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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE


January 30, 2014


Brent Dewar

Steve Phelps


Q.  The changes that are being implemented, what was the process, and what effect is it going to have on the sport that you see going forward?
BRENT DEWAR:  I'm Brent Dewar, the new chief operating officer, what we talked about as a team and a group, it's always been about winning.  If you were at the Hall of Fame last night, you heard the guys talk about all their wins.  And so what this is really about is putting the best race in from the entire series from the beginning of the series right through the Chase.  I think what it really does, it brings the strategy into play because race drivers always race to win, so some of those late decisions, whether you take two tires or four tires or do a fuel strategy, it's going to be more important because the onus is always on consistency, but the shift will be to winning first and foremost.

Q.  And I guess from a marketing standpoint, and I'll talk to Mr.Phelps here, what does that do in terms of being able to promote the sport and find a way to market it to where you get more fan interest, you get more fans in the stands, which is something NASCAR has been trying to do a lot recently?
STEVE PHELPS:  Well we are very, very excited about what this means for the sport, what it means for the fans.  Do we believe it's going to add excitement?  Absolutely.  Do we think ultimately it'll help with attendance and ratings?  We do.  You're adding drama to every single race, not just during the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but the first 26 races all mean something more.  Essentially it's a win and advance, or win and you're into the round of 16, the Challenger Round.  We think the benefit from a fan perspective are fantastic, both our avid fan base, which they've been through many, many changes with us, they stick through it, they love the changes that we've made for the most part, and then also to get a more casual fan who understands what this brings and more excitement and more drama.

Q.¬† I asked this question to Brian in there, and I don't if you had the answer, about re‑seeding the 15th or 16th place drivers going into that last race and how you allow those guys to compete for a chance to be on stage.¬† Is that something that's been set yet?
BRENT DEWAR:¬† Just to build on Steve's comment, we talked extensively to the track operators and the sponsors, and they know when they have a great race, like last year in California was an awesome race, when they have a great race, the highest repeat is going to happen when those fans are re‑upping for the following year.¬† As Steve says, we're really looking to support the tracks, to provide these great finishes every single week, and you look at it from the sponsor standpoint, race win ads come when you get race wins, they don't come when you have fifth place.¬† It helps the ecosystem from both a marketing and fan engagement standpoint.

Q.  Do you want to talk about Green?  Talk us through NASCAR's Green initiative and some of the things you guys are doing to help change the image for NASCAR and being a trendsetter for other professional sports.
BRENT DEWAR:¬† It's one of the things we're very proud of.¬† We believe that we need to be a leader in all areas, not just in racing.¬† We think the ability to lessen the footprint on the environment, we're already one of the leaders in recycling, the fact we have a green fuel, an ethanol‑based fuel, renewable fuel, is a great storyline.¬† We're working with our partners in recycling bottles, recycling tires, recycling our oil, so we've gone from a position where it's not just being a leader in environmental practices for motorsports but try to be a leader across.¬† We have the finest partners in the Fortune 50, Fortune 500, and that's important to their social‑responsibility programs.¬† They want to partner with companies like ourselves that are thoughtful about that.
You think about the millenials that are coming up, it's important as they understand and get excited about racing, that you can have green racing and have a presence, and they're consistent and they're congruent.  We're working hard in this.  We've got a great program and platform, and it's appealing to new partners to join us as they line up their mission and values of their firm and as they see that they can align those mission and values to NASCAR, as well.
You'll see a lot more as you go from us.  You're a month ahead, but it's an exciting development?

Q.  For that initiative of being green and environmentally aware of a lot of things, NASCAR provides a great avenue with the ad dollars that go into this support to push their initiatives, as well?
BRENT DEWAR:  Yes, we do, and I think if you've had a chance, we refer to one of our Industry Action Plans as driver star power.  I don't know if you had the opportunity to see one of the spots we created last year with Greg Biffle, very simple, easy to understand, but a powerful message, and I think it's a surprise and delight.  It's not what a lot of people think about when they think about racing.  Our partners are excited about it.  They're excited about the presence.  I'm driving a hybrid electric car.  We have a charging station, electric charging station at our office.  We're not just working on it, we're also practicing it ourselves in our office environment.  It's a complete 360 cycle, and like I said, it's about a step every day, and you have to do more every day to lessen that footprint in the environment.

