NASCAR 2012…. by the numbers!

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

# of races: 36

# of drivers who started all 36 races: 26

# of drivers who started at least 1 race: 74

NASCAR Nationwide Series

# of races: 33

# of drivers who started all 33 races: 13**

# of drivers who started at least 1 race: 143 (one hundred and forty three – spelled out to illustrate that this is not a typo)

** Of the drivers who started all 33 races, Danica finished ahead of only Mike Wallace, Jason Bowles and Jeremy Clements. Assuming that their equipment, plus their financial and human resources were all identical…. well, draw your own conclusions. I am only presenting the numbers. It is also a statistical fact that Danica finished ahead of more than 130 drivers in 2012.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

# of races: 22

# of drivers who started all 22 races: 17

# of drivers who started at least 1 race: 104

Butts in seats: less than last year

Eyeballs watching on the TV: less than last year

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Professional Sports Social Media Score Card

These stats – which change by the second – were current at the moment that I looked them up. That was throughout the day on July 11, 2012. The impetus for this was simple; I wondered how IndyCar stacked up against other major sports properties with Facebook and Twitter. It is interesting to me that the ‘scores’ reflect, in my opinion, a combination of corporate strategy, the popularity of the sport, and the engagement by the sports’ most popular athletes. The order is for the most part different from Facebook to Twitter – except for the current Champ with both… the NBA.

So…. what does it all mean? To fans? To corporate sponsors? To the media?

What do you think?

The Quest for the “Holy Tenth”

The following blog story may have references that resemble the real-life circumstances of my actual friends and acquaintances…. which is unfortunate.

“Looking forward to coaching today” popped up on my Twitter feed. The tweet was from a young American stud of a race driver who has an incredible racing resume. A young unemployed race driver, except for the occasional coaching and OEM ride and drive gigs. What really struck me about this was that another young up and coming go-karter had sought out professional coaching to gain that elusive 1/10th of a second – that “holy tenth” – even though the coach himself had not turned that elusive holy tenth into a viable racing career. To me, this would be akin to a medical student paying for tutoring from a former medical student who ultimately was not cleared to practice medicine.

Yes, that elusive 1/10th of a second…. that “holy tenth”.

The feeling was – and still is – that this holy tenth will lead to race wins, Championships and of course; sponsors; funding; corporate backing; partners… moolah!

So…. as young drivers are coming through karting and into open-wheel cars or sedans on their ascent up the ladder, their ‘team’ will spend thousands in search of the holy tenth. Many before them – and perhaps even their $500 a day driving coach – have actually found the holy tenth, and yet they remain unemployed.

I think owners and team managers get all goofy in search of the holy tenth as well. Invest $50,000 a day for testing – no problem! Invest $3,000 to have your marketing person attend a sponsorship and networking conference? – are you nuts?

Here is a sampling of the types of things that team owners, managers, drivers, parents and other supporters have always been able to justify spending money on;

  • testing
  • new tires
  • a better engine
  • a new race car
  • testing
  • data acquisition
  • shinier wheels
  • wind tunnel testing
  • 7-post rig time
  • a back-up car
  • new driving shoes
  • testing
  • a new 4-storey, 3 bed, 2 bath condominium for your pit box
  • a new website
  • CFD simulation
  • testing
  • driving coach(s)
  • fitness coach(s)
  • nutrition coach(s)
  • psychological coach(s)
  • motor coach(s)
  • testing
  • new helmet(s)
  • smaller, lighter, more reflective mirrors
  • a bigger transporter
  • new radios
  • iPads of course – w/carbon fiber covers
  • and did I mention testing?
Maybe I can find the holy tenth during green-flag pit stops by having a crew that does Yoga and eats Oreo cookies.
Marketing coach or new engine?? Marketing coach or new engine?…. No brainer!! You can’t dyno-test a marketing coach…
It doesn’t make sense to reach out to sponsors if I do not have a cool place for us to sign the contract….

These pit side condominiums are critical to success. This photo is actually outdated as the new condos have an elevator and parking; reserved and visitor. This team no longer exists because they lost their sponsors. Was it because of the holy tenth?

Some drivers even hire a “manager”. This “manager” will make sure that all of the team owners know if and when their driver finds the holy tenth. And then of course, their “manager” will negotiate the contract, commission the press release and hit up eBay’s “Private Jets” section…. right after they submit their monthly retainer invoice.

