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Has NASCAR become the sporting equivalent of ‘New Coke’?

By admin | January 4, 2011

By Richard Allen


Coca-Cola, or Coke, is and has always been one of the great brand names in business history. Worldwide the familiar red and white logo and the product represented by that logo are known and loved. However, in 1985 the corporate bosses of the Coca-Cola Company decided their product’s name recognition and familiarity was not enough. Thus was born, ‘New Coke’.

‘New Coke’ was the product intended to take the place of the long time formula with which the company had created a marketing behemoth. The feeling was that long time customers of the brand might begin switching to diet and low calorie drinks so in order to maintain their market share Coke needed to reach out to younger soft drink buyers, who were feared to be favoring rival Pepsi.

As has been well documented, the switch in formulas resulted in a major flop for Coca-Cola and forced the return of ‘Coca-Cola Classic’ to coolers across America.

Does it not appear as though NASCAR has, in many ways, retraced the steps of the soft drink manufacturer?

Seemingly, the same type of mentality has taken hold in Daytona Beach as was the case in Atlanta in the mid-1980s. During the reign of Brian France at the helm of the sport, NASCAR has abandoned much of its original formula in favor of a new recipe which appears to be delivering the same result ‘New Coke’ brought to its corporate brass.

During the time in which Bill France, Sr. and Bill France, Jr. led NASCAR the sport catered to gear head, mechanical types who could appreciate the ingenuity employed by those toiling within stock car racing’s inner circles.

Centered mostly in the southeastern U.S., the NASCAR of the elder Frances knew its core group and built a strong base of support within that group. However, in the 1990s and early 2000s tracks in locales such as Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Kansas City and other cities were added to the NASCAR schedule. Long time NASCAR venues such as those in Rockingham, North Wilkesboro and Darlington lost dates to clear room on the schedule for these new sites.

Although the new cities may have hosted NASCAR races in the past, they were far from the core region. The NASCAR brass, like that of Coca-Cola’s leadership, believed the core group was not enough to usher the company to greater profitability. So, the gamble was taken to bring in new supporters.

And more than new locales, the points system was changed, the car being used does not really resemble those driven to the track by fans and ‘good ole boys’ have been replaced by corporate clones.

Much like Coke in the 1980s, NASCAR is coming to realize that those new fans were not the type to stick around for the long haul. But unlike Coca-Cola, NASCAR can not really bring back the old formula and regain its market share. ‘NASCAR Classic’ is too far gone, that original core base too greatly alienated.

NASCAR will never race in Rockingham or North Wilkesboro again. The Chase for the Championship, in some form or another, is here to stay. The Car of Tomorrow may get some tweaks but it will remain an over-regulated, over-engineered machine. And drivers will forever be expected to serve as corporate spokesmen first and racers second.

For those who would argue that the competition is better now than ever before, the empty seats and lower television ratings indicate that there must be more to the equation than a large number of cars finishing on the lead lap. NASCAR has lost the personality that made it unique in the sports world. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula locked away in a vault that will fix all the issues.

‘New Coke’ went away. ‘New NASCAR’ is here to stay.

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21 Responses to “Has NASCAR become the sporting equivalent of ‘New Coke’?”

  1. The Mad Man Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Rich, it’s more like NASCAR went from being a motorized sport to being the motorized version of pro wrestling. And by Steve O’Donnell’s own admission, NASCAR’s VP for Racing Operations, NASCAR is sports entertainment, which is what the WWE is. Sports entertainment.

    I think the term racer-tainment is definitely the best term to describe the “new NASCAR”. And like New Coke, who sales suffered dramatically because consumers preferred the old product, “new NASCAR” is also suffering from a dramatically reduced amount of sales as show by the half-empty grandstands and the poor TV ratings.

    So if the “new NASCAR” is here to stay, then a lot of folks will be looking for new jobs in about 5 years at the rate NASCAR is declining. Will the last fan out please turn out the lights?

  2. shawn Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Could not have said it better myself. The only thing that could restore some of the lost interest is a rebound by Dale Jr. , sorry MikeyFan, but like I said, the current crop of drivers along with various other problems have driven veteran fans away and the sport has too many problems too attract new fans or regain former ones. Sorry to see it happen.

