Monday, September 18, 2006

The Marketing of NASCAR Star Ryan Newman

I was lucky enough to be at the New Hampshire International Speedway twice this weekend for all of the NASCAR festivities. This was the first weekend of "The Chase". It's always a good time at NHIS but this time I saw the weekend from a little different perspective as I spent Friday in the pits. I was working on a project for a charity auction this weekend, but more on that later.

During practice and qualifying, if you don't have a 'hot' pass you need to leave the fenced in garage area until they are done. This is a safety issue as many people who get the passes sometimes aren't as aware in the pits as those of us who have been around racing our whole lives. They may not understand that when the official blows his whistle that a car is coming off the track and MOVE out of the way. But, I digress...

During qualifying I noticed a little boy - maybe 7 years old-, his sister (14-15ish) and dad just outside the fence waiting for the ok to get back into the pits after the session. They were strategically located as there were two exits from the pits but this one had Ryan Newman's hauler right on the other side of the fence. This boy was a Ryan fan threw and threw. He had on the #12 hat, a Ryan shirt and was carrying a replica Alltel Dodge.

Everytime someone with Ryan's team gear on would come out of the hauler the little boy would run over to the fence and politely ask if Ryan was still inside. Clearly, he was just biding his time until he could get back into the pits and simply wait it out. Ryan had to come out sometime, right? The only issue with the location of the truck was that you could see the back door from where the boy was but not the side door, so he had to ask everyone if Ryan was still in there. After awhile the dad went to the other exit just in case Ryan came out that way so he would, at least, have Ryan's autograph for his son. Good dad.

I saw the little boy ask 3 people if Ryan was still in the hauler before a group of 4 came out - two men and two women. They came out of the gate and the little boy asked one of the women if Ryan was still in the hauler. I didn't hear what she said, but the four of them got into a golf cart - the preferred mode of transportation for drivers and such getting from the garage area to their motor coaches. The quartet started the golf cart, drove a few feet to the little boy and stopped. One of the guys got out, took his hand and then his sister's hand and walked them through the gate and right into Ryan's hauler!

I went up to the golf cart and told the three people waiting that I thought it was a nice thing for them to do. The man said, "He's the future of this sport". Meaning that the little boy is the current and next generation of NASCAR fans. It's important to NASCAR and the teams that he stays a fan for a long time to insure that their brand stays alive and well. I sincerely doubt that this boy is ever going to be anything but a Ryan Newman fan, let alone step away from NASCAR. Are you kidding? After that?

One of the women said to me that she'd noticed the little boy at 11am, which was FIVE hours earlier, staking out the same spot. She wanted him to learn that sometimes persistence does pay off. Good lesson. One I'm sure he won't soon forget.

This wasn't any quick visit; this was a full-on, private meet and greet with the little boy's favorite driver. It doesn't get any better than that for a 7 year old. Or his sister, for that matter. About 15 minutes later they came out with the car signed and a story to tell for years. The little boy was speechless. The sister came out telling everyone around how nice Ryan is, how nice his family is and how good they are for the sport because they are so nice to the fans. Oh yea, if she wasn't a Ryan Newman fan before she is now. She got on the cell phone right away and started to tell everyone she knows about their visit with Ryan.

That is how you make fans. It's the little things that mean the most to people. It's that way with any brand. It might be something small to you - a coupon, a free product here and there, 15 minutes of your time - but to the person on the receiving end it could mean the difference between being disappointed in your brand and becoming a consumer evangelist. This little boy will be a Ryan Newman fan for life and he will probably try his best to convince all of his friends to be Ryan fans, too.

Nicely done, Alltel/Mobile team. Nicely done.

Just a little racing tidbit for today. Thanks for stopping by.


Tim Jackson- Masi Guy said...

You really are good at this stuff...

I am thoroughly amazed with the marketing vision that NASCAR has shown. Not just grabbing at the easy "right now" stuff, but laying bricks for a great future foundation. Rare.

Reva said...

This is great! The Volunteers do something similar at the spring football game where the fans can come & get autographs from the players & get on the field at Neyland Stadium! It is awesome. You have to wait in line but the players will sign whatever. We have an orange football we take each year. Have a cool pix of Trevor in the endzone too.

The Titans do the "Titans Caravan" where they hit about 15-20 cities each spring with a few players & cheerleaders & the radio announcers. Falcons do it too.

The Mocs just started doing it this fall. It is great PR & is building the next generation of fans. It's also lots of fun!!!

Glad that NASCAR is doing it too. Truly a great marketing tool. said...

Well, I am not seven...I am 54. I didn't wait 5 hours, I drove 15 from Minneapolis to South Bend to see Ryan Newman. Ryan held a Fan Appreciation Day there and raced in a midget race. The event was like being at Ryan's family picnic. He chatted freely with everyone individually and later answered questions for more than an hour in the hot summer sun. He also had his picture taken with whoever wanted it. He was paying back his fans and the track owner who had helped him way back when. He came around to chat with everyone while we were eating lunch and his wife patiently looked at pictures of everyone's adopted dog (one of their foundations programs). What was the price for this up close, personal access? $20. He is the most down to earth, regular guy I have ever seen in professional sports. That 7 year old boy and I will always be fans of the #12 team. Go Ryan!!

Donna Tocci said...

Tim - I'm not sure how 'good' I am. I'm thinking the #12 team is much better!

Reva - sounds like the Vols know how to appreciate their fans, too!

Thordiss - what a fabulous experience you all had! Thanks for sharing it with us. When the weekly announcers talk about the NASCAR drivers being some of the most accessible folks in sport, they are not just spouting PR babble. I think they truly are because they have learned, from previous generations, that fans are to be appreciated. After all, what race fan hasn't heard the stories of Richard Petty signing autographs for hours after races so everyone got his signature and then he and his family would stop at the local childrens' hospital to visit the kids on their way home. When you have that kind of legacy in your sport, it's hard not to take notice. It sounds like Ryan certainly has taken those lessons to heart. Good for him! Good for his sponsors. And great for his fans!

Oh, check out the shots of the helmet - if you look closely you'll see that Ryan's on there, too.

Thank you all for stopping by.