Wednesday, June 25, 2008
NASCAR Struggles To Deal With The New Media World
It certainly is an interesting time to be an executive with NASCAR. Suddenly, the public's attention has turned from fascination with the drivers to scrutiny of the management team.
Here at The Daly Planet, we talk NASCAR TV and have done so every day since February of 2007. Lots of diverse topics, both good and bad, have passed through our website and been discussed by our readers.
The Internet is our direct access to NASCAR fans around the world. This Google blog site was free of charge and took about one hour to set-up.
Meanwhile, NASCAR is standing at a true communications crossroad. The company is struggling with new media issues and is years behind in its approach to Media Relations. There was no better example of that than Mike Helton's recent driver meeting.
In this day and age, who assembles professional athletes to take them to task about speaking-out in the media and then allows them to exit directly into that same media who have been waiting outside the door?
The results were predictable. Immediate reporting of the private meeting and anger at Helton for trying to curb free speech. Regardless of his intentions, mismanagement of both the media and the message caused the results.
The second recent problem occurred on a much grander scale. It was NASCAR Chairman Brian France slouched at a table with no necktie and mussed hair talking in circles about an issue he clearly did not understand.
That was the official NASCAR video sent around the world in response to a racially-charged discrimination lawsuit against the sanctioning body. Incredibly, NASCAR itself had arranged France's appearance in the Media Center in Michigan.
Immediately after he was done, the video was posted on websites from YouTube to ESPN.com. France instantly had gone "viral." That night, on both local TV stations and cable TV networks that footage was the face of the sport that bills itself as the most popular auto racing series in North America.
How is it possible that no one took the time to prepare the Chairman in both content and appearance for this crucial moment?
Does anyone believe that David Stern from the NBA would appear like this on-camera? Have you seen the new NFL Commissioner speak? These two buttoned-up professionals deal with a variety of issues from cheating scandals to steroid abuse. Yet, neither of them has ever looked or sounded like Brian France in Michigan.
Where were the professionals from The NASCAR Media Group? The division between the old-school NASCAR "PR guys" and the TV pro's at NMG needs to close very quickly as the sport goes through this period of unrest. Images are now everything.
NASCAR's Public Relations staff continually fails to realize that what is said on-camera by NASCAR executives is now distributed globally and archived online in minutes. This is the reality of the new media environment in which we live. The days of the deadline press and the "print boys" are long gone.
At a time when NASCAR desperately needs a direct portal to the fans, they are reminded of one big reality. Not only did NASCAR generate billions by selling the TV rights to the races, but they also sold the right to actually operate the NASCAR.com website.
It is the Turner Interactive group in Atlanta, GA that operates NASCAR.com and all the things that go along with it. Their offices remain in Atlanta, part of a bigger group of Turner-operated websites. This company paid a lot to get control of NASCAR.com, and they have sole control of it until 2014.
What that essentially means is that almost everybody on the planet has direct access to the Internet except NASCAR's own management team. When the sport itself tries to send a message directly to the fans, it has to be delivered through a third party. Think about that for a moment.
The NASCAR.com folks in Atlanta are Turner employees, with the same kind of loyalty to their paychecks that any of us have to an employer. Their agenda is to grow the business for Turner, and use NASCAR as the content of their operation.
Where does that leave NASCAR? They cannot originate their own Internet site to offer official video and media releases. The top-secret one they do have is closed to the public with a log-in for approved media members. There is no MySpace page, no Facebook site and no YouTube postings from NASCAR for content they want fans to see.
NMG uses SPEED to show most of the TV programs they produce, but even with many thousands of hours of archive and exclusive footage NMG cannot create an Internet site for fans. Remember the Turner deal?
Daly Planet readers like to watch NMG uplink live post-race interviews from the Media Centers at every track, yet it is up to the fans to record and post that exact same content on the Internet. In a way, the fans are handling the direct Internet distribution of true NASCAR content.
Ultimately, the fans are the real new media partners of NASCAR. Just go to YouTube and search for "NASCAR." Often, highlights of races and re-posts of TV network NASCAR shows are online minutes after they have actually ended. Fans are making a statment about the online availability of good NASCAR video content. They are doing it themselves.
This is the perfect time for NASCAR to shake-up things where public relations and technology are concerned. This huge sport needs to acknowledge that it has an information and technology gap and it is growing.
One of the most frequent emails received at The Daly Planet is from fans who have emailed NASCAR repeatedly and not gotten a response. In fact, who fans really emailed is the Turner Interactive bunch in Atlanta.
Only by finding and then clicking the "about NASCAR" button at the bottom of NASCAR.com can fans get information about NASCAR itself.
The best part is that this is also the location of the direct contact information for the multi-billion dollar NASCAR corporation. Then, the reality of NASCAR's communication philosophy with the fans hits.
There are seven sentences about the fifty-plus years of NASCAR. The fan contact information is next. It is the address of a Post Office Box in Daytona Beach, FL. That raises one good question for many fans.
"I would like to contact NASCAR, does anyone have a stamp?"
The Daly Planet welcomes comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. Thank you for taking the time to drop by.