  3. Bill B Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Excellent article Rich. I have made this comparison (New Coke) several times in various website’s comments sections. I’m not sure that NASCAR couldn’t win back a lot of alienated fans if they could make some concessions to those same fans.
    We hear of (maybe) major changes being made to the chase format. If the changes are major and not just tweaks, now would be the time to go back to a season long points system. Even if it was not the original a lot of fans don’t like the fact that only the last ten races matter.
    While some form of the COT is here to stay and really there hasn’t be anything truly “stock” in NASCAR in over 25 years, giving each make some brand identity (beyond the decals) would be a step in the right direction.
    Perhaps the easiest change of all would be to move Darlington back to Labor Day. I still can’t figure out why that hasn’t been tried as a way to cater to traditional fans. It seems like a no-brainer to me.

    In some ways I feel it’s less about the actual changes that were made and more about the perception that Brian France defiantly gave the finger to old time fans as he was making the changes. Ignoring our protests and having a defiant attitude that “the fans will eat whatever crap we put on their plate”. As a result, those fans have developed their own defiant attitude of “shove it”.

    Obviously Brian doesn’t believe in the old addage that the “customer is king” or “the customer is always right”. So, this is where we stand.

    In reality all those changes couldn’t have came at a worse time. Dale Earnhardt Sr fans, the largest contigent, were already facing a major change and doubts about their future in the sport after his unfortunate death. Making all those changes to the infrastructure of the sport at that time made it much easier for them to say see ya. Brian more or less push all those fans that were on the fence over the edge.

  4. ginav24 Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Nice article, Rich, that’s a great analogy. Unfortunately Nascar’s management, unlike Coca Cola’s, wasn’t intelligent enough to see that they were losing market share and come up with a plan to stop it from happening. 5 years later and they still don’t get it.

    Brian France’s attitude, as Bill B pointed out, is that the fans will like whatever we give them. BZF has been completely wrong about that. Losing the Southern 500 was the beginning of ticking off the fans, followed by the chase, the COT and some really poor TV coverage by ALL the TV partners and a lot of fans plain got fed up with the racer-tainment as Mad Man calls it.

    I used to look forward to Sunday to either go to the track or watch the race on TV. Now, if I watch 1/4 of the race - usually the beginning and the end, that’s a lot as the in-between part isn’t worth the time.

    The customer has become the least important part of the equation in NASCAR and it shows up in lack of ticket sales and ratings.

    I’m waiting to hear what words of wisdom Brainless will utter about the changes to the chase before I renew any more race tickets for 2011.

  5. Bruce Martin Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Well put article, I am an old fan went to daytona and saw petty and pearson crash, was one of the founding member fans for homestead, had 10 tickets in the clubhouse section and motor home spot in the infield. France family bought the track and kicked all of us out!!! I was founding member #966 and was reduced to ticket holder 78,750, the infield motorhome spot turned into a grass field two miles away. The clubhouse tickets turned into general admission. They said take it or leave it!! I did leave it and will never return!!! I spent about $8,000 a year with them and would still be today, talk about dumb!!! They remind me of our Congress today.

  6. coolheir Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    I think your ‘new coke’ analogy is a fitting one Rich.
    Its pretty apparent by the ratings dip that this current version is too sugary and caffeinated and doesn’t sit in the stomach well with many fans, me included. A product I used to guzzle, will now just get an occasional sip.

  7. Jonathan Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Yeah ok guys grow up seriously! Ill make this short and sweet, the ratings are not all that bad! When they were on FOX earlier this year we went head to head and beat the NBA playoffs w the Lakers, NHL Playoffs, MLB Playoffs and Daytona 500 ratigns beat the World Series ratings…. When the switch to TNT and ESPN happened well ratings went down somewhat but guess what did you hear about the BCS Bowl games that were put on ESPN for the first time this year the ratings were DOWN! If you dont like the sport dont watch it but please dont call it pro wrestling! How can you say that what a buch of idiots you all are….

  8. Andy Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    The automobile means less and less to Americans and auto racing is following in that decline. Today’s cars don’t come with five engine choices and three body designs. The options that people care about now are GPS, crash-avoidance radar and internet connections. Things that take you out of the driving experience and put the car on auto-pilot. Driving skill means nothing to today’s car buyers. I’ll bet one in fifty drivers today knows how to operate a manual transmission.

    It used to really mean something when the top-of-the-line motor was the NASCAR motor and Detroit would make a model with a special roofline or grille in order to do better at Daytona. They haven’t done that since the Aero Grand prix and Monte.

    In my opinion, all forms of racing are in decline because they have stepped away from stock bodies. Fifty years ago, sports cars and stock cars were actual cars off the street that someone had tuned the engine on. Most were driven to the track. You could buy a Ferrari exactly like the one that won LeMans. People took an interest in a winning car and motor racing was very popular.

    Ten years later, only the bodies looked the same and everything underneath was different. Peoples fascination with cars declined with pollution controls, gas mileage and crash testing. They cared less and less about cars and even less about car racing because the connection was virtually nil.

