2019 was a critical year for NASCAR.
It completed its merger with ISC, further unifying the sport. It launched a new sponsorship model that removed the naming rights entitlement from the NASCAR Cup Series. Viewership saw a 2% increase amid general declines for most sports properties, while it also launched a new direct-to-consumer offering with NBC. 2019 was also the first full year with Jim France as CEO, who has been credited by many in the sport for helping the organization straighten the wheel amid instability.
Perhaps it’s apropos that NASCAR’s campaign kicking off its 2020 season is a celebration of the things that has made it popular for nearly 72 years, simply called “I Am NASCAR.”
Jill Gregory, who has spent more than 12 years with NASCAR and currently is its executive vice president and chief marketing officer, is one of the chief accelerants helping drive the NASCAR brand forward.
Gregory spoke with Front Office Sports about the new campaign, NASCAR’s overall marketing efforts, and what it is doing to draw new fans into the sport.
FOS: What is the impetus for “I Am NASCAR”?
Gregory: We haven’t done a campaign that had that kind of that bold statement like “I Am NASCAR.” It’s something that we felt like it was the right time to do. We had an incredible 2019; we added leadership strength, we had a lot of positive momentum, metrics were up. We feel like it’s a great time to celebrate the sport, the things that makes NASCAR unique, and what makes the different components of our sport unique – the soul, the grit, the emotion – that’s NASCAR. We wanted to lean into that.
That’s why the campaign is not just about the racing, the intense driver rivalries or finishes. Those are the most visible things, but it’s also about the uniqueness of Daytona, of Kyle Busch, and other things we love about this sport.
We wanted to lean into all of those things under one campaign, and that’s what we think the “I Am NASCAR” message does for us.
FOS: NASCAR’s new tiered sponsorship model that starts this year now means the Cup Series doesn’t have a title sponsor by design – how does that change the marketing message?
Gregory: The “I Am NASCAR” campaign is a celebration of the elements that make NASCAR kind of who we are, and what makes us attractive to those brands is very similar. So this is a campaign that we think a partner can lean into, but it still feels natural.
There have been a lot of changes happening in the sport, and as a result, we have a more unified strategy across the board. We think this campaign can extend to multiple partners and stakeholders.
FOS: How are you getting the NASCAR brand in front of new and existing fans?
Gregory: It’s more complex than the old way of ‘Hey, here’s my television campaign, it runs, and we call it a day.’” We still need to do that, but we also need to make sure we’re cutting our content into bite-sized pieces where fans can consume it elsewhere.
You have to focus on the drivers, and that’s not new either, but telling those stories, driving the narrative, pulling out their personalities and giving fans a reason to follow them is incredibly important for us. We need to make sure we’re building those storylines around veteran drivers and young emerging stars alike.
It’s also important that we’re putting NASCAR in new and meaningful places through content partnerships and social channels.
FOS: That has meant putting NASCAR in some places it might not have been before.
Gregory: We’ve got to investigate as many new platforms as we can, and not just the social platforms.
We have a social team dedicated to growing our YouTube channel and establishing our position there. We are trying to embrace TikTok.
That extends to something like sports betting, which is a huge opportunity for us to get more fans engaged with NASCAR – ultimately, it’s a fan engagement tool. Even our esports platform, which gets younger fans engaged with NASCAR.
FOS: What’s your biggest challenge as a marketer?
Gregory: I think from any marketer’s standpoint, it’s a bit harder because there are more options. There are more places you need to be present. You need to develop intriguing and engaging content every day. I think the bar is being raised for all of us.
I think the good news for NASCAR is that we have the excitement. We got the cars going 200 miles an hour. We’ve got drivers that are heroes strapping into their cars. We have to deliver on putting that in front of as many people as possible.
That’s not as simple as it once was, so we have to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways to get in front of a fan – the new platform, the new partnership that keeps NASCAR top of mind. So we have the raw material, which is fantastic, but what keeps me up at night is thinking have we turned over every rock, have we done everything we can do to showcase our great sport. I am confident that we are, but there are so many touchpoints we have to keep our eyes open.