Advertising and NASCAR
NASCAR and Advertising
In the book NASCAR for Dummies, Martin and Ruschak admit “races are on TV, racetracks are in nearly every part of the country, and drivers have their pictures on cereal boxes and billboards.” They also talk about the corporate involvement in the sport and why “NASCAR is one big, uninterrupted commercial for motor oil, beer, and laundry detergent” (Martin, p. 5). The sport has been criticized for becoming one huge promotion and no one knows what is being promoted more, the race or the sponsors of the race. The big networks also leverage the popularity of the sport and the audience it brings to sell their advertising during commercials that drown out racing team sponsors. Some say the viewing audience ends up watching a TV commercial, not a race.
In addition, NASCAR has a new points system to make a 10 car race the big event of the season. An “intense bidding war for the television rights to the hottest ticket in major league sports has produced staggering results: The FOX and NBC-TBS networks struck a deal according to which they will fork over $2.8 billion over the next six years to televise NASCAR’s races, beginning in 2001.” (Menzer, p. 33) That is more than $466 million a year, averaged out. TV rights to twenty-eight NASCAR races brought in a pitiful $3 million during the 1985 season, fifteen years earlier.
David Poole points out that in 1960 the average payout for the Grand National Series was $13,601, and Rex White, the sport’s national champ, took home $57,525 annually. A decade later Bobby Isaac won $199,600. It was not until 1985 that a race actually paid out $1 million in prize money. Although some networks, such as ABC aired taped portions of the races on their Wide World of Sports, in the early 1970s, CBS decided to broadcast the Daytona 500 live from start to finish in 1979 and the sport was on its way. By 1995, every Winston Cup race was shown live on several networks and the national media paid attention to NASCAR. Early on, drivers agreed to paint the names of the local repair shop or car dealer on their cars to make a few dollars in advertising, but when Petty became famous and his image was matched with STP oil additive, the sponsors began to vie for the chance for their automobile, tobacco or beer to come into the limelight on someone’s shirt and arm. The sponsors found that race fans are extremely loyal and when their hero endorses a product, they become faithful to that product over all others (Poole, p. 4).
NASCAR is an acronym which stands for “National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.” It is a sanctioning body which oversees many types of racing across the country. The three top series under the NASCAR banner are the NEXTEL Cup Series, the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series.
In Hagstrom’s Book, the NASCAR Way: The Business that Drives the Sport, he says that the money that fuels stock car racing is there because you have “forty-two teams on the same field at the same time” (p. 159). He illustrates it by describing how a NASCAR official who flagged races at Darlington for many years asked Petty why all the drivers hugged the wall at turn four, where there are a dozen cars packed closely together going around the curve. “He gave me that big ol’grin,’ Ford remembered, ‘and said it was because the closer you are to the wall the less it hurts when you hit it'” (Hagstrom, p. 6).
Bruton Smith, chairman and chief operating officer of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. bought the track in 1966, with a seating capacity of 71,000, and now it seats 147,000, plus luxury skyboxes, which are sold out. “We stopped at eight-four thousand people,” said Smith about the waiting list for the skyboxes, since that number will last a lifetime, at least (Menzer p. 34).
Daytona International Speedway is the best-known of all the NASCAR tracks, but the Indianapolis track is where the Brickyard 400 is every August, and it rivals the famous Indy 500 in popularity. Other unique venues, Darlington Raceway in South Carolina; Talladega Super Speedway in Alabama, and Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N. Carolina are not as famous as Bristol. Bristol has seats in the danger zone as well as seats far from the action, where one can see the entire track, including the pits. Bristol isn’t the biggest or the best track, but is short, like in the old days, where the average speed per lap is 82 mph. Still Bristol has 150,000 cheering for hours during the race.
Advertising, needless to say, is rampant here. The track can be rented for $4,500 a day, TV commercials cost $3,000 a day and NASCAR testing costs $1,500 a day. Private parties cost $1,000 to $2,500 a day for 100 to 500 guests. There are extra charges for lighting up the infield or the whole place ($1,850), and it costs $500 more on weekends.
Earnhardt shirts are for sale, “the Intimidator” and “Ol’ Ironhead” was the most beloved of all drivers. Slogans like “Badass Boys Drive Badass Toys” are emblazoned on the fronts and backs of them. Gordon is another favorite who himself is a walking advertisement for DuPont (his major sponsor). Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Jarrett, Terry and Bobby Labonte, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and “Mr. Excitement,” Jimmy Spencer, all wear suits, caps and jackets emblazoned with their sponsors’ (advertisers’) names, while their faces are printed on the fronts and backs of T-shirts.
Advertising is what it is all about. If one could not advertise, a lot of the color would be gone from the races. Drivers, car owners, crew chiefs, tire changers, gas men, body fabricators and jackmen are all walking billboards. The signs and track carry the names of products that paid dearly for the privilege.
H.A. Branham, the communications manager for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and a fan of the sport himself, has written a book with memorabilia about the sport, such as NASCAR’s first race report and a ticket to Dale Earnhardt’s first Daytona 500 victory. The book is an advertisement for the race, which is an advertisement for thousands of products. “Even founder Bill France, Sr. couldn’t have imagined just how huge his creation would become,” said Branham (2006, p. 5).