Q.  I know you can never say never, and it may be kind of absurd, but could we see electric cars in NASCAR?
BRENT DEWAR:  It's a great question.  I think if you had gone back 20, 25 years ago, you wouldn't have been thinking about renewable fuels like ethanol.  Our presence is to continue the relevance as we go through it.  We pride ourselves on being the best venue for racing.  We look to continue to innovate, so whatever the propulsions systems are, you start to look at it, and if you see our IMSA racing series and sport car series, you're seeing a number of different green initiatives and different fuel strategies, so we'll try to match the right fuel strategy, the right propulsion system as the sport evolves and innovate over time.

Q.  Would they have to rename the name for Bristol, Thunder Valley?
BRENT DEWAR:  We'll leave it to the future.  We'll do naming strategies in the future should that happen.

Q.¬† I am assuming this is probably an intended consequence, but in speaking with some of the teams, one of the things this new Chase format does is it allows maybe a team that wouldn't necessarily be able to race into the Chase points wise to win a race and get in there and that's a whole different package to sell to a sponsor.¬† Could you talk about‑‑
STEVE PHELPS:  Sure, we think it's a great opportunity from a sponsor standpoint.  Actually going from 12 Chase contenders to 16, you're obviously expanding the field.  The sponsors that we've spoken to, Sprint and the other sponsors, are thrilled.  The primary sponsors from the teams, the team owners, the team drivers, they are very excited about what this means for their sponsors.  So yeah, it'll be great to have someone who isn't even thought of that can win his way or win her way into our Chase, and from there, who knows what happens.  You're 16 to 12 to 8 to 4, and when we crown a champion, it'll be a deserving champion.

Q.  Several teams have said we're a small team and it's a big difference selling an opportunity to make the Chase than selling a we'll finish top 25.
STEVE PHELPS:¬† Yeah, we see some mid‑pack teams or those even further back that finished this past year, they're very excited about what the opportunities are for them and for their sponsors.

Q.  Brent, how do you see it, your history of following this sport, playing out at the last race?
BRENT DEWAR:¬† I think it's going to be, well, for me as a crazy avid fan, I've been in the business for a long time, I think it's going to be as exciting as it gets.¬† I think for us that are the hard‑core avid fans, they're going to understand very clearly.¬† So ideally we're going to have four outstanding teams at the final race of the season.¬† What makes this uniquely NASCAR is the other cars are on the track at the same time.¬† So I think a lot of strategy will come into it.¬† I think the real break, we have a tremendous loyal fan base, and they will embrace this, but it will also bring the casual fan that will understand very clearly that the first one to the finish line is the champion, and as Brian says, it doesn't get any simpler than that.¬† We're going to think of some clever and smart things as we do with markers to help the fan from a visual cue standpoint.¬† We've got some great inputs from the teams and drivers this week, and we're listening to them.
So we have a few enhancements, but on the fundamentals on the program it will be on visual cues as we on the marketing side start to work on that.  I think it's pretty exciting.

Q.¬† Steve, I walked over here with a columnist who covers all sports, not a motorsports writer, and he's very good.¬† He said, "I love it."¬† I said, that last race, when I saw those brackets up on the layout, it was like‑‑ is it me?¬† I'm surprised that a writer and a journalist that covers other sports, that would be so familiar.¬† Is that part of it, too?
STEVE PHELPS:  Oh, absolutely.  You look at that Chase grid, and the 16, 12, 8 and 4.  We fully expected that both avid fans, casual fans, ultimately office pools will be filling those things out to name their four that will run for the championship, and then the final winner.
Great opportunities for us to do, even from a fantasy standpoint or NASCAR.com, all kinds of different places that we believe we can connect and engage with fans, and that's what it's really about.  We're here to grow the sport.  It's a fantastic sport.  We think that gives us an opportunity to grow that fan base.

Q.  Is it a little flukier, the last race?  There's more of a fluke element to it in a way, as well, just things happen?
STEVE PHELPS:  Well, I wouldn't characterize it as fluke, because if you are able to get to that final race, you have done so many things right.  Most likely you've won a race to get in or you were very high up in the points, but most likely you won a race, and then you have either won multiple races to get you to that Final Four, leaving Phoenix heading to Homestead.
So the thing that we're very confident about and we talked to the drivers about and they concurred, is if you win this championship, you have done so many things well and you have to do so many things well in order to be your champion, and it will be a deserving champion.

