From exclusive driver appearances to captivating games and giveaways, the fan experience presents endless entertainment and excitement for visitors waiting for the main event. So how can brands use this landscape for their benefit? Sponsorships are at the heart of NASCAR. But without understanding the NASCAR audience and culture of the Midway, at-track activations can get lost in the noise. We sat down with Switch Program Manager Joe Rekowski, who helps us bring to life at-track experiences for our clients, to learn about some trends and best practices for your NASCAR sponsorship.
What does the audience want to see from a brand in terms of engagement? What will gather a crowd?
Fans are there for the drivers. Their loyalty lies with the athletes, so the ultimate goal is to see, hear and be a part of driver appearances. As a brand, you should try to leverage your relationship with the driver or racing team you sponsor. For instance, if you can organize an exclusive Q&A or photo opportunity within your footprint, you’ll have a greater chance of a consistent crowd at your activation. But you have to be strategic in how to market that relationship and space out engagement opportunities.
The Busch Experience, which we’ve had a great time activating this season,, not only draws a crowd – it has enough going on inside to keep folks hanging around. The interior is branded with banners and wraps showcasing Busch’s deep history with NASCAR. And the stage ebb and flows with entertainment from our emcee and special appearances by the #4 car driver Kevin Harvick. Plus, we have all kinds of games and giveaways to keep the fans engaged.
How are brands incorporating a digital component into NASCAR activations?
I’ve definitely noticed a strong push for social media engagement as fans pine for driver swag. It’s a common goal among brands to extend the experience to social channels, and NASCAR fans are eager to participate. One challenge with that, however, is a matter of Internet connectivity. Free Wi-Fi is often available, but the bandwidth is limited – and the speedways themselves are typically located in rural areas that aren’t equipped for the surge in cellular data. But that’s changing, as tracks are starting to implement high-speed Wi-Fi.
Other digital trends include the use of green screens to simulate a racing experience and custom gamification to engage and entertain the fans.
Can you share a few ways to measure the effectiveness of a NASCAR activation?
An activation’s success depends on the client’s KPIs. Some brands look at pass-through numbers or the total number of key chains or tee shirts passed out. But other brands take it further, such as collecting information to build a CRM database or surveying consumers to accrue data. Also – the popularity of a sponsor’s footprint will likely depend on how the driver performs. If they’re not at the front of the pack getting TV time, people won’t know whom the sponsors are.
As a pioneer of experiential, Switch has been activating at NASCAR races for decades – and we’ve elevated the measurement and reporting of KPIs with our proprietary mobile reporting tool, SMRT. Featuring a customizable dashboard, SMRT allows for consumer surveys, product inventory tracking, photo capture and more across devices. Learn more about SMRT on our website.
How would you describe the culture and overall landscape of the midway?
People will sprint to their driver’s sponsor, especially if there’s an appearance. And the culture of the midway can vary from track to track. Bristol’s midway is split into two sections, one having more of a retail and food vendor feel, the other seeming like more of a carnival. While Daytona’s stretches long and is full of larger format activations. Overall, visitors are excited for the camaraderie shared among fans of the same drivers and brands. They’re eager to engage with brands, and they don’t hesitate to exchange time or contact information for a giveaway.
What advice would you give to a brand looking to activate at NASCAR?
First define your KPIs; identify what you want to accomplish. Then build your program around that goal – CRM database, sales, sampled, introduce new brand, social media traction, etc. But at the end of the day, never forget that you’re there for the fans – hardworking people who save for months to attend a race. If you’re delivering a memorable experience that demonstrates that you value them, you will win.