Now, I certainly understand that there are parts of “the job” that are undesirable. Some racers do not like to work out. Others could care less about interacting with the media. These mandated autograph sessions must really be bothersome to others. But to even consider that a young driver should become a student of marketing?? That… is…. ludicrous. Sidney Crosby and Tim Tebow didn’t need to do no marketing….

Think about it this way…. Let’s take two 14-year old racers – who are equal in every way, on and off the track – and have one of them mentored by a team of driver coaches, and have the other one mentored by a by a team of driver coaches PLUS a marketing coach. In the long run, which driver will be in a position to a have a sustainable career – as a racing driver – in motorsports? (If you answered…. “the one who found the holy tenth” – stop reading…. right now please…. no, really)

Hey, it sucks that talent is not the determining factor in racing today. But, until the organizing bodies figure out a way to create value-based sports properties instead of these cost-based ones, that’s the way it is.

As for securing sponsors, ten or 15 years ago, it was really more of a sales function. You were packaging your audience as an exposure play and just had to sell it. Today, if you want to play the exposure game, you’re done. In today’s search for sponsorship, you need to understand marketing – not sales. It’s a big shift, and it’s complicated.

A clear indication that someone has found the holy tenth… look at all of those sponsors!

Throughout my time in racing, I haven’t been shy about telling young drivers and their parents that they need to understand, and invest in, marketing. I can say without exaggeration that my message was offered to hundreds of drivers. Very, very few paid any attention.

“The holy tenth will set me free…”

One driver that listened was James Hinchcliffe.  Back in 2005, James, together with his parents took my advice. Imagine the look on all of their faces when I announced that James was going to be the Mayor of his own virtual city. That’s another blog story, for another day; “The strategy and tactics behind the Mayor of Hinchtown”. Stay tuned.

“Of course you can change the speed limit to 300kph in Hinchtown…. you’re the Mayor”

Ultimately you need to become a viable marketing platform that employs racing, as well as many other assets, to sell a company’s products and services. So, yes, the holy tenth is important – there’s no doubt. Testing, fitness and nutrition are all critical to success. And great coaching is mandatory.

But, you must ALSO be a student of marketing.

So…. make sure you get right on that, as soon as you and your driving coach get back from testing.

“Hey boss…. If we buy this $4 gagillion dollar car wax, we might finally locate the holy tenth,” explains team manager person. “Get two goddammit!!”

Canadian Superbike – My Take!

** I originally wrote this on December 14, 2011. I am working on a follow-up blog story to let you know the outcome of this; my take on Canadian Superbike. Any guesses on the feedback that I received? Stay tuned… **

When Parts Canada announced that they were pulling the plug on Canadian Superbike, I have to say, I got pretty excited. I felt that this was finally going to be the impetus needed to change the sport. To me, Parts’ decision was much more impactful than that of an OE, or other sponsor. Think of it as ‘creative destruction’… a process where a shock to the status quo leads to positive change for the future. Clearly, the sport was broken, and I thought… “Finally!!… this is great – here we go.” I immediately reached out to some influentials that I knew and expressed my desire to talk to someone…. anyone. And I got some names, and I tried… but no one seemed to have the energy or enthusiasm that I had, and as time passed, so did my energy and enthusiasm.  The attitude was either indifference, or that “nothing is gonna change”.  If someone would have listened to me…. here is some of the propaganda that I would have spewed…

1) What is the responsibility of the Canadian Superbike Series?

The responsibility of the CSBK series is to generate CONTENT.  This content is to be used as an AUDIENCE AGGREGATOR for its STAKEHOLDERS.

Let’s identify the stakeholders:

– B2B companies that are endemic to the motorcycle industry

– B2C companies that sell motorcycle-centric product to consumers

– Media that is endemic to the motorcycle industry

And…. let’s identify the audience:

– B2B – Decision-makers who manufacture, distribute, sell or buy endemic products

– B2C – Fans/spectators of motorcycle racing (consumers of CSBK-generated content)

– B2C – Consumers of motorcycles and associated products

– B2C – Consumers of non-endemic products and services

And finally… the content providers:

– Team owners

– Professional racers + support staff

– Promoters

– Race tracks

So, to summarize; it is the responsibility of the CSBK series to deliver great content that builds and sustains ‘audience’ which can be monetized and measured. Period. Think about properties that are successful, and you’ll quickly identify they are very good at delivering on the responsibility of being an audience aggregator.