Q.  I talked to Scott from Chicago yesterday (inaudible) is that something you're considering at all?
BRENT DEWAR:¬† You know, what we're looking at is I think it's rising all the opportunities to the ecosystem, and I think the first races in the season will play out differently, and I think‑‑ I've never met a driver in my 25 years that doesn't race to win, but at times the strategy might be different.¬† So I think in this case we've got not only 43 great drivers, we've got 43 great crew chiefs, and there's going to be some strategies on two tires and fuel and everything else that will drive that.
So what will happen in those early‑race seasons for those that might not have the full ride, there's going to be a lot more attention to the team and the opportunities.¬† I came from the sponsorship side in a previous life, and there will be more interest and drama for every single race in the first 26 beyond just the hard‑core like myself that would follow the races anyway.¬† We're looking at this, as Brian said, it checks every single box.¬† It's good for the OEMs and it's go for the sponsors.¬† We think the teams have a better opportunity and if you talk to the track operators, they're not waiting for the Chase.¬† The races matter every single step.
I think what we'll see is the drama play out of the strategy of these races, and as a fan, and I'm a fan, I'm excited about that.

Q.  Can you talk a little bit about Brian mentioned yesterday that it was several years of consideration.  How much of a role did the sponsors and partners have in that?  How did they feel about what ultimately came to be?
BRENT DEWAR:  We've talked to all the stakeholders.  There's a lot of different inputs that we get, and you see Gene Stefanyshyn and Steve O'Donnell and Robin and the guys working on the product, and that's important, so we don't want anybody to take away that this is just about the formats and the Chase and the winning.  It's all a part of a complete package.
So it's about making the product relevant.¬† You see the Gen‑6 and the lift we had in that regard.¬† But they also recognize it's about winning and entertainment, and so they're asking us to continue to innovate.
I think the biggest thing that I see is this is not about change, this is about innovation, and great companies, great organizations will continue to innovate.
So don't look at there's been changes over the last few years.  We continue to assess and evolve.  I've been on both sides of this, and I can tell you NASCAR is a good listener to its stakeholders and they're listening to those inputs and I'm proud to be a part of that on this side trying to do the implementation aspect of it.

Q.  Perfect segue into my question.  You've only been in NASCAR for a little while.  How do you compare your experience with NASCAR and General Motors?
BRENT DEWAR:  Wow, that's a loaded question.  Very similar but very different.  Obviously in the auto industry.  I've been around the France family for a long period of time, from Bill to Brian and Lesa, and since I left General Motors in my consulting business with a lot of companies.  Brian France, I guess this will be recorded so he'll hear this, he's about as innovative as a CEO as you'll ever meet.  He is a fan of NASCAR.  He's a fan of entertainment and sports.  He's challenging us to think.  He's challenging us to think out of the box.  Relevancy, remember the legacy, remember the history.
What I love about this is we study it, we get the inputs, and then we move quickly.
I think General Motors is on a fast pace, as well, as the OEMs, they work with all of them.  Their capital and programs lend to more time, so you just can't make quick changes.  You can develop vehicles in three years.  That's probably the biggest difference.  Very similar, very thoughtful.  This is not a knee jerk, this is founded in research.  Both have their strengths and advantages, but you'll notice when we got the inputs, we started to move, and that's exciting.

Q.  You mentioned the facilities before, and every sport across the board, baseball, football, basketball, everybody is having trouble filling seats because TV has gotten so much better.  Did you look into like the urgency of this, of each event impacting the actual live, being there?
BRENT DEWAR:¬† You know, it's a great question.¬† We need to work‑‑ obviously the tracks, we have close relationships with them and discussing it.¬† Everybody is innovating, as I talked about, and broadcasts will continue to innovate to make the show as best as possible from broadcast to screens to mobile devices.¬† There's nothing different, and that's what makes us unique.¬† The activation of a track experience, to go to a track and go to the midways, whatever your favorite track is, experience the products and the fan experience.¬† It's a live event.¬† It's still one of the best values sporting events in America today, is going to a NASCAR race.
So we need to help them continue to embrace the innovation.  You heard about Daytona Rising and some of the innovation right here in Charlotte, the big screen, what they're doing in Texas.  They know that they have to compete for the entertainment mindset of what's going on in their market at that time.  We're working closely.  Steve's team works very closely with the tracks on how we can bring that so that it's not broadcast versus the track, it's both.  It's complementary.  Both sides are trying to grow that experience, no different than any of the other sporting and entertainment events.
STEVE PHELPS:  I think Brent is spot on.  We work very closely with the tracks.  Do we believe that this is going to enhance the interest in going to the track and seeing in person what's happening, what will transpire?  I think the answer is yes.

