By admin | July 29, 2011
By Richard Allen
NASCAR and other sports have always, at least to some degree, tied their fortunes to individuals as much as the game itself. Basketball has gambled that fans love players such as Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Lebron James enough to come out and see them play no matter what other factors may exist. Golf saw its place in the sporting world rise dramatically when Tiger Woods began to do his thing.
But as has been seen, individuals retire, fail or get injured which can leave their sport to pick up the pieces.
During the past ten years, which essentially coincides with the major network television packages and Brian France’s reign, NASCAR and its television partners have pinned much of their marketing strategy around a few high profile individuals rather than the sport itself.
In 2001, it appeared as though the television networks planned to build their coverage around Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and his campaign for an unprecedented eighth NASCAR championship. However, no one could have predicted what would happen in the very first race to be broadcast under the new television deal as the iconic driver lost his life in a last lap crash during the Daytona 500.
With the elder Earnhardt’s death, NASCAR and the television networks focused their attention on his popular son. Early on, that appeared to go well as Junior won races for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and even contended for a championship or two while grandstands filled and television ratings soared. However, the danger of having so much hope placed in one person has proven dangerous in that the third generation driver has struggled more recently, not having won a Sprint Cup race since 2008.
While many of Junior’s fans have remained loyal to their favorite, there have been others to lose faith, and thus, turn from the sport. I have a number of friends who are Earnhardt fans that have told me they do not go to or watch nearly as many races as they once did because, “I at least want my guy to have a chance to win once in a while.”
But even with Junior’s failings, it seems as though NASCAR and television still believe in the individual more than the sport when it comes to marketing. Danica Patrick has commanded massive amounts of attention in her limited number of NASCAR race runs.
The danger of placing hopes in Danica is that her results(in both NASCAR and IndyCar) indicate she is at best a marginal talent. So, how long will people pay attention when the driver receiving so much attention is running in 20th position.
And on Thursday night, the dangers of building a publicity campaign around one individual again became clear when daredevil Travis Pastrana broke his foot and ankle while attempting to perform a stunt during ESPN’s high flying, thrill seeking X Games.
Trouble with that is ESPN had built an entire advertising campaign around Pastrana for this weekend with commercials showing him explaining how he would travel back and forth between his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut in Indianapolis and the X Games in California.
After Pastrana’s injury ESPN’s desperation was apparent as they grasp for any hope that the person much of their broadcasting weekend is built around proved breakable. Announcements and twitter posts that claimed the star may be doubtful but not to count him out just yet abounded.
Whether Pastrana races on Saturday or performs anymore stunts during the X Games does not really matter in terms of this point- Placing so much hope in one person has proven to be incredibly dangerous for the sport of NASCAR and its television partners.
Unfortunately, we live in a personality driven, star gazing society and this type of promotion is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The warning for any sport, including NASCAR, is that the stars they pick to promote better be the right stars.
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