Let me use this in a sentence… “Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment used great content to grow a large, measurable and sustainable audience. This large, measurable and sustainable audience was desirable to all of MLSE’s stakeholders. ALL OF THEM. The content was so effective as an audience aggregator that the two largest distributors of content in Canada, namely Bell and Rogers…. bought it all…. for $1.32 billion.”

Now… let’s talk content.

First, when you think about the NHL, NFL, MLB. MLS.. etc., the game has fundamentally stayed the same since their inception. The size of the playing fields are the same, and for the most part, the rule books have not changed. There have been tweaks to the rules to make the content better for the audience… such as the NHL’s regular-season overtime and shoot-out rules. But in general terms, the content generated by these sports is the same.  They have not changed the content – they changed the experience with the content.

The exact same thing is true with professional motorcycle road racing. The content is the same as it has always been.  In fact, it’s fantastic!

So…. as other pro sports have used their (same) content to create multi-billion dollar enterprises, CSBK, using its (same) content, cannot generate enough audience to justify participation from Kawasaki Canada? (as an example)

The point that I am trying to make here is that you do not have to change the content. Professional motorcycle road racing in Canada has all of the elements in place that are necessary for success. It is already FANTASTIC CONTENT.

So, what has changed with the stick + ball sports? The quick answer is; “everything else”. They have completely changed the stakeholder, audience, customer and fan experiences with their content.

While the CSBK ‘executives’, the tracks, the promoters, the teams and the riders were all out “looking for sponsors”… MLSE was out “looking for value”. Think about that for a moment….

One of the people that I did speak with suggested that what CSBK needed right now was a big non-endemic title sponsor. I don’t disagree that this would be great, but think about it this way; If you run a professional motorcycle racing property, and the motorcycle industry cannot find enough value to participate, how is $$$ from a non-endemic sponsor going to fix anything? You might argue… “Well, Winston did it for Stock Car Racing…” This is an undisputable fact for sure, but this is not 1980…. there is absolutely no way that you can have that conversation because everything has changed. Everything. You continue to argue… “But if Red Bull came in and ‘promoted’ the series, more people would see how fantastic it is, and more people would buy tickets to the races, watch on TV and buy stuff…” Balderdash!!…. Millions and millions and millions of Canadians have been exposed to Superbike Racing in Canada in one form or another and didn’t come back. Exposing the same product, in the same way, to a new group of people will not have the desired effect – that being to attract and retain sustainable audience.

When Mopar was announced as the new title sponsor for CSBK at the Toronto Motorcycle Show, a series official actually said something like: “When companies see that Mopar has come on board, perhaps now they’ll take a look as well.” Take a look at what??? This is like inventing a widget and taking it to market year-after-year with no one buying it. And, instead of modifying the widget, the answer is to show the defunct widget to ‘different’ people. Really?

So, I do not think this is a content issue. Sure, we need more teams and riders, and better teams and riders… but we do not need to change the rule book as it pertains to sporting regulations. Technical regs absolutely need to be modified from time to time to match consumer-driven decisions with OEs, but if the goal is “world-class motorcycle road racing”… everything is in place for that.

So… if I was large and in charge…  here is where I would start…

1)   Admit there is problem. This is the biggest problem…. getting the prideful people in charge to admit that there is, in fact, a problem.

2)   Stakeholder input. Talk to everyone identified as stakeholders above and ask them what they want from the series. They’ll use different words, and descriptions, but their answer will be “audience”. It’s just that the audience to Parts Canada is different than the audience to Honda Canada, which is different to the audience of TSN SportsCentre. Not much… but it is different. Talk to them. Get it defined. Make a plan WITH EACH ONE to capture, sustain and monetize THEIR audience using CSBK content.

3)   Capture, package and deliver the content – differently. This is critical. The content is good – we’ve established that. It stays the same. How it is captured and distributed determines size and scope of measurable and sustainable audience.

4)   Sponsors: STOP looking for sponsors and start looking for value. You need to do an asset audit. When you discover value – sponsors will come. It’s magical.

