Recently, I watched SPEED TV’s coverage of “12 Hours at Sebring.” During this an American Le Mans (ALMS) Series race, Tom O’Toole, SVP of strategy and systems at Global Hyatt was interviewed. He was asked why Hyatt signed on as a sponsor of Porsche’s ALMS program.
“Motor sports is the new golf,” O’Toole answered. He cited the demographic cross-over between Hyatt and Porsche as a major factor. The interviewer turned to Frank Walliser, general manager of Porsche’s motor-sports strategy program. His comments echoed O’Toole’s and extended to integrated global campaigns spanning media channels.
I couldn’t help but consider challenges and opportunities if sporting events of this magnitude swapped places as premier weekend spectator events, not to mention the underlying changes in how consumers expect marketing to operate, both online and off-.
There’s an intersection of major trends at play here, self-reliance and networking among them. Consequently, there are shifting plates in major sports sponsorships. This affects online marketing in several fundamental ways. Motor sports begin with an openness to diverse participants that’s now the hallmark of most any effective campaign. The new e-marketing isn’t about exclusivity, it’s about inclusiveness.
More than golf, motor sports cuts across social and cultural barriers and so sets itself up for growth in a marketing world increasingly driven by social media. Racing is accessible to everyone. The rise of NASCAR (now contemplating a new facility on Staten Island) speaks volumes about our general appetite for inclusive versus exclusive activities. Motor sports are, moreover, truly a global phenomenon. Along with the World Cup, the Super Bowl, and the Olympics, each of Formula One’s 20 Grand Prix events are watched by 50 to 75 million viewers worldwide.
World Rally Championship (WRC), the international road-rally series, has similar numbers. Red Bull tapped into this through its participation in Formula One, the Dakar Rally, and other sports, including airplane racing and snow boarding. I’m drinking a Red Bull as I write this. And you’re probably wondering, “What’s all this got to do with online media?”
First, consider pay per view (PPV). Both golf and motor sports provide event-driven programming opportunities for subscription-based content. Whether delivered by TV, TiVo, Slingbox, SMS (define)/MMS (define), or podcast, international sporting events and the personalities that go with them are huge, natural content engines. No news there.
But as a growing group of active viewers, dissatisfied with predictable fare, searches for new sources of content, they’ll shift to PPV and consumer-generated media (CGM). Sports programming is guaranteed to be part of those new content sources. That’s a directional indicator for e-marketing.
Second, think demographics. Golf has a solid following, but its audience skews older. Money is the good news. The “green and silver” golf community is one of the wealthiest slices in sports marketing. That’s worth a lot to Cadillac, Buick, and Charles Schwab. But that same age skew means the golf crowd is also less likely to be involved in rapidly rising social networking applications. Add to that motor sports’ true family appeal; local karting programs offer internationally sanctioned races for girls and boys starting at age five. They race together, too, there are no gender classes. My son started driving his kart at three. At the same time, he began playing “F1 Challenge” on his PC. Motor sports skews younger and increasingly is of interest to females. That’s a financial indicator for e-marketing.
The engineering aspect of world-class motor sports racing has always attracted tech heads. Now it seems everyone involved has a laptop connected to some real-time telemetry stream flowing out of the car. Much of this is sent straight to the audience by demand. Engine RPM, speed, gear selection, G-force load, pedal position, pit timing, and more are sent not only to the TV screen but also to Java-based real-time applications such as those available at the Formula One Web site. Stats combine track-surface temperature, wind speed, and relative humidity to offer an unprecedented level of participation for fans. For the 2006 season, F1 introduced real-time subscriptions for exclusive SMS/MMS race status and images as a for-pay proposition, all of which constitutes marketing for F1. You just know early social media adopters are present in force. In fact, these same innovations teach fans to use social channels.
Taken together, motor sports rise points to new channels and opportunities for interactive marketers.
It’s About Participation
The growing attraction of selected online content in general, and social networking tools in particular, underscores the significance of O’Toole’s quote. Motor sports combine the interests of a large, passionate global market with the connectivity tools of the new social structures. Expect further acceleration of the shift toward online social media as a participative marketing platform. The global motor sports audience includes users of online social tools: they’re primed to participate in both the action and the surrounding conversations. Result? New content opportunities for marketers.
Because social media typically engage consumers at a participant level, marketers can and should create relevant, user-driven content of their own. Hyatt could engage race fans with its own unique content, such as a podcast or video blog on global travel and logistics as seen from a racing team’s perspective.
Some of you are doubtless thinking, “I’d rather watch grass grow,” but trust me: this kind of inside detail is to motor sports marketing what crankbait is to bass fishing. It draws the prize, consistently and predictably. Porsche could team with Hyatt and bring the heritage of Porsche racing to life for this new online audience. More important, an audience likely to pass this content around further spreads both brands.
Advergaming is a big winner: take a look at 101RPM’s international campaign for Johnnie Walker’s F1 Mercedes-McLaren sponsorship. Advergaming, including built-in send-to-friend and “challenge” dynamics that leverage social channels, is a sure winner in the combined rise of motor sports and social media as interactive marketing workhorses.
Motor sports is the new golf. Social media is the new TV. The audience is… participating.
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