NASCAR Gets into the Act by Placing Stars on TV Shows

NASCAR was featured prominently in Talladega Nights

2006 blockbuster "Talladega Nights" was centered around NASCAR which allows the sport to broaden and diversify its fan base (photo courtesy: Rusty Jarrett, Getty Images Sport)

By Nate Ryan, USA TODAY

Hollywood has been a longtime vehicle for NASCAR's well-oiled marketing machine. With paint schemes tied to the Star Wars saga, races named after comic book movies and films centered around the sport itself (Talladega Nights), the sport seemed a darling of cinema during its boom years of the mid-2000s.

But the silver screen mostly has been replaced by a smaller one lately for the stock-car set. In the past month, NASCAR drivers were featured on network and cable TV, and a network sponsored a race (the History Channel's Top Gear 300 last Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway).

The shift will be highlighted again Sunday in the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway, where Tony Stewart will drive a Chevrolet promoting the second-season premiere of The Glades later that night on A&E. The two-time Sprint Cup champ will make his acting debut in a June 26 episode that also features Carl Edwards, Brian Vickers and Joey Logano as the show's lead character solves the murder of a NASCAR mechanic at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

NASCAR spearheaded recruiting the cameos, and Zane Stoddard, managing director of entertainment marketing in NASCAR's Los Angeles office, says it's part of a year-long initiative to maximize exposure on original and reality programming. Others showcasing NASCAR content in the past year are Undercover Boss, Breaking In, Necessary Roughness, American Pickers and The Cartoon Network.

"The intent is to focus a larger portion of our resources primarily on the integration of drivers, tracks, cars and NASCAR story lines into existing TV programming," Stoddard said.

While NASCAR still has movie projects in the pipeline (Transformers 3 will feature the cars of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya, and Gordon will lend his voice to Cars 2), Stoddard says TV offers more immediacy and is less speculative than a big-budget film.

"The cumulative effect is as valuable if not more than our participation in a film once every five years," he says. "Studio budgets also have shrunk with fewer projects made. But the TV universe continues to grow, and it's cascading into digital, which means more outlets and opportunities."

Such placement offers NASCAR a shot at broadening and diversifying a fan base that has grayed in recent years. Sprint Cup viewership among the coveted 18-to-34 demographic is up 22% this year after a 29% dip on Fox in 2010. Nielsen research showed last year that NASCAR had a higher median age (51.6) than the NBA, NHL, NFL and baseball (MLB).

Chris Meador, the History Channel's vice president of consumer marketing, believes his network's demographics (fourth among adults 18-49 on cable) could give the sport a lift. Meador said History was attracted to sponsoring the Nationwide race at Charlotte by the track's new HD video board (which showed episodes of Ice Road Truckersand Pawn Stars after the race). "People will say if the History Channel and Top Gear are a part of (NASCAR), I want to be, too," he said. "It's the company you keep, and NASCAR is associating with two renowned brands."

Two NASCAR-themed episodes of American Pickers on History Channel reached an audience ranked No. 3 on cable among adults 25-54 and No. 2 among adult men 25-54. The network, which is ranked No. 4 overall among adults 18-49, also attracted its youngest audience ever with the first season of Top Gear.

A&E senior vice president of marketing Guy Slattery hopes NASCAR will help boost The Glades audience, which is 56% female. A&E will spend more than six figures to sponsor Stewart at Kansas (one-race sponsor deals usually run $300,000-$500,000), and Stewart-Haas Racing will promote the show through social media sites and Stewart's Eldora Speedway (running ads during the Prelude to the Dream all-star charity race).

"We've never done anything as extended and 360 in NASCAR," Slattery said. "If it brings a few more guys to the show, it'll be a bigger success."

Brett Frood, executive vice president of SHR, says primary sponsors Office Depot and Mobil 1 made room on the No. 14 for The Glades. "It's a win for them," Frood said. "Ultimately, we want Tony to be relevant on a larger scale than just Sunday racing."
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