5)   Audit your human resources: Step #1: Re-read the definition of insanity. Do you really expect the same people who got you into this mess to get you out…. by doing the same ^&$%ing thing??

6)   SWOT analysis. Do you know why major, successful corporations still do SWOT analysis?? Because it works. Capitalize on your strengths. Eliminate your weaknesses. Act on your opportunities. Neutralize your threats.

7)   Write a 10-year Strategic Plan. Realistic. Sustainable. Year-on-year growth in everything measurable. Innovate. Include flexibility to change with your audience.

In conclusion…

1) To those people that are charged with organizing professional motorcycle road racing in Canada, you need to take your responsibility seriously.

2) You need to understand, appreciate and respect your impact on motorcycling in Canada – positive and/or negative and/or indifferent.

3) You need to understand, appreciate and respect your impact on Canadian motorcycle racers – positive and/or negative and/or indifferent – especially those that have the ability go on to World Championships at the highest levels of the sport. (Maybe one day, you’ll be the highest level of the sport)

4) Treat people… and make decisions… and take actions,… that will result in your induction into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame, the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame as well as put you on the front of the sports, business, lifestyle, automotive, motorcycle and technology sections of all of the national media outlets.

5) You need to OVER-DELIVER in everything tangible and non-tangible, in everything measurable and non-measurable… to EVERYONE defined as audience, stakeholder and/or content provider above – with NO exceptions.

6) You must become the envy of sports marketers and content producers world-wide.

All it takes is the right people doing the right things. Simple.

Good luck

My Weekend with Hendrick Motorsports

Being involved in auto racing for over 20 years gave me opportunities and experiences that I could have never imagined possible.

One of the most incredible experiences happened in the fall of 2004 – courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports.

In early 2004, I had joined Formula BMW USA and had taken on overall series responsibility. Soon after the series was announced, Tom Purves, who at the time was Chairman & CEO of BMW North America, called his friend – one of the most successful BMW dealers in the USA – Rick Hendrick and asked him to participate in this new series. I am not privy to the conversation(s), but when the series debuted at Lime Rock Park in the spring of ’04, there was one open-wheel Formula BMW race car on the grid owned by NASCAR icon – Rick Hendrick. Mr. Hendrick didn’t own the team that operated the car, he just owned the car and was listed as the car owner. The driver of the car was Brian Frisselle (who now competes in Grand-Am in a Daytona Prototype), the sponsor on the side of the car was Lowe’s, and the car number was 48.

My contact at the Hendrick Motorsports was Christian Smith who is Mr. Hendrick’s right hand man.

As the season went on, I would send results, pictures, media coverage and other info to Christian and we would talk from time to time about how the series was doing. Through Christian, we arranged to have representatives from Lowe’s at the Elkhart Lake event, where we showed them the marketing assets available through our series, and the series that we supported.

Sometime in the summer of 2004, Christian contacted me and invited me to be the team’s guest at any NASCAR Sprint Cup race on the schedule that I wanted to attend, as a ‘thank you’ of sorts for their experience with our series. I selected the October Charlotte race.

I flew into Charlotte on Thursday night of the race week. The Busch race was Friday night, and the Cup race was Saturday night. Christian was to pick me up at my hotel on Friday morning, which he did, and we headed for the race shop.

Christian took me on an extensive tour of the Hendrick Motorsports compound which included the engine and fab shops, the shops for the Cup teams and the Hendrick Museum. At the time, the 24 & 48 teams were in the same shop and we did get the chance to chat with Jeff Gordon as we went through. Chad Knaus also took time to say hello and express his delight with his brand new BMW.

As we went through the Museum, there was an area that was completely blocked off. Brian Vickers was doing a television commercial and promos for GMAC – one of his sponsors at the time.

This tour took the better part of the day and we ended up back at the administration offices. Our schedule now was that we were going to meet with Mr. Hendrick and then go with him over to the track to watch the Busch race.

After a nice conversation with Mr. Hendrick in his office, he said “Alright… let’s go”, and those three words set off a choreographed series of events worthy of induction into the “Time Management & Schedulers Hall of Fame.”

