NASCAR Lessons. By, Bob Lefsetz

Posted on November 14, 2012 by


Remember when NASCAR was the sport of the future? Doing boffo at not only the b.o, but on TV? When it appealed to all ages and all sexes and all ethnicities?

Those days are through.

NASCAR has cratered. Yesterday’s “Wall Street Journal” has got an article about it, check it out:

But the lessons don’t only apply to NASCAR, they apply to so many businesses.

1. Know Why People Come

It’s the crashes. As the sport got safer, the public lost interest. People want to see banging and bumping. But the sport’s image couldn’t handle all that death. Either NASCAR has to have a reset, sacrifice attendance/money for safety, or ultimately go extinct.

Why do people like you? Your voice, your songs, the way you give back? Never lose sight of that. It’s your glue.

2. Sameness

They call it the “Car of Tomorrow.” Yup, all the cars are now the same. So it makes it harder to root for your own individual team. Individuality is key to long term success in America. If you’re not unique, you’re headed for the dumper.

Sure, the Car of Tomorrow was safe, and it leveled the competitive playing field, but it also excised all the excitement. Imagine if every record was written and produced by the same team, the only difference was the singer, that’s NASCAR. As much as we cling to the assembly line hits by the masters, we root for the outsiders. Which is why it’s so hard to stay on top in music. Which is one of the reasons why Top Forty can be so fickle. Radio is not loyal to acts. First and foremost it’s loyal to shareholders and advertisers. Next comes the listeners. Acts are at the bottom. If you’re legendary, you won’t get airplay unless your cut is phenomenal. The audience is hungry only for stupendous, and if it’s by someone new, all the better.

Then again, NASCAR and Top Forty radio are positively mainstream. You can create a parallel universe. Whether it be skateboarding or kiteboarding. Just don’t have delusions of grandeur, believing that your niche is gonna go viral and last.

3. How Big Is Your Core

NASCAR made the mistake of playing to the last row, the people who barely care, who were drawn to the excitement. Once it began to fade, these people were out. Attendance at Talladega has been halved. Be thankful everybody cares, but don’t expect it to last more than a couple of minutes. Unless you’re constantly innovating, giving them a reason to keep paying attention.

4. Price

$90 to go to the race? Then lowered to $80? That’s no difference.

You’ve got no business without customers. Unless you’re planning to fold up shop instantly, you’ve got to play for the long term. Lower prices ensure longevity. Forget the issue of bad press, people being turned off by high prices, beating you up for same. Many people don’t hate you, they just can’t afford to go. And it’s this cadre which pays retail and keeps you in business. Those buying scalped ducats are just following trends.

Sky high prices have hurt the live business. They’ve turned it into a once in a blue moon event instead of a regular habit. Imagine if a movie were $90. Hell, $50. How often would you go? And you’d only go to see that which has been endorsed by everybody, what is a sure shot. Which is why classic acts sell out and so many new acts go begging. They just don’t have the rep. Meanwhile, if you don’t deliver, there are too many options at a lower price, people move on.

In music, it’s a race to exclude the audience. We need a commissioner. Who fines acts who scalp their own tickets. Who insists on all-in ticketing. Who makes sure there aren’t two thousand pre-sales. Who mandates paperless. Who makes sure tickets are inexpensive and available enough that the core audience can go. Unfortunately, every act is an individual company, believing the rules don’t apply to them, and they’re entitled to do what’s expedient. That’s true, but it’s hurting the business at large.

What about tomorrow?

No one’s thinking about that in the live sphere.

5. Repetition

Jimmie Johnson keeps winning and attendance keeps tanking. Unless you make room for new winners, the whole business loses.

6. Sponsors

Are fickle. You get in bed with advertisers, you can have the whole bottom of your business fall out.

Your sport/music is not the core business of the advertiser/sponsor. Usually, it’s hard to quantify results to begin with. So one day, there’s a new CEO or sales drop and your sponsorship fails.

Sponsorship is a luxury.

Furthermore, the more you trumpet your success, how rich you are, the more the audience believes you don’t need them.

Kind of like Napster… After all those acts parading on MTV’s “Cribs,” did it really matter to them if you stole a few tracks?


But the acts sent the wrong message. And refused to get on board with the future.

7. Wifi

It’s come to NASCAR tracks. It’s come to pro football stadiums. It should have been there years ago. Apple introduced its Powerbook over a decade ago with wifi before most people knew what it was, never mind had a router. You’ve got to lead. This is how Microsoft lost. By being tied to the past, worried about the people in the rearview mirror as opposed to those in front.

Now NASCAR fines a driver for tweeting from his car during a break. That’s insane. If there was any sanctity in NASCAR, it disappeared with the Car of Tomorrow. You want to stay relevant? Go where the kids are, give them what they want, engage them.

The road manager should tweet from backstage.

The act should tweet from the dressing room.

It’s not like this is manipulation. People have thoughts. You’re just writing them down and communicating.

People no longer tolerate boredom. Anywhere. Even at the gig. Give them multiple opportunities to be engaged.

8. Nothing Is Forever

Once upon a time Indy cars ruled.

Indy was killed by internal squabbling. You’ve got to present a united front.

But don’t make the mistake of believing you’re here forever.

9. Comebacks

It’s hard to remove the stink from a has-been. And that’s what NASCAR is. The core still cares. But everybody else has moved on and it’s almost impossible to rehabilitate yourself. You stay relevant by continuing to play. By taking chances. Innovating. Once you rely on your greatest hits, you’re toast.

If you’re not playing your new music in concert, then you’re done.

And if your excuse is the audience won’t tolerate it…see the above.

We created this situation, not them.

No one wants to overpay for a mediocre seat to see you wank.

At these prices, you’ve got to deliver!

Furthermore, we’ve reset expectations. People who pay a lot expect moving sets and dancing…an extravaganza. And most of the time this has got nothing to do with music. Whereas when it’s about music, when the audience is engaged, they’re dying to hear the new stuff.

But that’s a small portion of the audience today.


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