Anyone who has watched a Nascar race knows that sponsorship is a huge part of the sport. Just look at the cars covered in logos or a track wall during a race and you’ll see multiple brands vying for attention. But over the years, what got lost was the Nascar brand itself.
For a sport defined by its sponsors, Nascar is finally standing on its own. It's closing on the implementation of a three-year branding effort, led by agency Rare, to get to the heart of what the Nascar brand really is and what it means to fans and to the people who work for the company.
As the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing heads into its winter break, it’s looking to a future without a major sponsor for its Cup Series, after Monster Energy ended its three-year naming right.
Beginning in 2020 Nascar’s premier series will be known as the Nascar Cup Series and will feature four cornerstone brands as premier partners; Busch Beer, Coca-Cola, Geico and Xfinity.
It’s a chance for a sport that has been struggling with attendance and grappling with its own identity to stand out and hopefully gain new fans.
Over three years ago, Nascar was looking to review the brand, stating it didn’t know how to define it, according to Nascar’s senior vice-president of marketing, Pete Jung.
“We put out an RFP…after 12 years of Sprint sponsorship, we were ready to onboard Monster Energy and wanted to be relevant to Monster, their customers and their brand,” Jung told The Drum.
The organization looked for an external expert and started talking to branding agencies. Through mutual connections, they found Rare Design, a small shop based in the deep south of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Rare, and its agency founder Rodney Richardson, made an impression due to the agency’s work with major sports teams, such as the Houston Texans, Milwaukee Brewers and Charlotte Hornets.
What Nascar realized after talking with Rare was that they needed more than just another logo, as what was out there was essentially a logo soup – they had an identity crisis and needed to reimagine the company from the inside out.
“I told them, ‘you’ve lost your way a bit. It’s not about logos or identities. We need to take steps back and find your purpose, look at how people see and interact with the sport.’ The scope was bigger than we thought, but their leadership was supportive,” Richardson told The Drum.
Richardson took Nascar through Rare's four phases of branding – understand, think, create, manage. Then he kept asking the question “Why?” Why did the organization have multiple logos for every event, external and internal? Why did they operate the way they did? The ‘why’ got Nascar to look back at its history and find its purpose, even if Nascar didn’t always have the answers.
“Your brand is your story,” Richardson told Nascar. “It’s who you are, where you come from, your values and characters. That drives everything. Knowing who you are is the real identity.”
The team looked to align Nascar’s story – from its moonshiner roots to its stars like Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon and current champion Kyle Busch – with its culture and expression to bring greater success.
Nascar met with stakeholders and fans – the organization even has a Fan Council – input . Jung said Nascar looked at its culture and asked real, honest questions internally and to the fans.
What Nascar found was that that some of its fans, including Richardson, had thought the brand had lost its way, that it was too politically correct, that multiple rule changes had confused the fan base.
“What people like is the emotion, the excitement, the banging (of cars), the passion. Don’t take away what fans love,” said Richardson.
Nascar and Rare came up with a brand book to define what Nascar is and settled on “We Are Racing” as a motto. While that may sound simple, it’s what defines that statement that makes it resonate. It’s family culture, car culture, but it’s also innovation, passion and competition. Essentially, Nascar wanted to tell its fans that ‘we are one big family that loves one thing – racing’, but its couldn’t do that until its changed the culture internally.
That involved getting everyone in the organization on the same page. Both Nascar and Rare found through research that racing was “authentic, innovative, driven, courageous and stewarding.” They looked to connect people to racing through partners, teams, drivers, content and promotion, to entertain, excite and unite through racing, according to the brand book.
That book was adopted by the company and championed internally by now-president Steve Phelps and Lesa France Kennedy, executive vice chair of Nascar. They helped pull the sometimes disparate entities that make up Nascar together in unity. A simple phrase, “Nascar is…” let employees say what they thought it was to them, and there were really no wrong answers.
Once everyone was onboard internally, it was time to put everything to the fans. From a company logo that Rare reformatted to include both the racing stripe elements of the past and a look toward the future, to promoting the drivers, to the look at the tracks, there is a more cohesive feel and attitude to the Nascar brand.
That look includes the new logo for the Nascar Cup Series – the top racing series in the US.
Unlike past years, there will be no title sponsor, meaning the Nascar three-stripe logo and typeface will be front and center. At each race, the premier partners will be present both on the track and in the race logos, but Nascar will still get the billing it deserves for building and maintaining the sport.
It’s a new sponsorship model: a tiered system with premier partners. It means accepting a handful of brands, not just one sponsor for years, said Jung.
“This has been a monumental year for our sport, one highlighted by significant changes in our business model to ensure long-term viability and growth,” said Nascar president Phelps in a release. “As we begin this new chapter, we are joined by four incredible brands with deep-rooted histories across all levels of our sport. We are honored to have this elite group represent our Nascar Cup Series for years to come.”
Premier partners will play a key role in consumer marketing and fan development initiatives moving forward. Premier partners will collectively own a presence connected to the Nascar Cup Series Championship Race and Nascar All-Star Race. Additionally, all four partners will be prominently featured in multiple platforms across the sport, including integrations in broadcast, Nascar digital and social channels, event entitlements, in-market promotions and at-track activations.
Rare and Nascar are hoping the new attitude and cohesiveness of voice and vision will help keep longtime fans and build new ones along the way.
“Racing doesn’t mean one thing – it means everything. ‘We are Nascar and we are racing.’ That is the basis for everything – the heartbeat that has to be there. To entertain, excite and unite through racing, with great competition but also great unity,” said Richardson, quoting the brand book.