Time to see what Monster Energy brings to the NASCAR table – ABC News
Fans have seen the new series logo. Teams have replaced their windshield banners with the Monster emblem. Everyone in NASCAR seems ready for the flood of florescent green that will go along with the change from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
What a mouthful of a name and a lot to chew on, and not just because of the additional word. It feels a little clumsy. Maybe because it’s new. Maybe because no one really knows exactly what Monster can do or will do as it replaces Sprint as the next sponsor of NASCAR’s top division.
The brands in some ways couldn’t be more different — consider their opposite consumer spheres. Sprint sought customers who would sign cell phone contracts, which cost hundreds of dollars and for a long time required a two-year commitment. Monster seeks people to buy a drink that can cost a couple of dollars for an immediate boost.
Monster CEO Rodney Sacks has a simple explanation for why the company did the deal. It has 18 percent penetration of U.S. households, 25 percent of those households under age 35. It wants more.
According to Nielsen Scarborough, every one in three U.S. adults considers themselves a NASCAR fan, and the average age of a NASCAR fan is 48, within one year of the average age of the US population.
“We are looking to perhaps to be able to expand our age-group demographic and NASCAR were looking for us to perhaps take their age demographic down a little bit,” Sacks said during a recent investor presentation.
“So really it became a good marriage between us because of what we both wanted out of it.”
Estimates have the deal at $20-25 million a year for the next 2-4 years, about half of what Sprint reportedly paid during its three-year extension of its original stake, which was estimated at $70-75 million per year, for a 10-year deal. Sacks promises heavy involvement, with the potential of bringing Monster-sponsored events (from freestyle motocross to drifting) to leveraging its concert connections for fans to enjoy in NASCAR.
“We negotiated a pretty good deal, but the issue is not so much the deal that you negotiate or the TV coverage you get as part of it, or the advantage you get on the track,” Sacks said.
“That is all positive. But it also was important for us to make the commitment to ourselves and to NASCAR that we are going to spend a substantial amount of time and effort and focus in actually activating at the track. … We’re going to focus on trying to make this a real win-win situation for us and to make NASCAR look pretty synonymous with Monster and synonymous with those fans.”
What Sprint Did Right
Sprint achieved that as well as anyone could have imagined. Nextel replaced Winston as series sponsor in 2004 and Sprint absorbed Nextel a few years later. For 13 seasons, the cell phone carrier has worked to promote NASCAR and vice versa.
“Nextel from Day 1 took a very humble approach [that] we need to ask fans for permission to play in their space — this is their sport, not ours,” said Kimberly Meesters, who headed Sprint’s NASCAR program over its final years. “[The attitude was] we don’t want to be intruders. we want to come in and truly complement your experience, we want to be part of the NASCAR family.
“Clearly we want to ask them for their business but we did it at a slow pace because we wanted to make sure we were accepted as part of the family first. Nextel really wanted to earn their business and not just take it.”
Meesters admitted that at times throughout the 13 years, the company put its brand first and the sport second. Those promotions didn’t work out the best.
“Monster is very clear through all of their sports sponsorships — they’re not rookies in the sponsorship space and certainly not in the motorsports space. So they understand that dynamic that they’re there with the fans hand in hand,” she said.
Sprint tried to sell mobile-phone plans at the track, with the incentive that if fans bought a plan, they might get near the stage for driver introductions or in Victory Lane. Monster won’t need that type of incentive, and obviously can do product sampling, while Sprint, by the nature of its business, couldn’t just give out free cell phones.
Rick Penn, a former Richard Childress Racing executive who now works as the director of global sales and sports sponsorships for Dow, said he expects Monster to put its stamp on the sport and that it will need to embrace the sport to do so. He said Nextel/Sprint earned the fans’ respect.
“You could feel the, ‘Hey, this company is going to take NASCAR to the next level’ not just because they had advertising money or expensive budgets, but just the way they embraced the sport,” Penn said.
“I remember the fans showing up excited. I remember the drivers talked about how [the company] was bringing technology into the sport. To me, it’s more about embracement, and it’s the common theme I hope continues. I look forward to seeing how Monster embraces on the sport.”
With NASCAR ratings and attendance both down in 2016, the eyes will focus on how Monster builds on what Sprint, and Winston before Sprint, did for the sport.
“The activation and things that Sprint did, the advertising, the places that it put us on top of what we already had — I think it’s important that [the new partner] take us places that we haven’t been,” said driver Kevin Harvick.
“They need to have a good advertising campaign to make sure that it’s the right thing to push the sport forward.”
Sprint, up until the past few years, incorporated drivers in its commercials. Monster has never done traditional television advertising. It would make short promotional films, but Monster has shared those on video and social channels, not television.
“We have never created a commercial or an ad,” said Monster Chief Marketing Officer Mark Hall when the deal was announced Dec. 1. “We’ve done different things that we’ve been successful getting a lot of eyeballs on, but I think looking at this opportunity and this close partnership to where our names are linked so synonymously, we’re thinking that this for us is a way to do traditional media.”
What Monster Brings? Girls And More
Very little about Monster would rate as traditional. When Monster hired Tiger Woods as one of its athletes, it didn’t do a news release nor a news conference. Woods just showed up on the golf course with a Monster logo (they call it a claw, apparently it’s sacrilege to call it an M) on his bag.
The action sports appear a natural fit in Monster’s relationships with the X Games, Supercross and other events.
Those in the sports marketing business hope that Monster can attract those fans — the millennial fans — to the sport, said Shell’s Heidi Massey-Bong, who runs the company’s motorsports marketing programs.
