They’re elusive. They’re different. Take it from someone with two teenagers in the house: times have changed. The recent announcement that Monster Energy would become the entitlement sponsor for NASCAR’s “premier” racing series has sparked quite the discussion about the sport reaching the youth market. Make no mistake the auto racing body and the drink maker joining forces is no accident. If the reported numbers of what this is costing Monster is anywhere near accurate, they’re getting quite a bargain. Meanwhile, NASCAR makes a move towards re-shaping its image, and broadening its appeal.
It won’t be easy. Why? The decline of NASCAR’s popularity and the indifference by the youth market has many causes.
THE VANISHING MOTORHEAD
All you 50-somethings know what I’m talking about- high school parking lots in days of yore were filled with muscle cars. Driving a Camaro, a Trans Am, a Mustang or GTO was a badge of coolness. While yours truly didn’t possess much mechanical inclination, I can recall all the hours my buddies spent with a socket wrench in one hand and a new spark plug in the other. Simonez and Son of a Gun were necessary tools to make sure the ride looked the part. Saturday nights were prime time for showing it off and putting the powerhouse to the test.
That ship set sail a long time ago. The automobile of today is a computer on wheels. The technician working on your car today has a bit more in common with Bill Gates than they do Smokey Yunick. Car repairs isn’t kid’s stuff. The love is gone. What few motorheads there are now are either the offspring of racing types or they’re tooling around in trucks. Some Millennials are waiting until their 20s to get their licenses!
THE “GREEN” MOVEMENT
“Racing? What a waste of gas. It contributes to climate change!” You can’t tell me you haven’t heard that one before. Regardless of what you believe concerning conservation, there’s more than a few young folks who see racing in about the same light as tire burning. Right or wrong, there are those who perceive racing as an environmental and health hazard.
DWINDLING ATTENTION SPANS
Having worked in the media, I can tell you much time is devoted to capturing the youth market. Now, more challenging than ever, is capturing and keeping their attention. Check carefully the next time you watch a commercial how many images flash before your eyes in 30 seconds. It’s not a coincidence.
We are all too familiar with the length of NASCAR races, and the substantial stretches of quiet between highlights. Some of it is the track. Some of it is because auto racing was once considered as much a test of automotive endurance as it was pure speed. Four hours for watching a race? Forget about it! It’s easier to catch the highlights on Sports Center.
“RACING’S FOR REDNECKS”
No matter how many Californians there are in the racing field, NASCAR’s redneck image isn’t going away easy. There remains a widely held perception of the NASCAR fan as hillbilly hayseed. In some corners of the country, that plays well. The problem now is that NASCAR has driven off its traditional fan base in pursuit of yuppies and hispters, and so they lose at both ends.
I know it sounds “PC,” but one positive step is the “Drive For Diversity” program. It may seem a bit contrived, but the effort is worthless, if for no other reason than it helps NASCAR break away from the perception that racing is for the exclusive enjoyment of one set of people.
Sage scribe Monte Dutton said it well last week when he said that to get new fans, you’ve got to get the youth market to the track. Racing is made more the up close and personal experience, not made for TV. When you’re at the track, you get the speed, the noise, the sense of community that the fans have. You have the opportunity to develop a sense of connection with the participants.
How many times have a you heard a celebrity come away from their first taste of a NASCAR race with a sense of shock and awe. Get a prospective fan to the track, and you may get them hooked- young or old.
Don’t get me wrong, Monster Energy may well infuse some edgier, youthful energy into the sport from a branding point of view. It’s a good step, but it can’t be the only one.