Wednesday, February 14, 2007

NASCAR Drives Marketing: Web Spots Run Before Daytona 500

NASCAR, THE SECOND-HIGHEST TV-RATED SPORT next to the NFL, is back this weekend. And it's showing off an unusual marketing stunt that it hopes will build even stronger allegiance to its already loyal fans and sponsors.

For its inaugural race, the big Daytona 500, NASCAR will run marketers' commercials on its Web site,, before the spots have a TV airing on Fox. Turner Broadcasting operates the site with the ads being seen on Turner's

"We figured there is a lot of traffic on the morning of the race," says Andrew Giangola, director of business communications for NASCAR. "Our sponsors pushed for it. They see it as value-added. Viewers can download commercials."

Typically, with big Super Bowl-type events, networks like CBS--which recently aired the big game--put TV commercials on their Web sites after running on the television network.

Some Super Bowl marketers do release their commercials beforehand on their own Web sites and/or venues that create PR spin. But media executives do not recall sports advertisers running messages en masse on the sports leagues' Internet areas before a big sporting event.

This is not surprising. NASCAR executives have long talked about the loyalty its fans have for drivers and their sponsors--and NASCAR will be looking to cement tighter bonds with fans this season.

After six straight years of accelerating ratings, NASCAR hit a few potholes in 2006, as ratings dipped versus 2005. In the key last 10 races of the NASCAR season, called "Chase for the Cup," viewership dropped 10%.

"The ratings were bound to go down," says Larry Novenstern, executive vice president and director for national electronic media for Optimedia International.

Still, the sport is as healthy as it's ever been, says NASCAR's Giangola, with more NASCAR sponsors creating new and unusual promotions--especially from new consumer products advertisers.

For example, Kraft General Foods will, for the first time, change one of its products for a sport, imprinting the number 16--driver Greg Biffle's number--onto its Oreo cookies. That's something the company hasn't done for a sporting event.

After several years of team sponsors being reluctant to buy TV time, Giangola says the majority are now doing so. They are "activating" their team and sport sponsorship deals.

For this weekend's "Daytona 500," advertisers such as Sprint Nextel, Allstate, Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, Gillette, Office Depot, The Home Depot, Sunoco, Toyota, and UPS will premiere commercials at an estimated $500,000 for a 30-second announcement.

Giangola believes the new eight-year, $4.48 billion TV deal with ABC/ESPN will help drive business to new heights. For the first time, ESPN has given NASCAR its own daily show: "NASCAR Now."

NASCAR is also looking to develop new audiences--specifically growing Spanish-language audiences in markets such as Miami, Dallas, and Los Angeles. This effort is being rallied around a significant move this season--champion Formula One driver Juan Montoya, who is leaving that motor sport to try racing on the NASCAR circuit.

NASCAR remains one of the friendliest of sports for marketers--especially with the drivers themselves. For the Daytona 500 telecast, Giangola anticipates there will be 15 commercials that feature NASCAR drivers. He estimates this is much higher than for athletes of other sports, especially during big TV events like the Super Bowl or the World Series.

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