeping the sport relatively present (if not prominent) in my mind, I see Fred Rogers – only it’s actually a NASCAR marketing executive (maybe holding his shoe in his hand) leaning over in the direction of this group of corporate executives, smiling, and asking:
“Won’t you be my . . . partner?”
I really am glad that NASCAR has its “Premier Partners” in place for next year, because I guess that means no Daytona suits will have to moonlight in the beach umbrella rental business next year. This is unlike the situation with those “little guys” who are probably out of jobs now that the Cup Series teams will buy commonly produced parts that the little guys used to make for them – anything that helps investors preserve the value of their invested bucks. (If anybody gets mad, they’ll just blame it on excessive government regulation.)
I kind of feel bad for Monster, though (although I checked in the convenience store the other day, and the brand still has plenty of shelf space, so things must be going OK). Talk about the forgotten stepchild.
My impression has been that NASCAR jumped at Monster as the edgy new-era company that could transform stock car racing into something as compelling as the X-Games. Unfortunately, that was not an idea that will go down in the annals as one of NASCAR’s finest. The “synergy” just wasn’t there. NASCAR marketing gurus may longingly have looked at their sport through a lens that saw it shining in an internet café, but in reality, it’s still more tied to the country store. Also, while its audience may love smartphones, we have no idea what the newest social media outlets the grandchildren use really do.
I think Monster figured out the problem when it had to put more clothes on its spokesmodels than they wear elsewhere.
Quick – which picture has the NASCAR driver in it?
Anyway, now we’re back to the backing of “Boomer” staples: beer, soda, car insurance and cable TV. So if you don’t head down to the end of the cooler where they sell flavors like Khaos and Baller’s Blend, you no longer have to feel left out.
FYI, Monster sells (or sold – flavors change constantly) a Lewis Hamilton flavor, but they never named one for Kyle Busch. That alone should tell you the company figured out a long time back that the NASCAR deal wasn’t a marriage made in heaven.
So let’s take a look at a “NASCAR’s future” checklist:
n Sponsorship – Looks like this one’s checked off, although the NASCAR announcement didn’t mention how long a commitment each “partner” has. So far, history has gone from a really long sponsorship (Winston) to a fairly long one (Nextel/Sprint) to a short one (Monster). At the least, it helps if a sponsor/partner is around long enough for fans to get used to the name association.
n Car – The Next Gen car is coming, and we’re told it’ll look more like a stock car (photos of the Toyota Supra to the contrary), but the similarities will be strictly cosmetic; under the non-metal surface, it will be more like Lewis Hamilton’s ride than my Elantra. Still, we’re told they’re listening.
n Schedule – Street races? More road courses and/or short tracks? More Eldora? Less who? This one’s really a mystery, but we presume something is actually going to happen, which means a lot of us will complain about it.
n Rules – No sign of any acknowledgement that this is a problem being addressed. There are simply way too many rules, which means enforcement is a nightmare that nobody understands or likes. For the fans, this is a huge, unaddressed problem.
My “bottom line” for that list is that, while there are no new bombs waiting to go off, there’s no lightning strike that will create an “OMG, they did it!” upswing of momentum.
So, Mr. Genius, what would you do?
Here are what I see as some opportunities (most of which you’ve heard from this space previously):
n The Xfinity Series is dying of a lack of identify, so take it and use it for the more radical new stuff: SUVs, dirt tracks, mixed-surfaces, companion events to Cup races that run at nearby-but-different locations, you-name-it. The Gander Trucks would be a second platform for experimentation
Hey, why not?
n A new vehicle platform with drastically lower costs could be used to run lower-budget races that would cost competitors and fans less, attract interest from new fans and teams, and cut into the “same-old, same-old” feeling of NASCAR today.
n Get some form of competition going that wouldn’t require a multi-year, multi-gazillion dollar investment by new manufacturers for them to get their feet wet in the sport.
One last suggestion: STOP talking to the general public like we’re all in a marketing seminar. The NASCAR announcement about the “premier partners” had more “huh?” words and phrases in it than a workshop for IT people who work with micro-brain-surgery. Check this out:
“In addition to the establishment of the Premier Partner positions, this significant shift will provide many strategic benefits to the industry, including greater activation opportunities for brands across the sport. NASCAR’s inaugural grouping of Premier Partners will play a key role in consumer marketing and fan development initiatives moving forward.”
Now, the English translation of that gibberish goes something like this: “In return for all their money, we’re going to give our partners more chances to stick their goods and services under your noses than you can shake a stick at, and we’ll let them come up with new ways to do that, too.”
Why can’t we just say that?
Here’s another gem:
“Additionally, all four partners will be prominently featured in multiple platforms across the sport, including integrations in broadcast, NASCAR digital and social channels, event entitlements, in-market promotions and at-track activations.”
When I read that, I couldn’t help but think about David Pearson, one of the smartest and best competitors ever to put on a helmet, and I imagined coming up to him before a race and asking: “Hey, David, got any on-track activations scheduled this weekend?”
The next sound would be me coughing after Pearson took a big drag and then blew cigarette smoke in my face. He spoke in plain English.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
I used to love to see the USAC Silver Crown cars run at Richmond. The drivers had to really manhandle these hopelessly outdated racers – running on rock-hard tires – and you never saw a steering wheel being held steady; they were being sawed on constantly. Silver Crowns run on asphalt and dirt, and one reason may be that they handle pretty much the same on both surfaces.
Between the aerodynamics and the Goodyears, NASCAR vehicles are at the other end of the handling spectrum, and while that speaks volumes for Goodyear’s tire-making expertise, does it really make for better racing?
For that matter, will it really interest the next generation of fans?
I’ve been to a couple of road courses in recent years, and both featured “drifting” on their schedules. I’m told it’s the fastest-growing segment of motorsports, and people pay both to do it and to watch it.
Simply put, drifting is racing on a road course (or occasionally just a pad) without ever having full traction. It’s also popular in video gaming. Here’s an article about it that features both a video game and a movie, as well as photos of actual drifting competitions.
Besides illustrating why dirt track racing is popular, this seems to indicate that future fans won’t be impressed by how well Goodyears keep your car FROM drifting. I think they also show that a less advanced car with much less advanced tires can be more exciting to watch. Hear that, NASCAR?
I also think this means that if we could get a topnotch genetics scientist to take some Tiny Lund DNA and build us a new Tiny, we could have the superstar of the future – and he could catch fish, too.
Hard to believe, but I couldn’t find a decent shot of Tiny Lund broadsliding, so here’s one of Pearson, who also was a master.