Stock car racing is the focus of NASCAR racing entertainment. “NASCAR stock cars are unique in that they look very much like what suburbanite drives. but… NASCAR vehicles are the fastest – and safest – on earth” (Martin, p. 12). These stock cars run in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, NASCAR Busch Series or NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events. Stock cars are money-makers for certain brands of cars, since only the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, the Ford Taurus and the Dodge Intrepid can compete in the NEXTEL Cup Series.
The owners hired PR people to paint a good picture of the sport before it got soiled again. They painted the walls around the track, covering the scuff marks that reminded people of the nightmares of drivers trying to get around the “world’s fastest half mile.” Racing in tight quarters going at top speeds is what made the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing become the most thrilling sport in America.
Everything written about the sport talks about the huge growth of racing, so that more than 280 million viewers now turn into NASCAR Cup Series events on TV every year. It is second only to the NFL. Some statistics listed in Mark Martin’s book tell why it is a national phenomenon: It is the “#1 sport in brand loyalty of fans. #2 rated sport on television [second only to the NFL], over $2 billion in licensed sales, 75 million fans” (p. 9). This list makes the statement that need not be spoken: NASCAR is about publicity and sales, surrounding a sport that is solitary. A solitary sport, such as golf, does not involve the adoration of segments of the nation, as football does (where one city or area of the country follows “their” team), but draws from a large audience that chooses its favorite golfer or driver. The golfer or driver is a walking billboard for their sponsor, or the person who pays them the most money to wear their logo. The workers who support that solitary hero, such as the caddy or the pit crew, have lesser roles to play, but are nevertheless crucial to the success of the solitary hero. It is this interplay of groups of people that makes the sport so interesting to people today. Adored by their fiercely loyal fans and promoted by the media, the clamor for their favor draws all sorts of commercial benefits to the solitary hero and all attached to him or her. Advertisers say that in order for a business (or sport becoming a business) to be successful, the ad agency must “stay focused on brand attributes on which the client can build” (Grimaldi, p. 10). Branding a sport means picking the focus and emphasizing it. For instance, “Nissan ranks high on the shopping list,” since “we know what triggers a consumer’s desire beyond price point alone” (Ibid. p. 13) When Nissan is out there on the race track, the consumer focuses on it as he or she never would anywhere else.
When Tony Stewart climbed the 20-foot fence to be with his fans after winning at Daytona International Speedway, Joe Gibbs took advantage of the moment. “It also turned out to be a marketing opportunity,” and Home Depot, the sponsor of Stewart’s team, placed full-page ads in newspapers throughout the country. “Hey Tony,’ the ad read. ‘We have ladders’…. And sales rose by a double-digit percentage in the immediate aftermath” (Poole, p. 1).
The ad showed Stewart climbing up the fence at Daytona. Then it was used to promote a weekend sale on ladders and fencing throughout the nation. During the Pocono weekend, here was an opportunity to save 10% on the purchase price if one needed a ladder or fencing products. Turner Sports Interactive made the dime on this marketing ploy.
It was a wonderful, perfect marketing idea. Stewart’s unique way of celebrating helped Home Depot jumpstart the campaign and it is positive the sale would have been be extended if he had won at Pocono. It was a ladder that Home Depot associates then presented to Stewart during his appearance on Sunday at Pocono. The process used by Home Depot to both set the sale and to take advantage of the exciting celebration at Stewart’s is one that companies are using more and more.
Home Depot’s spontaneous ad campaign is the exception, rather than the rule. Usually they require much work on the part of agencies and promoters and publishers to have them prepared in time for deadlines. Corporate sponsors are assuming more power in NASCAR’s world, and Home Depot set the precedent. Home Depot is nation-wide, and they sell ladders, so they were able to utilize the situation for marketing and public relations. On a website called NASCAR.COM, the official t racing site for NASCAR fans on the web, advertisers can increase visibility of their name and product, promote brand awareness, and site traffic by advertising there.
Advertising, something that is common to the eye in the United States, has become somewhat of a joke among NASCAR fans. Even at the national and multi-national level, one can see the big bucks come rolling in, in order to reach the enormous audience and many layers are involved. The sport has turned into one big commercial, but perhaps this is what was intended and it certainly hasn’t had the effect of turning off the viewing audience.
Branham, H.A., and McKim, Buz. (2006),the NASCAR Vault: An Official History Featuring Rare Collectibles from Motorsports Images and Archives. Chicago: Becker & Mayer.
Buckley, J. (2005). Nascar. New York: DK Children.
Grimaldi, J., Hadeler, D., Richards, S., Berger, R. et al. (2003). The Art of Advertising: CEOs from Mullen Advertising, Marc USA, Euro RSCG & More on Generating Creative Campaigns & Building Successful Brands. New York: Aspatore Books.
Hagstrom, R.G. (2001). The NASCAR Way: The Business that Drives the Sport. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Martin, M. And Ruschak, B. (2005). NASCAR for Dummies. Indianapolis, in: Wiley Publishing.
Menzer, J. (2002). The Wildest Ride: A History of NASCAR (or, How a Bunch of Good Ol’ Boys Built a Billion-Dollar Industry out of Wrecking Cars). New York: Simon & Schuster.
Poole, D. And McLaurin, J. (2007). Nascar Essential: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Real Fan! Chicago: Triumph Books.
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