  9. Joe from Pittsburgh Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    I’d say that 1 out of 7 posters here in support of NASCAR pretty much sums up where the series is nowadays–bottom feeder sport and sinking faster and faster. Someday maybe it will rebound but probably not until ISC has to declare bankruptcy. And to Jonathan–I say to you what I say to all those that say the same thing—I did quit watching,why do you think races are half attended and ratings suck?

  10. SB Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    The same analogy I’ve used for a long time, and I think it’s right on. All be what, 2 or 3 races dropped in TV ratings this year should be telling someone something is wrong. And the fact that they have been dropping for the past 3 or 4 years says something isn’t working. I used to plan weekends around watching the races. Now, I seldom bother. Many ‘hardcore’ fans got their love of racing from their parents, watching or listening to the races with them. If you turn off the parents, that much coveted 18-34 age group isn’t learning to love the sport. Nascar is now in business for itself to make money, not to give fans a good race. and it shows.

  11. Danny Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Great article. The sad truth is there is no reason to be optimistic for the future. Tony George finally got canned but only when the sport was nearing it’s death bed. Until the current TV contract expires we are stuck with Bozo France.

  12. Overra88ted Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    New Coke = the chase for the Chumpionship. Enough said. BZF is an Idiot.

  13. JOHNNY BOONE Says:
    January 5th, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    NASCAR needs to get back to cars AND tracks that do not look like they were stamped out by a cookie cutter. One good step is coming in the Nationwide Series to allow Mustangs and Challengers to at least resemble the street cars. However, if things don’t change, when Richard Petty finally completely walks away from the sport, I will also. It is respect for Richard, not NASCAR, that keeps me following the sport.

  14. Mr. Tony Geinzer Says:
    January 6th, 2011 at 2:15 am

    Richard, my friend, I wish the Money Races where fun again and to tell you the truth, I wish at least Nationwide would stick to the South more again because in principle, I feel that regional racing needs to be reemphasized and I feel North Wilkesboro and the Rock will be back, sadly,as Late Model Venues and that bugs the tar out of people in those regions.

  15. itisthewwf Says:
    January 6th, 2011 at 6:08 am

    Today NASCAR is so homogenized, if you saw the race last week, look forward to the same this week. The drivers have been stifled so much that they are just a bunch of talking heads.

  16. zhills fan Says:
    January 6th, 2011 at 7:33 am

    Nice job, I couldn’t have said it any better. But I still like the truck series.

  17. Used To Care Says:
    January 6th, 2011 at 11:38 am

    If you are still drinking the “Kool Aid”, understand that Texas Motor Speedway is unveiling a WONDERFUL NEW PLACE FOR FANS…….
    For a mere $1000.00, a special license may purchased for the PRIVILEGE of paying $750.00, annually, to TAILGATE outside of Gate 4 in a area larger than a football field.

    Whoopee !
    Of course you’ll still need a ticket to see the race.

    I seems a lot of thought and preparation went into the idea of making more money for the racetrack. If only as much effort was directed to producing a finer grade of product during races.

    If you build it, will they come?

    Not any more……not me. I’ve had my last $8.00 lemonade at TMS.

  18. Nate Says:
    January 6th, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    What a great article. Basically been saying the same thing myself for the last 3 years. You hit almost every point I have as to why NASCAR is failing, except for all the multi-car teams which has almost wiped away rivalries. Chase needs to go NOW. 2 Darlington dates and 1 Rockingham date NOW. Let manufacturers work on their own templates and roll those out next year.
    Or continue to lose what little fans they have left. I’m literally the only one of my local group that used to gather for races that actually still watches. Very sad.

  19. Richard Allen Says:
    January 6th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    I think I may have accidently deleted one of the comments. If you wrote one and don’t see it please rewrite.


  20. Charles Says:
    January 6th, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    I think the New and Old Coke is a good comparsion!!!!!!

    At the time Coke said the reason for the New Coke was reseach to attract new and younger customers!!!

    The key business lesson Coke learned I think was they were going after a new and younger custormer base!

    And they didnt realize how many “old customers” they would lose! That made no one really happy with their product!

    It didnt take Coke long to see the mistake and correct it!
    The old was better!!!!

    The thing with Nascar is that they dont even or want to admit their mistakes and let this parade of “yes men” tell us every sunday how good it is, instead of the other way around!

  21. dean collins Says:
    January 12th, 2011 at 9:09 am

    I agree with @Andy “because they have stepped away from stock bodies”.

    Being able to feel ‘recognition” with your brand used to mean something.