During a recent trip to a NASCAR race at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Blake Davidson couldn’t help but be amazed by the scene an hour after the event.
It gets to him every time, whenever and wherever NASCAR sets up shop at one of its 38 race weekends each year. There, on a sunny Southern California March day, amid the post-race rush of Brad Keselowski’s thrilling victory over Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, throngs of fans continued to mill around the track area. Nobody was leaving, and they were still looking for things to do.
It’s the kind of scene that makes Davidson, NASCAR’S vice president of licensing and consumer products, smile. Defined by its intensely passionate and boisterous fan base, few sporting events can match the jolt a NASCAR weekend can deliver. The scores of jacked-up fans continue to add to the sport’s awe-inspiring experience.
And there’s another thing, too: With the milling around comes fans’ desire to take some of that NASCAR experience home with them.
A HAULER OVERHAUL
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone at a NASCAR event not sporting something showcasing its brand. From head to toe, the fans are garbed in their favorite drivers’ gear, making them among the most colorful and loyal fans in any sport. Their “been there, done that, got the T-shirt (and more)” approach to souvenir shopping is near the top of their NASCAR weekend to-do lists.
To help give its fans an even bigger, better and faster experience, NASCAR took a long, hard look at its trackside retail setup. Somewhere amid the rows of retail haulers that sport scores of licensed products and accessories — T-shirts, pit crew jerseys and caps, shot glasses and koozies — there had to be a better way to deliver product to its fans.
So, after nearly three decades of using the hauler-based retail model, NASCAR is rolling out a new way to sell its trackside merchandise. The new model features a covered, courtyard-style layout — a design Davidson promises will take the fan-based trackside experience to the next level.
“We thought this new model was critically important to the whole NASCAR experience,” Davidson says. “A NASCAR weekend is a compilation of a lot of things that come together at once. It is a world-class sporting event. It is a festival. There is just so much going on at any given time. NASCAR fans don’t just come on race day and leave. It’s a week-long vacation for many. It is not unusual for people to spend two to three days at an event.”
The new merchandise center is a 20,000- to 30,000-square-foot, tent-type structure that can be adapted to each track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. The layouts include segmented areas for each driver, and separate areas for children’s offerings, women’s apparel and exclusive product lines, such as NASCAR Classics. The full environment, including the courtyard, will span 50,000 square feet or more than an acre.
Davidson says the newly enhanced layout, which is being rolled out in full force the first weekend of August 2015 at Pocono Raceway, will evolve during the year — eventually transforming from testing concepts into a full-fledged presence by the end of the season. Davidson anticipates the new model will take shape and fully be implemented by 2016.
Because each track is different, the design will vary because of space limitations. For example, at larger speedways like Daytona, the rolling merchandising caravan can adjust and grow through the use of satellite locations.
The rollout will be executed through a partnership between three entities: NASCAR, NASCAR Team Properties (NTP) and licensed sports product retailer Fanatics. Earlier this year, Fanatics inked a 10-year agreement as the primary retailer of NASCAR and NTP merchandise at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekends. The retailer has extensive experience with broad-scale fan merchandising at events such as the NHL Winter Classic, SEC Championship football game and Shamrock Series for Notre Dame athletics.
“This will be a whole different look for our fans,” Davidson says. “The NASCAR experience is a compilation of a lot of different things. We’re combining all of this into one place — a place where our fans spend a lot of time. Providing an atmosphere where they can interact with the merchandise is very important. This type of merchandising environment also will allow us to attract different brands to the sport.”
BUILDING ‘NASCAR EVANGELISTS’
Davidson says the ability to touch and feel products is central to the new trackside retail model. The new layout makes it more practical for fans to browse, shop and interact with the merchandise, something Davidson believes is important as the sport continues to grow.
“The NASCAR experience has always been about giving our fans access to our brand,” he says. “Ultimately, across the board at NASCAR events, we want to give our fans an unparalleled fan experience. And because Fanatics has experience with some of these bigger consumer experiences, they are going to allow us to do some new and exciting things — things that we haven’t been able to do trackside before.”
Each layout will include separate stores for teams, drivers, memorabilia and collectibles; a dedicated area for driver appearances; a major expansion of women’s and kids’ items; and the mother of all NASCAR experiences — an interactive customization center where fans can create their own personalized NASCAR gear.
“Right now, there is nothing like the atmosphere following a race, where fans roll through and try to find the perfect souvenirs for their experience,” Davidson says. “Our goal was to make this part of the experience better. We wanted to make shopping for souvenirs the best of all possible worlds. I truly believe this layout will open up a lot of new opportunities for us.”
For example, the Fanatics partnership will enable NASCAR to showcase and sell more high-end products at the track. In addition, Fanatics Apparel, the manufacturing and customization division, will produce merchandise to complement the already-extensive product lines that will be offered by authorized licensees.
“Our goal is to provide the kind of experience that, when our fans walk away, they [do so] as NASCAR evangelists,” Davidson says. “We want to make sure that every part of the experience blows them away. This starts with the race, because if you’ve ever been to a NASCAR race, you know what an unbelievable experience that is. And then — when we take the entire compilation of all of the other aspects of a race weekend and end it by giving our fans the opportunity to walk into this carnival of memorabilia and buy something that represents their favorite driver — that’s pretty special.”
Michael Pallerino is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.