"We have changed the mindset on our end. We have gotten a lot more aggressive and been more proactive in determining what happens in the business instead of reacting to outside forces, like the economy, that are coming in, and it is paying off in some pretty big ways for us," says Blake Davidson, managing director, licensed product.
The business of NASCAR licensing was run independently, much like the sport itself—individual deals were struck separately for product and promotion with the NASCAR organization, individual teams and drivers. Now the sport is working through the details of a deal that will have all the groups working together in a collective approach.
"We would do deals with many of the same companies, but they were always separate agreements. There was no cohesive, comprehensive strategy, so the teams and drivers and NASCAR have
Under the old system, retailers and licensees could be frustrated by having to contend with a variety of different approval processes and independent voices within the sport. Under the new system, there will be one entity doing deals for the industry, which will hopefully maximize what licensees can do with product and make product more accessible.
NASCAR is finessing the legal and structural elements of the new entity and is already laying out the directions and strategies it will implement under the new system. The effects of the new system will start to emerge later this year, with the biggest impact felt in 2011.
Another big initiative for NASCAR is hitting much sooner. On May 11, NASCAR opens its 150,000-square-foot hall of fame in Charlotte, N.C., with a host of events and festivities and a ceremony on May 23 to usher in the first class of inductees into the Hall of Fame that includes Richard Petty and Junior Johnson. Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr. and Dale Earnhardt will be posthumously honored.
The hall of fame is designed to appeal to a wide demographic, from the most hard-core fans to people who have never been to a race and come out of curiosity. "It's an entertainment attraction as much as it is a hall of fame and museum," says Davidson.
The organization spent a lot of time looking at other facilities, not just sports facilities, when it came to the design of the hall of fame and went the extra mile to develop a customized interactive experience and exhibit design.
Visitors to the hall of fame will receive a ticket or "hard card" upon entry and can select a driver "host" to take them through the exhibits and interactive kiosks throughout the facility. Content can be loaded on to the hard card that visitors can take home and plug into their computer.
Technology is a big part of the experience. Using green screen technology, drivers are incorporated into the exhibit, as are
simulators, the most sophisticated simulators to date, according to Davidson.
Images of real tracks were digitized so that racers experience even the smallest quarter inch dip in a track.
In conjunction with the simulator, NASCAR created the NASCAR
Series, where "civilians" can compete like professional drivers. It's a year-long competition, and the winner will be a champion like any other NASCAR driver. Ten different countries are represented on the top performers list. There are currently 20,000 subscribers signed on—an annual subscription fee is $8 a month.
"It is going to help us grow the sport internationally, which is a big part of what we are trying to do," says Davidson.
There will be a 6,000-square-foot retail store in the hall of fame with merchandise from 15 to 20 hall of fame licensees, as well as licensees that make core product for the sport.
On May 13, NASCAR unveils branded NASCAR RV Resorts in eight states, including New Jersey, New York, Maine, Wisconsin and Florida.
"I think this will have a big impact on the business and will really grow the fan base, which is important," says Davidson.
NASCAR is working with Morgan, the largest privately held campground/RV resort business. Morgan converted existing sites to the NASCAR brand and is eventually looking to franchise out grounds with the goal of reaching 500 NASCAR-branded sites over 10 years.
"We really cover the entire camping season and can do a lot around our events week in and week out by bringing in tailgating, and we can pipe in content and make that experience second only to being at a live event," says Davidson. NASCAR is also looking at a number of branded outdoor-related extensions such as gear, tents, outdoor furniture, coolers and more.
NASCAR's tune-up to its business also involves extending product categories as well, particularly the toy and interactive business. K'nex is on board for building sets with two SKUs at retail in May, and 15 more are planned for fall. Jada has five different assortments for RC vehicles recently rolled out in mass.
"There will be more deals in toys—it's a big opportunity especially under the new business model," says Davidson.
Danica Patrick made a big splash on the merchandise front. Her product was one of the five top selling drivers when she was participating in the sport. She will return to NASCAR in late June.
On the video game front, Sony is coming out with Gran Turismo 5 in the second half of the year, which features NASCAR content, cars and tracks for the first time. "As part of a new video game strategy to be associated with a franchise as big as Gran Turismo is a great way to expose the sport and reach out to an entirely new demographic," says Davidson. NASCAR will be unveiling more gaming partnerships April/May 2010. "We are taking a lot of time and energy to reinvent that space for us," he adds.
With a host of strong initiatives under its belt, NASCAR is optimistic about the months ahead.
"We are seeing some positive signs out there whether it's a stabilization of attendance or TV ratings, and we are having good discussions at retail. We have undergone this transition as a sport, bringing on new partners and looking at the business differently, and what I am very happy with is that retailers are saying that they are encouraged by the direction we are headed in overall and what that could mean for the business," says Davidson.
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