Q.¬† I didn't hear Brian say:¬† Will points be re‑seeded after Richmond, or from 1 to 16 that's how they'll be?
BRENT DEWAR:¬† They'll get their rankings out of Richmond for the first 16 based on their wins ‑‑ wins and then points.

Q.  You're in the catbird seat right now.  You've got a hell of a marketing program right now.  Tell me how you're going to market this.
BRENT DEWAR:  I'd like to learn that.
STEVE PHELPS:¬† You know, it's something that we'll be very‑‑ that we'll develop over time.¬† You saw the branding around this and we're very excited about how that looks with the Chase Grid.¬† We've had discussions with Sprint and there will be other partners involved, as well.¬† We think this is going to be really good from a sponsor‑activation standpoint.¬† They'll see the value to the fan base.¬† They'll see the value in connecting with the fan base.
You know, my team with Brent's direction will get to a place where that will all be laid out.  We do have a little bit of time, which is great, but these common themes around the importance of winning will be stressed again and again and again.
You're right; from a marketer's perspective, this is a dream.

Q.  Steve, can you give us a little bit of a sort of state of the union of how the sponsorship side is working right now, what you're seeing from companies as the economy begins to improve?
STEVE PHELPS:¬† I would say it's been kind of a two‑ to three‑year run where you see sponsorship continue to come back to the sport.¬† A lot of renewals on the team side, a lot of renewals on the sanctioning‑body side, on the track side.¬† So it's continuing to improve.
You know, are we improving by 50 percent every year?  No.  You know, people, companies are cautious, but they're investing more in NASCAR, and we're excited about this.  We believe this is only going to help from that perspective.
I've been thrilled over the last couple years to see new types of sponsors come to NASCAR, so HP and green companies, those that are traditionally or have not traditionally been with NASCAR are now coming to NASCAR.  While we're keeping some of those traditional companies that have been involved, whether they're endemic to the automotive area or they're packaged goods companies, beverage companies, it's fantastic.

Q.  Steve, with many of the racing teams, they've essentially become de facto marketing agencies by having to step up staff on the marketing side to justify the dollars that they're asking for and moving product and image and things like that.  Is NASCAR as an entity also become somewhat of that?
STEVE PHELPS:¬† Oh, yeah, absolutely.¬† You look at just the staff size on the marketing side and on the communications side at NASCAR, the number has probably doubled in the last three years.¬† We have seen some things on the team side from a social media perspective and a comms perspective where you're right, they've raised their game, and they needed to.¬† There's significant investments that are being made into this sport at the team level, at the track and the sanctioning‑body level and our media partners.¬† So everyone needs to raise their game, and we've certainly done that.

Q.  Are you actually studying your partners' business models and figuring out how to best use NASCAR?
STEVE PHELPS:  I would say from a communications standpoint it's very proactive.  As it relates to the sponsors themselves it's very collaborative.  If we have some things we believe we can bring to them, we've got an internal group that works in our partnership marketing area that does that.  They are trying to develop new assets and unique programs that are proprietary for individual sponsors.  So we do that on an ongoing basis, but it really is about understanding their business, understanding what they're trying to achieve with their sponsorship and their overall business and figure out how NASCAR helps them achieve those goals.
BRENT DEWAR:¬† And Steve, you're doing a lot of communications meetings with their marketing folks both in the companies and on the teams, and that wasn't done five, six, seven years ago, so you'll see that Friday is another meeting.¬† We've had continual meetings, partners of B‑to‑B, B‑to‑C meetings.¬† In some cases that's helping them.¬† In many cases it's them giving us feedback, and it's the collaboration that allows the ecosystem to grow.