“Sprint was one of the best in class in terms of title sponsor,” Massey-Bong said. “They activated well through on-site programs, they had consumer outreach, they tied it into their overall TV programs.
“If they can pick up that model and use it toward the millennials, I feel like it will be a home run.”
The key: Don’t try to pull one over on the fans of either the company or the sport.
“It has to be authentic — whatever Monster does needs to be very authentic to their brand because that is what will pull that group,” Massey-Bong said.
“Taking an overlay of exactly what Sprint did and trying to flop it onto them is not going to work. But to be able to show the risk and the enthusiasm and the passion that the sport has, if they can tap into that millennial audience, that will be a success.”
Nothing might be more indicative of that than the Monster girls vs. the Miss Sprint Cups — one tries to promote the sexy side of the brand, the other tries to appeal to a broader base. The Miss Sprint Cup program blossomed into an incredibly effective program for the company.
With more than 300 appearance requests a year, Meesters said, the Miss Sprint Cups served as brand and NASCAR ambassadors, with fans wanting photos with them as they walked through the tracks in their firesuits.
“She was our face instead of an executive,” Meesters said. “She does interviews, she’s educated, media-trained, likable — we wanted the whole gamut of people to like her. She was a celebrity in her own right. … She was as much an ambassador for the sport as much as she was for our brand.”
At Supercross events, several Monster girls grace the scene. It is not rare for one to sing the national anthem and they pose for photos. Lots of photos, but certainly with a little bit different wardrobe and more of a party attitude than the firesuit-clad Miss Sprint Cups.
“I personally think NASCAR needs a little bit of that,” said longtime Monster athlete Ricky Carmichael, considered one of the best Supercross racers of all time. “It’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to the reaction — I’d like to see them on pit road for sure. … It’s edgy but it’s not going to be over the edge.”
Monster entered NASCAR with Carmichael, who drove a truck from 2009-11. Carmichael, as well as other energy-drink sponsored motorcycle riders such as Red Bull’s Travis Pastrana, never could convert a significant number of their two-wheel fans to NASCAR.
“They’re going to have a way bigger presence — there’s going to be way more branding and they probably are going to be able to do a lot more things within the race weekend as far as advertisement, as far as activating,” Carmichael said.
“They’re going to be able to do some fun stuff that the NASCAR fans are going to like. It’s going to bring some fans from this side over to NASCAR — maybe not as many as NASCAR is hoping but in general, the Monster brand, the name, the logo is a nice kick in the butt for NASCAR.”
That kind of kick-in-the-butt is a little difficult to explain, more or less a seat-of-the-pants feeling.
“They have that ‘it’ factor that you can’t really explain what ‘it’ is that NASCAR needs,” Carmichael said. “I think NASCAR needs a little more edginess to it, especially with these younger drivers coming out. It just brings that little flair that they need.”
Longtime Monster athlete Chad Reed said Monster athletes have unique personalities. The Supercross riders have seen the company evolve, but both Reed and Carmichael said the company has not changed much amid its growth. Even with its NASCAR sponsorship, Monster recently renewed its Supercross deal through 2021. At Supercross events, Monster requires just an empty can donated for recycling to get into the pit and fan-zone area.
“Motorsports is something where they were born and they stay true to that,” Reed said. “I’m not part of their negotiating, but from what I see on the outside, I see they are consistently here year after year. Every year, they bring something new.”
And the Monster girls?
“It will maybe be a little different, but the girls are not what they used to be,” Reed said. “They got a bit of a bad name for themselves. It’s a job now.
“We do 17 races over 18 weeks, we’re on the road every weekend and sometimes you downplay the Monster girls, and it’s like they’re out there walking around on their feet all day just like we are. For the most part, they’re professional and they’re there to do a job.”
How Will Monster Do It?
Monster and the tracks continue to negotiate deals that will determine just how much space, signage and product distribution the brand will get at each venue.
International Speedway Corp., controlled by NASCAR’s governing France family, expects to see only a slight dip in revenue from the deals it had with Sprint.
“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,” Hall said.
NASCAR wants Monster to bring those ideas to life. NASCAR chairman Brian France made the call to Monster executives as NASCAR appeared to have trouble finding a sponsor last summer. The deal didn’t get done until after the 2016 NASCAR season ended.
“NASCAR approached us because of the way we really attacked sponsoring series like Supercross — we’ve endorsed the series, we got behind it, we have other events, we bring other entertainment to the series,” Sacks said. “The fans coming there are not only limited to seeing the race for an hour or two but they come there for literally a weekend experience.
“If you go to the pits in Supercross, you go there 5-6 hours before the race, there’s music, there’s other events with other people. We put up a wrestling match or kickboxing match, [we] do something.”
With the rush to create programs, the industry waits to see exactly what Monster will do.
“Had it just been an opportunity where we put up our badge and put it on the series, I think we would have walked,” Sacks said. “But the opportunities for us to get very integrated into the fan culture — and it’s a very strong culture, NASCAR fans are diehard NASCAR fans — we really think that this is a way we can broaden our demographic.”
To do that, Meesters said, Monster will have to convince the NASCAR industry that it has the best of intentions.
“You have to have the people on the ground that are going to be accepted in the midway with the fans but also in the media center, the garage area,” Meesters said. “You have to be part of the family, otherwise you don’t get the true value of the sponsorship because you don’t get all the tools that you need.”
France thinks they’ll fit right in. It is why he made the sales call in the first place.
“They understand motorsports,” he said. “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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