In the 2000 action-adventure Gladiator, Proximo tells Maximus that a great gladiator is one who wins the crowd and, by doing so, will also win his freedom. I have found Proximo’s advice to be spot on throughout my career in sponsorship at NASCAR. One needs to focus on the consumer and the fan first to win in sports business.
In ancient Rome, winning the crowd was done in the arena. But in today’s world of entertainment, winning the crowd means winning the crowd in the arena, plus the crowd watching on television, plus the crowd engaging on mobile, plus the crowd on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat etc, plus the crowd wearing a virtual reality headset, plus the crowd streaming via OTT, plus the crowd sending GIFs…you get the idea. The new buzzword to describe this phenomenon is omni-channel marketing.
Omni-channel marketing is much more than just a buzzword for cross-channel marketing with finesse. It is about delivering a true, consistent, and continuous experience across all channels and devices. Put simply, it means delivering the right content to the right audience with the right message on the right platform at the right time. The onus is on properties and brands alike to meet the crowds on the channels they are choosing to consume.
Omni-Channel Marketing and Sports
When it comes to live sports, property rights holders must take an omni-channel approach to maximize viewership and value for their sponsor partners. We face that challenge every single day at NASCAR and work extremely hard to provide our sponsor partners with fully integrated solutions.
In the past, NASCAR had been perceived as highly conventional when it came to sponsorship; we used to place the logo of our sponsor partner on the car, the driver, the pit crew, and the television broadcast, but the integration ended there. However, as the media and league landscapes have changed, so too has NASCAR in delivering meaningful ways for sponsors to reach and connect with fans.
Today, sponsors seek partners that provide creative ideas that leverage their brand’s thematic and key attributes. Sponsors still want logos in relevant places, but the main value in a sponsorship is in offering immersive and additive experiences to fans.
Digital and social media have been huge focal points for NASCAR when it comes to incorporating our sponsor partners and offering fans increasingly important immersive and additive experiences. Providing fans with a consistent stream of engaging content and behind-the-scenes access has enabled our partners to authentically and effectively interact with our fans. Furthermore, these interactions and engagements drive real return. Per Wasserman’s Social Media Scoreboard panel study of 10,000 sports fans, 18 percent of NASCAR fans have purchased a product or a service from a sponsor as a direct result of a social media post. Furthermore, NASCAR fans purchase at a higher rate than the NFL (14%), NHL (14%), NBA (13%) and MLB (11%). This adds up to real revenue for our brand partners.
Maximizing Sponsorship with Digital and Social Media
Brands focusing on digital and social media activation around their NASCAR sponsorship enjoy equally large volumes of active fans who engage with them as part of the NASCAR experience. Sunoco, for example, would likely have far fewer Sunoco Racing Facebook fans than its current 1.7 million without the extensive content opportunities NASCAR generates. Sunoco Racing’s engagements are highest during NASCAR events, thereby providing insight into the strong connection fans make between Sunoco and the sport they love.
Driven by Data
Our data-driven approach at NASCAR, which is boosted by a dedicated Analytics & Insights department, has enabled us to hone in on our commitment to content and storytelling so that we can provide our fans (i.e. ‘the crowd’) with a constant calendar of new experiences. World class brands tell captivating stories in their marketing programs, and properties should as well because people connect to narratives.
We know that fans in the crowd interact with the various platforms for different reasons. It follows that a single piece of sponsored content or a certain experience should not necessarily be used across all channels.
No longer can we take a one-size-fits-all approach for the masses; instead, we need to focus more on a singularly customized experience that comes in a wealth of unique ways. The increasingly fragmented landscape is difficult to navigate and can quickly drain resources. However, when it is done right, it can have a major positive impact on business objectives.
On race day, NASCAR has its own ‘command center’ for live digital coverage like that of a live TV production. Between our live video race coverage and competition coverage across all three national series, we cover more than 100 live events per year. No other sport comes close to NASCAR in garnering such a dependable and durable audience for 10 months a year, and our fans have an insatiable appetite for content.
Sponsors still want logos in relevant places, but the main value in a sponsorship is in offering immersive and additive experiences to fans.
Norris Scott. Vice President of Analytics & Insights at NASCAR
Just by the nature of our sport, we capture amazing content, and we are committed to delivering that content in fun, innovative, and unique ways, straight to our fans. NASCAR has the most success when we behave like the crowd on each platform in an authentic manner, and with better and more engaging, more valuable content. Otherwise, we risk being intrusive and causing frustration among the crowd rather than engaging the crowd. The ultimate victory is to convert them into advocates.
Critical to our success has been the ability to annually track the billions of engagements from fans and sponsors in the entire NASCAR ecosystem. The NASCAR Fan and Media Engagement Center (FMEC) is a state-of-the-art social listening and analytics platform that allows NASCAR to analyze the extensive social media conversation around the sport. The system ingests content from more than 700 social media accounts and more than 3,000 keywords related to the sport of NASCAR in real-time, enabling the sanctioning body to track and measure trends in the social space as well as provide business-impacting insights to NASCAR stakeholders.
To win the crowd, our investment in omni-channel marketing has resulted in record levels of fan engagement and success for our Official Partners. According to brand affinity scores from Nielsen Social, 87 percent of people who tweet about NASCAR also tweet about brands. This is nearly 20 percent more than all people who tweet about TV.
With this in mind, the results Mars Inc. has experienced in the sport offer great insight into the loyalty of NASCAR fans to sponsors in the sport. Mars generates substantial returns for its M&M’s brand through a fully-integrated NASCAR platform. To date, using its M&M’s characters for image building and promotional activation across channels, Mars has garnered millions in media impressions and strong brand loyalty over similar products not activated with NASCAR.
NASCAR aims to integrate all sponsors throughout our omni-channel marketing executions. Rather than being shoehorned into available advertising signage, NASCAR takes the time to understand the needs of its sponsors and ensures that a sponsorship will enhance our already successful sport. With each sponsorship opportunity, the ‘win-win’ is for NASCAR to determine: how the potential sponsor will benefit the NASCAR fan experience and how the potential sponsor will benefit from the NASCAR sponsorship.
Authenticity is paramount to an effective omni-channel strategy. Those who are most successful have learned how to be authentic to the sport, authentic to the fan, authentic to the channel, and authentic to the brand partner. To become truly successful in leveraging NASCAR to achieve business objectives, it is important that a sponsor has something meaningful to contribute to the sport and the fans. The uniqueness comes from marrying the power of the fans with the value of the sponsors.
While omni-channel marketing and sponsorship activation are the strategy kings of today, NASCAR is constantly looking for what is next. I will always keep in mind Proximo’s advice as we continue to innovate and invest in new technology to grow our sport, elevate fan experiences, and increase the return on investment for our Official Sponsor Partners.
If Proximo were here today, he would probably tell you:
Sponsorship and Marketing Gladiators, I salute you! Listen to me. Tweet at me. Send me a Snap. Learn from me. Make the crowd love you wherever they may be. Win the crowd and you will win with your partners — together!
Norris Scott serves as as the Vice President of Analytics & Insights at NASCAR, a newly created division focused on the measurement and analytics of data across broad and varied verticals. A twelve-year veteran of NASCAR, Scott first fell in love with auto racing at the 1985 Indy 500. Marketing gladiators can connect with him here or here.