So when I say “NASCAR” to you, what do you think of? Probably a bunch of good ‘ol boys flying confederate flags, drinking beer, and whooping as stock cars go whizzing by. In the past, this image would have been fairly accurate. However, times are changing. The product managers at NASCAR have realized that the world that we are all living in is in the midst of some very large changes and because of this, they are in the process of trying to reinvent what NASCAR is and just exactly who it appeals to.
Changes Come To NASCAR
The NASCAR product managers are hoping that the Next Gen, a racecar tasked with something more than just going fast, will be able to change NASCAR’s fortunes, to bring back classic stock car thrills and reverse more than a decade of fan loss. They are also hoping that the new car can change NASCAR’s culture, to attract racially diverse team owners and team members and the younger multicultural fans that their advertisers crave.
NASCAR is in a difficult position. Its initial economic clout grew out of its appeal to white working-class fans. By the 1990s, their largely white, right-leaning audience became an economic and political force that was known as the “NASCAR Nation”. This group was valued as the most brand-loyal consumers in all of sports. The problem that the NASCAR product managers are facing is that fans warmly nostalgic for Old Dixie are aging out. Going forward, the challenge faced by NASCAR’s product managers is to appeal to a new audience without alienating their old one, even as it seeks to distance itself from some of what that old audience held dear. The league’s strategy is all rolled up into the Next Gen car. They will try to pay homage to the past while outrunning it at the same time. Honoring the past, the new car looks like a stock vehicle and is designed to “put the ‘stock’ back in stockcar,” as the NASCAR product managers like to say. Anticipating the future, it has the ability to be converted to electric power.
Billions ride on the new plan. NASCAR is due to enter negotiations for its broadcast rights, which in the past brought an estimated $8 billion over 10 years. Delivering diverse viewers has become a multibillion-dollar marketing imperative. The challenge is that even devoted fans sometimes have griped that racing has grown dull, partly owing to the cars being raced. In response to the crash that killed the racing legend Dale Earnhardt back in 2001, the NASCAR product managers have developed the fifth-generation “car of the future” with an eye toward safety. It was called “the flying brick,” in part for its generic appearance. The next car that was created, Gen 6, looked more like a street car but turned out to be more costly than Gen 5, meaning fewer teams could afford winning cars. It was anticipated that the leaders would get out front early and stay out front.
The Next Gen car addresses these problems in a couple of ways. First, the cars will look more like stock street cars, recalling a time back when rules said that manufacturers had to sell the public at least 500 of a particular car for it to qualify it for racing. Manufacturers say fans bond closely with a brand the more its racecar resembles what’s in their driveway. Next Gen will also more mechanically resemble street cars that people can purchase. NASCAR is replacing arcane technology, like an antiquated solid axle rear suspension with the independent rear suspension that is found in modern cars. Fans like to see aggressive physical contact between cars, which the Next Gen car is made to absorb. The composite body is built to take a lot more abuse, so from the bumpin’ and bangin’. Other changes should increase the car’s passing ability, which will be viewed by including more in-car cameras. New sensors will generate more statistics to be processed by stats obsessed fans.
It’s All About Culture Change
The goal of introducing the Next Gen’s car is to change NASCAR’s culture. One way that the product managers hope to make this happen is by lowering costs, the league says this will allow for new owners. Additionally, teams will be limited to having just a seven-car fleet. Previously, with different cars for each kind of track including dirt track, short oval, and road course some teams were said to have a fleet of more than 40 cars. In the past each team manufactured its own parts. The Next Gen cars will all get most of the parts that they use, from chassis to gas tanks, from the same list of specified shops.
The goal of the NASCAR product managers is to use Next Gen to reduce the ownership cost by 25 to 40 percent. This should help to level the playing field. In the past as the sport grew in popularity it attracted a lot of cash. It became an engineering arms race between the different teams. Success in the sport was determined largely by how much money, tech and support the sponsors could provide. The hope of the NASCAR product managers is that lowering costs can make it easier to attract new team owners. The result of this should be increased diversity in car team management.
Increased minority participation can give the league a new narrative that highlights its inclusiveness. And that narrative is very, very important to NASCAR. Research shows that car racing storytelling is a top reason fans tune in to watch the sport. No matter if it is the competition, or a wreck, or two cars fighting out for the lead week after week. What may be different now is that NASCAR fans themselves appear ready for a change. A survey measured attitudes toward social justice issues among 1,075 respondents, including 467 NASCAR fans. The Confederate flag ban that NASCAR implemented was supported “somewhat” or “very much” by 60 percent of the general population, but by 80 percent of both African Americans and NASCAR fans.
What All Of This Means For YouWhen it comes to car racing, NASCAR has always been the organization that has been able to put on a well-attended race. However, times are changing, and the NASCAR product managers realize that what may have worked in the past is not going to work in the future. The NASCAR product managers need to find a way to diversity their team owners, their teams, and as a result their customers. What they need, is a pit stop. One way that the NASCAR product managers are hoping to capture a new fan base is by introducing the Next Gen version of their racing car. The traditional fan base for NASCAR sponsored races is starting to get old and die out. This means that a new fan base is going to have to be cultivated. Racing has become dull and predictable. The new car is designed to fix this. It will permit more cameras to capture the action. It will also more closely resemble the types of cars that people can purchase. The goal is to attract more diverse car owners and the fans that want to follow them. The new car should make it less expensive to be a car owner. Car racing is all about the stories that people like to listen to. Social justice is very important to the new collection of fans that the NASCAR product managers want to attract. The good news is that the NASCAR product managers have realized that change needs to happen. Instead of sitting around while their fan base gets smaller and smaller, they are taking action to try to reinvent themselves. If their plans to introduce a new style of racing car works to attract more diverse car owners, then they may have found the winning formula. We’ll just have to sit back and see how this race turns out.
Question For You: How could the NASCAR product managers make coming to a race more attractive for a more diverse fan base?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
There’s no question that streaming services are very hot right now. No matter if you are talking about Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime, or any one of a number of other services, people seem to be signing up for these new services in droves. Sure would be good to be a product manager for one of them. However, it turns out that there is a downside to this job. People sign up very quickly, but then they seem to also leave very quickly. What’s going on here?