By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
February 22, 2013
On Sunday, the American viewing public will have available to it an almost unimaginably wide spectrum of entertainment, offering choices that should appeal to almost every household and delight sponsors and television rights holders alike.
In this corner, starting at 1:00 p.m. Eastern is the Daytona 500, the kickoff extravaganza of the long NASCAR season that is otherwise known as America’s Race. Daytona Beach has long been the place where new NASCAR stars are anointed, and the stage-setter for the season’s team and driver storylines and new business initiatives.
Last year’s Daytona 500 was the second-highest rated such event of all time, averaging 14 million viewers. With America’s first lady of racing, Danica Patrick, winning the Daytona 500 pole—a first for a woman—viewers tuning in to this year’s race on FOX look to lap that record.
In the opposite corner, coming live at dinnertime from Hollywood, is the 85th annual Academy Awards, otherwise known as the Oscars, representing the pinnacle of achievement for the motion picture industry and the place where America’s Sweethearts from Gloria Swanson to Katharine Hepburn and Meryl Streep have been crowned.
But in 2012, both the stock car racing and motion picture industries, as polar opposite as they may be, face the same challenge: the disintegration of the viewing audience, who increasingly want to consume their entertainment content in the comfort of their own homes, and/or on multiple, mobile screens.
To combat this dilemma, both NASCAR and the Oscars are first addressing not the devices but the content itself and improving the in-person experience, as both entities are introducing a “next generation” of product designed to keep more viewers engaged in real time.
In Daytona, NASCAR Chairman Brian France is hopeful that Patrick on the pole and the circuit’s newly unveiled “Gen-6” cars will help stem NASCAR’s plunging TV ratings, ticket sales, and sponsor exodus over the last few years. While some of the decline can be directly attributed to the challenging economy, NASCAR’s vaunted “Car of Tomorrow” failed to catch on with fans, and was deemed to have maneuvered too far from the sport’s roots.
The new Gen-6 designs are based more closely on the Ford, Chevy, and Toyota sedans NASCAR fans likely have parked in their own garages, and sport wider bumpers and more aerodynamic chassis that should encourage tighter competition around racetracks’ banked turns and more passing, which tends to ignite the fans.
France also notes that 114 Fortune 500 companies now back NASCAR, more than in 2008 when the economy went south. Yet, Procter & Gamble brands Gillette, Head & Shoulders, and Old Spice dropped their official NASCAR sponsorship in advance of the 2013 season. The decision to drop their sponsorship ends Gillette’s ten-year tenure as NASCAR’s official shaving product. In addition to the P&G brands, NASCAR has also lost deals with DirecTV, Office Depot, and Featherlite Coaches since last year.
But then there’s Patrick, and the young generation of her driver peers, such as outspoken defending Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keslowski and fan favorite Jimmie Johnson, set to assume the mantles of the aging Jeff Gordons and Dale Earnhart, Jrs. in the garages.
Patrick’s ten Sprint Cup series starts in 2012 earned her over $1 million in prize money, which pales in comparison to the reportedly $12 million she earns off-track through appearances and endorsement deals with Coke Zero, Hot Wheels, and Go Daddy (and its risqué Super Bowl ads). The folks at Marketing Evaluations, Inc., producers of Q Scores, claim Patrick is the second most marketable athlete to moms and dads, trailing only quarterback Peyton Manning. If she wins the Daytona 500, the unprecedented amount of media coverage she is likely to receive, notes FOX analyst and NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip in USA Today, “would change this sport forever, take it to another level—I promise you.”
Patrick appears to be as comfortable is stilettos as she is in her racing suit, and undoubtedly, executives at ABC would be delighted if somehow she could teleport directly from Daytona to the Kodak Theater stage alongside first-time host Seth McFarlane. While the edgy McFarlane, best known for his raunchy animated series Family Guy, is the kind of “next generation” host Oscars organizers are hoping will keep viewers tuned to ABC, the motion picture industry is also turning to high-end movie theater chains such as Arc Light and Cinepolis—complete with leather recliners, in-seat food service, and cocktails—to entice consumers to get off their own couches and return to the Cineplex.
NASCAR is also employing this tactic. Speedway Motorsports is creating a high-end ticket package that gives buyers a premium experience at the 13 NASCAR race weekends at the company’s eight tracks. The “Chairman’s Club,” which sells for $10,000, provides access to suites, garage tours, pit access, and Victory Lane.
The Chairman’s Club package is a unique way to generate revenue from wealthy, avid NASCAR fans. Assuming SMI is able to sell all 100 packages, that represents $1 million in found revenue for the company. Because the cost to provide Pit Row and Victory Lane access is…nothing.