Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Race Is on to Cover NASCAR; Syndicates Are Stocking Up on Packages That Cover the Growing Sport of Stock Car Racing - and over 500 Newspapers Have Purchased the Features since 1996

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Race Is on to Cover NASCAR; Syndicates Are Stocking Up on Packages That Cover the Growing Sport of Stock Car Racing - and over 500 Newspapers Have Purchased the Features since 1996

Article excerpt

Syndicates are stocking up on packages that cover the growing sport' of stock car racing and over 500 newspapers have purchased the features since 1996

What syndication category is growing faster than a speeding automobile? The one comprised of NASCAR features.

During the past two years, a trio of major syndication companies have launched weekly packages covering the world of NASCAR, otherwise known as the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.

"It was something a lot of newspapers were asking our salespeople for," said Sarah Smiley, who edits "NASCAR This Week" for Universal Press Syndicate. The page, which features material from the Gaston (N.C.) Gazette, has built a list of over 400 clients since entering syndication in early 1996.

"That's Racin'" a Knight Ridder/Tribune (KRT) page that includes material from the Charlotte Observer, is already in about 75 papers after only two months of syndication.

And "Track & Speed," a Thomson Target Media (TTM) page that includes material from the Florence (S.C.) Morning News, has found about 30 clients since starting late last summer.

Why so many new packages? The reason is simple: Stock car racing has become a very popular sport.

Since the start of the decade, annual attendance at NASCAR races has increased "fivefold" to 6.2 million, according to Jeff Motley, a spokesman for the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based NASCAR.

"The average Sunday race attendance is 150,000 to 300,000. It's amazing,' said Elizabeth Owens-Schiele, who was recently promoted to specialty products manager at Tribune Media Services, which markets KRT.

Motley added that NASCAR ticket and merchandising revenues will probably reach $3 billion in 1998, the association's 50th anniversary year.

Interviewees cited several reasons for the sport's burgeoning popularity:

* NASCAR's marketing expertise.

"They really know how to sell it" said Bill Fleischman, a Philadelphia Daily News assistant sports editor and motorsports writer, as well as co-author, with Al Pearce, of the recently published/ns/de Sports NASCAR Racing: The Ultimate Fan Guide.

* Americans relate to the autos driven by NASCAR drivers.

"They're stock cars, not funny cars or Indy cars,' noted Smiley. "You can root for Jeff Gordon and drive the same car he's racing" -- albeit a slower version.

"Everyone can drive a car" added Motley. "Not everyone can dunk a basketball or hit a baseball 400 feet."

* Many fans feel closer to NASCAR drivers than they do to other athletes.

"The drivers are very accessible to the fans" said "Track & Speed" editor Beth Kujawski. "They give autographs. I think a lot of people are just disgruntled with big-business athletes in baseball, football and basketball."

* NASCAR races are all over TV, with live coverage on CBS, ABC, ESPN, TBS and TNN. Motley said ratings are growing as fast as track attendance and noted that February's Daytona 500 had "four times" the viewers as the Winter Olympics.

This TV audience is all over the country. …

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