In his own words: NASCAR sharpens winning strategy

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NASCAR's emergence as one of America's premier sports may have taken some by surprise, but its success has been built on developing and nurturing a great product that fans have embraced in growing numbers. That product-thrilling competition-leaves viewers wanting more.

NASCAR has grown in every region of the U.S., perhaps most dramatically through partnerships with NBC, Fox, TNT, FX and Speed Channel that now bring NASCAR to more TV viewers than ever.

Not only does NASCAR sanction the most competitive auto and truck racing, but we are in business with global media and marketing organizations that have found that NASCAR helps drive brands.

NASCAR is the second-highest rated regular season sport on TV. Cumulative Nielsen data indicate weekly tune-in to NASCAR programming averages more than 20 million viewers. Our most passionate fans consume nearly 9 hours of media following NASCAR each week and spend, on average, nearly $700 per year on such NASCAR-related items as clothing and collectibles.

NASCAR has taken hold in the American mainstream. Earlier this year, more than 13 million viewers tuned in each night for NASCAR Week on the syndicated "Wheel of Fortune." Also, has become a top online sports destination, attracting more than 500,000 unique visitors daily.

Live attendance is also impressive: 17 of the 20 highest-attended sporting events in 2001 were NASCAR races.

HUGE loyalty factor

Media and marketers have found that NASCAR helps drive their business. How? By incorporating their brand into the lifestyle of the fan. The loyalty fans feel for sponsors' products is unmatched among professional sports and entertainment properties.

According to a NASCAR brand study conducted by market researcher Ipsos-Reid, there are 40 million hardcore NASCAR fans, many of whom regularly buy NASCAR-related merchandise and products with direct ties to racing, whether it's NAPA automotive parts, Kellogg's cereal or Craftsman tools.

NASCAR sponsors have found distinctive ways to leverage their involvement. Singer George Thorogood urges fans to be "brown to the bone" in one of a series of UPS ads; 175 million NASCAR commemorative bottles flew off retailers' shelves in a Coca-Cola "Racing Family" promotion.

According to Joyce Julius & Associates' Sponsor's Report, NASCAR sponsors received nearly $5 billion in on-air exposure from televised events last year.

Behind it all, the sport has a great family tradition and a heritage dating back more than a half-century. Our drivers, our athletes, are accessible, family-oriented people who really do care about their fans and sponsors.

The fans in turn are loyal. Earlier this month, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series race in Charlotte, N.C., was delayed by severe weather for almost 4 hours. Still, 140,000 fans waited patiently to see a great race won by the 17th different driver this year.

Race week itself offers fans and marketers the opportunity to interact and bond. Fans come from all over, anticipating a full schedule of events that keep them entertained, including driver appearances and sponsor events. They may camp, cook out, tailgate or even network within a suite, but the entire time they are at the track, they interact with the brands within the sport. Product giveaways, interactive exhibits, sampling, displays, sweepstakes, even health screenings add value for a fan's experience at the track. These experiences begin to build a lifelong relationship with a consumer.

There is an inseparable link between sponsorship and competition that our fans understand and embrace. Drivers Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. win because of their talent, and our fans know that support from Du Pont Co. and Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser is part of the package.

The fans' experience goes even deeper.

We keep expanding the reach of the sport by embracing and utilizing cutting edge technology and contemporary platforms.

This year we launched "NASCAR in Car" on the In Demand digital cable service; it puts viewers into the driver's seat and director's chair to experience the competition. The package features six dedicated channels of live in-car camera coverage, and real-time, animated dashboards with car performance data and live team audio. This technology soon will feed live timing and scoring and GPS data into videogames that will place our fans in real-time race simulation.

We see tremendous opportunities for corporate sponsors that keep their focus on effectively activating their involvement in the sport. Winning on Sunday may help sell on Monday, but leveraging sponsorships-with drivers, teams, tracks and the sport itself-is what moves the needle, be it market share, growth or any other key measure.

Mr. Pyne is senior VP for NASCAR, where he has all day-to-day operational responsibilities. He has been instrumental in building marketing partnerships with such global brands as Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Nabisco, UPS, Visa, Electronic Arts and Mattel. An Advertising Age Marketing 100 honoree in 1998, he also has expanded cross-licensing and marketing agreements between NASCAR and drivers, teams and tracks.

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