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Voices From the Heartland: How NASCAR’s “Mouthpieces” Miss the Point… & They’re Not the Only Ones

When NASCAR released it was forming a new Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) Dept. this past Monday, I instantly added it to my list of “possible column ideas.” Unfortunately, the more I read, the more confused I became.

While I thought I got the gist of it, the release was written in such corporate gibberish that for a moment, I thought it was penned by Brian France himself. It read in part…

The new communications structure will allow NASCAR to be even more effective on the competition aspects of the sport, an area where NASCAR was regularly cited in [a PR] review as being among the best when compared to other major league sports by media in all genres. It also positions the sanctioning body to take a much more strategic and offensive approach to selling the sport in a constantly-evolving traditional, digital, and social media landscape. Three areas that will see greater communications resourcing and organizational focus moving forward include: brand and consumer marketing; digital and social media strategy and activation; and strategic collaboration with industry stakeholders.

A new marketing department will allow them to be more effective in the competition aspect of the sport? What? Does that mean they can be more offensive in selling the sport? And they are gonna spend more money on brand and consumer marketing and digital and social media?

I began to experience, like most of you now, doubts as to what this all really means. The competition thing has me at a complete loss, and I guess they are going to try and sell us more stuff through Twitter and Facebook! Just what we need; another way to hawk NASCAR merchandise right in front of our noses! As possible column ideas go, this one was quickly sinking to the bottom.

So what changed between then and now that is allowing you to read about this “landmark” decision today? A relatively new “NASCAR mouthpiece,” as I like to call them. One of my favorites in the past was “Party Marty” Smith (and just about anyone who now writes for nascar.com). Now normally, I don’t go reading other journalists’ stuff for the simple fact that, living here in Iowa, I have A) common sense, and B) I like my bacon way too much to go getting my blood pressure up by reading other (and I’m being nice here) people’s stuff. Unfortunately, I made an exception because this new “mouthpiece” (as it turns out) was writing about the IMC press release. Perhaps, I thought, this guy might be able to shed some light on just what NASCAR was doing, so I clicked THE LINK and decided to find out.

The young journalist in question is named Toby Christie, and he writes for RubbingsRacing.com. Now I give you his name and site name without fear of losing loyal readers for a few simple reasons, and here they are in the form of quotes.

“So far in the 2010 NASCAR season, drivers have taken the gloves off. NASCAR has overhauled the rulebook, thus allowing the drivers to police themselves. What we have seen as a result is incredible, yet unpredictable racing week in and week out.”

“We now have the long-awaited rivalries and emotion that the fans have craved for years…”

“It just doesn’t make any sense at all. The product on the track is great, so that should be all we need to put butts in the seats, right?”

OK, if you’ve clicked the link and read the entire story, you will see that these quotes are at the beginning, so I might as well start there.

First of all, aside from the smart and obvious move to double-file restarts, which was implemented halfway through last year, I fail to see where NASCAR has “overhauled” the rulebook! If that were the case, it would be half as thick as it is now. Simply allowing the drivers to “police themselves,” in such matters as bumpdrafting, etc. is nothing more than NASCAR officials saying that they no longer want to take the responsibility and the heat for making judgment calls, ones which they usually screwed up anyway. Hardly a rulebook overhaul there.

As for the long-awaited “rivalries,” I fail to see any kind of Jeff Gordon vs. Dale Earnhardt Sr. taking shape. Yes there is Kyle Busch vs. everyone else, fans included, and ditto for Brad Keselowski, but nothing compared to “rivalries” of yore. Yes, there has been more raw emotion, and that is good, but usually from the actions/reactions of Brad and/or Kyle.

One of the clinchers, however, is the statement that the product on the track is great. Uh, hello Mr. Christie? What dark cave have they kept you in? Do you hear fans talking about how great the “product” is? Yes, there has been an exciting race or two, but no one I know or take the time to listen to has described NASCAR racing as “great” for quite a few years! Oh wait, my bad… there is Brian France. I forgot about him.

But actually, all of that is sort of off my point. My sole purpose of reading Mr. Christie was with the hope of getting an explanation, in layman’s terms, about the new IMC, and here is what I learned:

“Now this announcement isn’t nearly as sexy as the ‘boys, have at it’ rule changes, just for the simple fact that fans in general won’t really see much of a change. However, this is something team owners have urged the sport to do for years. Not to mention this new team should be very effective in captivating the casual fan, which in turn will help keep the sport on the cutting edge in this marketing savvy world.”

“As we know, the hardcore fans are the ones who have stuck through the inception of the COT, and now the back to the roots revival of the past year. Now it is time for NASCAR to reopen its door to the casual fan, and that all starts with social media and branding.”

OMG & ROFLMAO!!! (that’s “oh my God” and “rolling on floor, laughing my ass off” for those old hardcore fans “not in touch” nowadays!)

I ask the question, if “fans in general won’t really see much of a change,” how is this new IMC dept. really changing things? Or, more to the point… what’s the point!? Oh yeah, it provides twenty or so more positions at NASCAR for them to fill, presumably staff that will be Tweeting and Facebooking their little butts off. So much for streamlining things at NASCAR headquarters!

The final sentence, though, of Mr. Christie’s article is quite possibly the most ridiculous one I have read all year: “Now, it is time for NASCAR to reopen its door to the casual fan, and that all starts with social media and branding.”

Now, I did some research on RubbingsRacing’s Web site and I learned a little bit more about Toby Christie. He was born in 1989, so that might make him old enough to drink, depending on the month, and it might explain that statement. At any rate, as his bio states, Toby has been hooked on NASCAR since age four after watching the 1993 Daytona 500 on television. What in the world is a four-year-old doing watching the Daytona 500? I’ll tell you.

Toby Christie was watching the Daytona 500 on TV at age four BECA–USE HIS FATHER WAS WATCHING THE DAYTONA 500 ON TV!!!! Toby’s father, Buddy Christie, became a fan after watching the infamous 1979 Daytona 500, and he also is a writer for RubbingsRacing.com! Well how about that.

Those friends and family sport connections are the simple fact that NASCAR and Brian France (and others) simply cannot grasp; longtime, hardcore fans begat new fans! (That’s Biblical speak for “have sex and have kids.”) Even those now hardcore fans who were NOT a product of sex by other hardcore fans, such as my girlfriend, became fans because some other hardcore fan took them to a race or otherwise turned them on to NASCAR!

Getting back on topic, the sport is in the hard spot they are in today because Brian France openly wooed and courted the “casual fan.” The results, while profitable for a short time, have been disastrous in the span of just seven years since Brian France took over. The longtime, hardcore fans have been speaking… with their wallets… and they’ve finally been heard, even though it’s taken a few years to sink in.

So why, oh why, should NASCAR reopen its doors to the casual fan? If they are that valuable, and if they liked Brian’s “show” at all the first time they checked it out, don’t you think they’d come back on their own and become longtime, hardcore fans? Does anyone seriously think a “tweet” or “status update” or any other kind of “social media” campaign is gonna make the difference?

“Keep It Simple, Stupid!!!” Bring back good racing, not a good “show,” and the longtime fans may come back. And if/when they do, they’ll bring our sons and daughters, friends, and family with them in the hopes that they, too, will come to love the sport.

That ain’t so hard to understand, is it?

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

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