An Interview With Sarah Nettinga of Nascar Digital Entertainment

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Who: Sarah Nettinga, director of film, TV and music entertainment, Nascar Digital Entertainment.

Why you need to know her: Ms. Nettinga oversees Nascar’s entertainment efforts, through the racing league’s 5-year-old branded entertainment arm, developing original film and TV concepts, as well as music-driven deals as a way for Nascar to grow its fan base through pop culture.

Sarah Nettinga, who oversees Nascar's entertainment efforts, said her company is working on a full-length feature movie to be produced through Britney Spears’ production company.

Credentials: Ms. Nettinga has spent the last 15 years as a programming or production executive at major TV studios such as Columbia TriStar Television, Sony and Warner Bros., or working in marketing or sales for TV stations including CBS, Petry and Westinghouse Broadcasting.

What is Nascar's strategy when it comes to branded entertainment? “Our strategy in the entertainment group of Nascar is to bring Nascar to mainstream entertainment pop culture. We do that with a multifaceted approach that includes the development of television and film properties specific to Nascar, product placement inside non-Nascar specific programs or films, celebrity and music tie-ins, branded integration and other cross-promotions with film, television or music properties.”

What types of entertainment projects has Nascar appeared in and what will we see coming up? In August, Columbia Pictures will release the first comedy surrounding the world of Nascar, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” starring Will Ferrell. Last fall, the league tied in with Walt Disney Pictures’ Nascar-themed plot of “Herbie: Fully Loaded.” The racing league has also produced specials for cable networks FX, TNT, Animal Planet, Discovery Networks, Outdoor Life Network and MTV Networks, as well as the IMAX film “Nascar 3D: The IMAX Experience,” and the FX series “Nascar Drivers: 360,” which goes behind the scenes of the lives of 10 drivers. Additionally, it partnered with King World and Columbia TriStar Television to produce two seasons of “Wheel of Fortune's” Nascar Week and the debut of Nascar Week on “Pyramid,” and with Tribune Entertainment for a Nascar-themed “Family Feud” week. “We also focus on bringing celebrity talent to sing the national anthem and appear in other official capacities at Nascar events. A wide variety of talent, from personalities such as Carmen Electra, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tony Hawk to musicians such as Sheryl Crow, Lenny Kravitz and LeAnn Rimes have surfaced as Nascar fans as a result.” Upcoming projects include “Nascar Outdoors” for Outdoor Life Network, as well as a full-length feature to be produced through Britney Spears’ production company.

What types of projects is Nascar looking for? What appeals to the league? “We look for projects that authentically represent the sport without ‘Hollywood-ing’ it, but instead highlight everything that is great about Nascar. Also, we want to work on projects that are represented or developed by A-list producers in their given category. If an A-list producer pitches a project that celebrates the sport and provides the Nascar fan and the non-Nascar fan an opportunity to get closer to the sport, then there is a good possibility that we will be interested.”

There's been a heavy focus on reality fare over the years. Are you also interested in scripted projects? Why or why not? “As it regards motion pictures, we have done two scripted projects. On television we are developing multiple scripted programs such as a movie of the week that’s in development at a network and a television series that we are pitching soon. Scripted shows, no matter what the subject matter, can be tougher to get a greenlight on, so we hope that our efforts over the last five years will be fruitful.”

What would a dream project be for Nascar? “We have been lucky to work with a variety of great producers and have had our projects well received inside and outside of the Nascar community, so it feels like we having been living with dream projects for the past five years.”

Nascar has been increasing its efforts in Hollywood lately. Why? What can entertainment do for Nascar? “Nascar has had a focus on the entertainment business for a variety of
reasons. First, our fans can't seem to get enough of Nascar or its drivers. That's one of the reasons Nascar is the No. 2-rated regular-season sport on television. Nascar's 75 million fans are starving for more insider information. Second is our strategy for attracting new fans. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami thrive and live on media outlets and one of our largest opportunities to grow Nascar exists in those markets. So it is natural that we would want to be where the people of those major cities get their information —- through entertainment television programs, films, music and celebrity tie-ins.”

There is still some confusion out there as to what exactly branded entertainment is. How do you define it? “It depends who you are speaking with. Each brand seems to define it in a
manner that fits their goals. Nascar is a sports entertainment property that also happens to have the most corporate involvement of any sport. Nascar is simply not Nascar without brands or sponsors all over the car, the track, the uniforms -— sponsors are woven throughout the fabric of the sport, so we don't have a tough time with the concept of a branded entertainment product. We are lucky that we have the perfect form of branded entertainment that is clearly defined as entertainment that showcases brands. But brands never get in the way of the primary product —- our unique brand of close, competitive, side-by-side racing.”

How do you measure success? “Fans and non-fans alike watching and enjoying the movies and television shows that we are able to put together.”

What things still have to happen to make brokering branded entertainment deals easier? “We haven't had a great deal of trouble brokering entertainment deals, but that may be because Nascar has national appeal and is growing, has humble athletes who people can relate to and offers a brand that is entertaining. Sports and entertainment have really converged and they
co-exist quite well together. For consumer goods companies seeking branded entertainment deals it will take the creatives -— the producers —- understanding the value of working with a brand from a marketing/media perspective to absorb the brand’s input without feeling threatened. And on the brand side of the business, they have to demonstrate to the producer/creatives that they respect the creative abilities of the filmmakers or television producer. If both of these things happen on each side, then you can have a successful collaboration.”

What's the most valuable lesson you've learned? “Never say never. When someone says that something cannot be done in business because it has not been done before, you should absolutely do it if you believe strongly in it.”

What interested you in working for Nascar and getting the league into entertainment? “The opportunity to tell the Nascar story through entertainment programs and the challenge of establishing a relationship between Nascar and Hollywood that today seems so natural that people forget that we have only had the L.A. office working on this entertainment initiative for the last five years.”

Are you a racing fan? Who's your favorite driver? “Today, I am a Nascar fan. And, in truth, it comes from the connection I've felt to many of the drivers and the overall involvement in the sport that I've had. I would not be able to name one favorite driver, because they are all great.”

What's on your TiVo? “Besides just about everything Speed Channel airs that is racing related -- thanks to my husband -- ‘Two and Half Men,’ ‘Desperate Housewives,’ ‘Nip/Tuck,’ ‘Entourage,’ ‘The Office,’ ‘CSI,’ ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Scrubs,’ ‘Malcolm in the Middle,’ ‘The Sopranos’ will be again soon, ‘The NBC Nightly News’ (I'm never home to see it otherwise), ‘American Idol,’ ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ (I like the old episodes), ‘Beauty and the Geek,’ ‘The Amazing Race’ -— I'm sure you are getting the picture. Just about everything is on my TiVo.”

What's on your iPod? “The list is long but here are the highlights: Eminem, Fall Out Boy, Yellowcard, The Killers, Black Eyed Peas, U2, Rolling Stones, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson, Madonna, Britney Spears, 3 Doors Down, Maroon 5, Mariah Carey, Nirvana, Pink, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Nickelback, No Doubt and Everclear.”

What do you do on you downtime? “Go to the wine country with my husband or spend time at home with my husband and dog, Kingsley, my 13-year-old Weimaraner.
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