First, we left the office through a rear door and entered a garage with a black BMW X5. With Mr. Hendrick at the wheel, we left the garage and I assumed we were driving to the track – which is maybe one mile away. I was mis-guided. We actually drove about 100 yards and stopped in front of a helicopter that has obviously just landed. Whenever the conversation of helicopters had come up, anytime in my life, I was adamant that I would never, ever get on a helicopter. Before I knew what had happened, I was strapping into a helicopter! There was the pilot – an ex-military pilot (of course) – and there was one other gentleman – the Chairman of Lowe’s. The flight lasted 45 seconds. I was petrified. That was my first, and last, ride in a helicopter… or was it?

When we landed, there were two black Chevy SUV’s at the ready. Mr. Hendrick, Christian and I got into one, and the Chairman of Lowe’s – the other. The paddock gates opened, the seas parted and we were wisked to Mr. Hendrick’s motorcoach.

When we went into the coach, we immediately sat at the kitchen table and a perfectly prepared dinner was placed in front of us. Steak and roasted potatoes. Spectacular. As soon as we were done, the coach door opened and two gentlemen entered. They were well-dressed, in their early 40s, and clearly friends of Mr. Hendrick. I figured out that one of the men was Mr. Hendrick’s doctor who had recently performed surgery on one of his knees. The other – who was quite chatty – I couldn’t figure out. I wish I could have recorded the conversation though. They talked about a recent charity event that they had attended and how they had tricked Jeff Gordon into all kinds of things that he had not agreed to for the auction. If I recall, the auction item was dinner with Jeff. Mr. Hendrick, in an effort to drive up the bids, told the audience that in addition to dinner, Jeff would pick the winning bidder up in his car and drive them to dinner. When that bump in bidding was over with, Mr. Hendrick then announced that Jeff would also pick them up “anywhere in the USA” in his private jet as well. These guys thought that was real funny. Not sure how Jeff felt about it. After they were gone, I leaned over to Christian and asked who that was. He casually answered… “That was the Mayor of Charlotte”.

We then dispersed to the track for the Busch race. We spent some time on pit lane, and then visited Mr. Hendrick’s suite, and then back to the pits… and then checkered flag…. and then back to the helicopter… what???

I grudgingly got on the helicopter for the return trip and we were joined by Mr. Hendrick’s son Ricky, his girlfriend and their pet monkey. The monkey did not appear to mind the helicopter ride and I am positive it sensed my overwhelming fear.

For Saturday, we drove to the track and Christian had lots to take care of. I told him that I knew my way around and we agreed to meet at the 48 team’s pit box one hour before the green flag – which we did. Christian then gave me some instructions. He told me to try to be in the 48 pit box area for the first pit stop – and then he said to make sure I was back in the pit box with 10 laps to go.

For the first pit stop, he escorted me so close to the action that I could have reached out and tapped the gas man on the back.

Great stuff… and then the rear tire changer scooped up some wheels nuts and set them on the wall in front of me. He told me “these are for you – but they’re hot – don’t touch them yet”. This was all part of the choreography I mentioned early and these guys had done this many times before. Christian told me I could stay there or go wherever I wanted to, but reminded me to be back – at the latest – with 10 laps to go…. which I was.

When I got back, I let Christian know I was there. Jimmie Johnson was leading the race by the way. Christian then said “No matter what – make sure you stay with me after the checker flag…. “.

Jimmie won the race…. Christian and I jumped over pit wall and we sprinted down pit lane towards Victory Circle. He ushered me in and told me to “stay put” and that he would be coming back to get me. I was there for the champagne and confetti, the interviews and the hat dance.

After about 30 minutes, Jimmie went to the media center, the crew pushed the car out… and everyone, including Christian left. This was midnight… by the way.

So… there I was… staying put. There were a few people lingering about, but it looked to me like it was all over. What should I do? Well… I waited, and sure enough, shortly thereafter… here comes Christian, Mr. Hendrick, Jimmie and Chad. Christian grabs me and tells me to come up for a picture with the guys and the trophy… which I did.

What a weekend. First class at every step of the way.

Sincere thanks to Christian, Mr. Hendrick and the rest of the choreographers for the great memories!

And of course now… if anyone ever asks if I have been on a helicopter, my answer is… “Yes…. twice…. it was Rick Hendrick’s helicopter and my second ride was with a pet monkey.”