Monday, December 29, 2014

NASCAR fights are bad for sport

I finished watching the NASCAR race at Texas. The race was over and driver interviews were about to commence. But before we could get to the canned comments, a fight broke out.
This melee was a bit more aggressive than most. One driver confronted another over driving tactics. Then a third driver pushed on of those drivers into the other, which started a chain reaction fisticuffs. What was interesting is that first drivers, then crew members related to those two drivers, and then even individuals with unrelated sponsor ID's dropped a few hay-makers. Good grief, the female doing ESPN commentary almost got hit.
The driver who instigated the fight represents a charitable organization. He was sure to get his logo- embroidered cap on during the post fight interview. When a potential donor is making a gift decision, does hand to hand combat create a positive affect? The other driver reps a beer company. He was the non-aggressor who stated he was at the track to race, not fight. Passivity and a 12 pack? Maybe that's the better route.
I have some fresh survey data (N = 495) on NASCAR fans and it's evident fights and car wrecks hold a strong correlation. But among the sport, and its sponsors, I'd suggest that fights are playing to the current audience...and that audience is getting diminished by the season. One only has to check out the camera shots from this past weekend's event to note the shocking array of empty seats. Pretty much the entire back stretch, and a good portion of the turn four stands, were empty.
So if it's not working, how do you fix it? I don't think fights propagate the new audience desired. NASCAR's "Boys, have at it" mantra doesn't show well for the interests and motivators of future fans.
Sure, I know that fights on Sunday = TV ratings increase on Monday. But that's short term success. I'd like to spend time and learn more about millennial consumers and how to attract them to a man (and select women) and machines. We're no longer the mechanized society we used to be, as least as it relates to hands-on hot rods and the desire for speed.
Maybe a punch in the mouth isn't what's best. Maybe those empty stands aren't about the driver I saw on TV with a bloody lip. More analysis is needed to attract what has become a marginally engaged, low consumption "fan" who holds a peripheral interest in the sport.
I have a new psychological model for the low consumption NASCAR fan. Maybe my research, and that of other applied scholars, can find new messaging trends that resonate and help create a new attraction for the sport.
I have a bit of skin in the game. I was Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s PR rep for the Wrangler Brand in 1986 and 1987. My vision comes from a salient era and I'd like to see NASCAR sizzle like it did in the past. It can only get better and I'd like to help.

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