Q.  What's your best strategy?
BRENT DEWAR:¬† I think Brian said it best; for us as marketers, it's a dream.¬† I mean, so it's clear and compelling and simple, so when you look at it, for those that are hardcore fans, if you were here last night for the Hall of Fame, we talked‑‑ you listened to everybody that stood up there, they talked about how many wins they had, they talked about how many championships they had.¬† Nowhere in their speeches did they talk about how many laps they led or what they did.¬† So from the core fan, the avid NASCAR fan, from the very beginning, I grew up as a little boy hearing about Fireball Roberts and get to hear about his stories.¬† They were all about winning, and that was the way the sport was founded.
Points racing has come to an evolution for a good reason, and so when we look at it, the hardcore fan will understand that.  I think where it really gets interesting, and I think they'll build on that, is what we refer to as the casual fan.  The casual fan for any sports, this simplicity will be so much better for them.
So what happens the first half of the season before you get into it, every race matters.  It always did matter, but the strategy will change from race to race, and you'll see some teams will make a strategy towards the end of the race where they might have been too risky in the past to take two tires or do a fuel stop, because if I run out of fuel, I'm going back to 35th and it's hard to make that up as they're thinking about getting to the end.  Some teams, whether its five, six, ten, whatever, will make that calculated strategy.  We're not only taking 43 great race car drivers, but now 43 great crew chiefs, all the engineers up on the box strategizing to do that.
Once this starts to play out, and I'm confident it will, the buzz will start to happen.  So the core fans will be telling their casual friends to come into it.  That's how many of us brought people into the sport.  I was in the sport, but I brought friends with me along to a race, and they became fans of the sport.
So I think from a marketer's standpoint, it's going to be fairly easy to articulate.  You win and then you advance.  You still have to be running every race.  You've got to be in the top 30 and competitive.  And then from that it's winning.

Q.¬† But under this model, if Junior had won last year‑‑
BRENT DEWAR:¬† Well, that's interesting.¬† We modeled everything, so as good business people and marketers we go back and model, but predictions don't reflect on the past because the modeling we looked to go backwards was based on a points system, so the model going forward is directionally totally different.¬† So this will be unique.¬† So being in the sport we know the drivers and the crew chiefs, we know the team owners, we know their competitive juices, we know how the OEMs think, we're not looking to come second or third, we're looking for the sponsors.¬† The dynamics will change, so the modelling it's ‑‑ you could have looked if this applied to some previous year, that's what would have appeared, but we don't believe that reflects what the future will bring because the strategy wouldn't have been to take two tires.¬† The strategy would have been, geez, we're a top 10 finishing team, we're not going to gamble on that.
So it's going to be those kind of strategic plays which is really a hallmark of the core of how this sport was founded.  Does that make sense?

Q.  Going from conservative to liberal.  We'll see how that plays.  It makes Richmond the ultimate win or go home.
BRENT DEWAR:¬† Richmond has been like that in the past, but it's mathematical calculations‑‑

Q.¬† Yes, but now every car in the field‑‑
BRENT DEWAR:  It makes Vegas a huge race.  It makes Martinsville or the two Michigan races because winning in those races means something.  So if we have 18 winners they're not all going to make the Chase, but the dynamic variable of the racing for the really core avid fan, they'll get it, and for the casual fan.  And so we have one of the largest fan bases, but it's those additional millenials and casual fans, they're going to peek over and say, what's my friend talking about.

Q.  It's the sample?
BRENT DEWAR:  It's the sample, you got it.

Q.¬† Was there any talk of having both a regular season and a playoffs, just acknowledging‑‑
BRENT DEWAR:¬† We've taken a little bit of a twist off that, not exactly the way you're saying, so you can be the champion of the regular season, not have a win, so we're bringing that part forward, and that will be a seed into the Chase.¬† So if we only have eight winners, there will be a champion.¬† If we have 15 winners, that one will be seeded‑‑ it won't be that nomenclature or marketing term, but that's what gets you into the next round.

Q.  (Inaudible)?
BRENT DEWAR:¬† There always is, right, so you want to run at the highest. ¬†So we're not‑‑ a little bit different.¬† I think a mulligan would be purely a mulligan, the bad golfer that I am, I appreciate my breakfast ball, get to hit it over.¬† But that's truly a mulligan.¬† But this really is that factor that you're still in it, and it's not at all‑‑ and that happens today, where you just don't know you're out of it, you need a computer to tell you you're out of it.

Q.¬† Do you see us switching off the Chase races?¬† Darian Grubb said I love this‑‑
BRENT DEWAR:  You've got to get there.  You just don't get to be invited to Homestead.  You've got to win and get your way to Homestead.
Question keeps coming up, this is for '14, these are annual decisions we make, so we've got lots of stakeholder partners, so that discussion and thought will come in the future.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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