It didn’t take long to discover the demographic NASCAR wants to court with the announcement of Monster Energy as the new Cup Series sponsor.
“The reality for how impactful they are and what they can do differently is obviously they’re an edgy brand,” Brian France said in response to the first question about Monster’s expanded relationship with NASCAR. “They’re a fun brand. They get at a millenial audience in a different way clearly than we’ve ever been associated with, particularly at this level, and they know what they’re doing.”
It’s probably a safe assumption no one in NASCAR ever publicly called outgoing sponsor Sprint “edgy” and “fun.” Monster replaces Sprint after the telecommunications company declined to renew its sponsorship of NASCAR’s No. 1 series following the conclusion of the 2016 season.
Say goodbye to Sprint yellow and hello to Monster green. And, if France’s comments are any indication, promotion of “fun.”
“But we’re very confident that this is the right partner for us, and we’re looking forward to having some fun with it,” France said. “By the way, we’re in the fun business. We’re racing cars. We’re crowning champions. We’re‑‑ this is where people come to have fun, right? Our speedways and watch us on television, what better brand to have associated with us than the people who understand that.”
It’s been hard to consider NASCAR very fun in recent years. While Jimmie Johnson’s seventh title was a great way to cap off the Sprint era, dominant topics of the last two years have included — in no particular order — aerodynamic rules changes, the Confederate flag, lug nuts, France’s endorsement of president-elect Donald Trump, and declining television ratings and attendance. None of those are fun.
And neither was the delay in finding a title sponsor. NASCAR had Nextel (Sprint’s predecessor via merger) lined up to take over in 2004 in July 2003. Heck, the agreement between NASCAR and Monster is so fresh that the two companies haven’t even (publicly) agreed on a name for the series.
According to a 2014 demographic study, 86 percent of NASCAR fans are over 35. And while the agreement with Monster makes clear that NASCAR wants to go after younger fans, the series has been trying to do that for some time. The move to an elimination-laden Chase with a winner-take-all finale was a play for non-fans and a demographic that has grown up accustomed to highlights as a form of sports consumption.
We wonder just how much big moments will be manufactured and (over)emphasized at the expense of authentic competition.
“We do have some ideas about how we can make NASCAR more attractive to what I would call a different audience than is currently there without detracting from what is already a great audience and a great fan base,” Monster chief marketing officer Mark Hall said. “Like I said earlier, we have experience with that, and those fans do relate to our brand, and we think there’s an opportunity to bring some new ones in, as well.”
But like France’s endorsement of Donald Trump in February, there is a Monster staple that doesn’t jive with NASCAR’s diversity efforts. And that staple was present at the introductory news conference.
Monster has a cadre of “Monster Girls,” women who appear on the company’s website in scantily-clad attire and answer questions such as what is their favorite bikini to wear at the beach. If you’ve been at a race this season, you may have seen them in the garage or on pit road as the company has sponsored Kurt Busch’s car. And those women may have an increased role in 2017 and beyond as Monster has title rights.
“We also want to bring some good shows and entertainment for NASCAR fans so they can interact with our brand and understand what our culture is all about, so when they leave the racetrack on Sunday they’ve had an experience,” Hall said. “Of course they will have met the fabulous Monster Energy girls. We’re going to have a lot of fun at NASCAR, both in the parking lot and inside the oval.”
Not long after Hall mentioned the company’s “girls,” the sponsorship announcement ended with two Monster Girls around four middle-aged white men.
NASCAR has made a very public push since 2004 to get more minorities and women involved in its sport that’s long been dominated by white males. And while Danica Patrick is the only female driver at NASCAR’s top level, there are numerous female drivers in NASCAR’s lower ranks; three made starts in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016.
Oh, and 37 percent of NASCAR fans, per the study cited above, are female. What message does it send by a sport that has made very public overtures to be inclusive and more diverse if objectification of women only becomes more prominent via a “dynamic” brand? While Winston and Sprint had spokesmodels in victory lane after races under their sponsorships, the context of their clothing is quite different.
But maybe NASCAR doesn’t care about the message. After all, France publicly wondered why his diversity efforts would be questioned in the days after his endorsement of the presidential candidate who campaigned on a hard-line immigration stance.
France said he personally made a call to Monster because of the new fans he hoped Monster could bring in. Less than two weeks ago France said he was “very pleased with [NASCAR’s] position in sports.” Thursday it was clear that the sport was hoping to appeal to people who aren’t currently paying attention.
“It’s one of the few sales calls that I actually personally made because of how important it was to align ourselves with a dynamic brand that reaches different places and different audiences, and they made us feel very comfortable over time on a couple things,” France said. “One was motorsports is their DNA, and when you walk through their lobby in California, you see that. You see the motorcycles and NASCAR memorabilia and all kinds of things, and that’s who they are, so they understand motorsports. They understand NASCAR. They understand how to reach across and excite our core audience and help us deliver on a new audience, and that was very exciting for us.”
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