NASCAR in Mexico: The US Expansion of Motorsport into Hispanic Culture

By Mueller, Thomas S. | International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, April 2008 | Go to article overview

NASCAR in Mexico: The US Expansion of Motorsport into Hispanic Culture


Mueller, Thomas S., International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship


Executive summary

NASCAR auto racing represents one of the fastest growing entertainment properties in the United States and is second only to NFL football in television ratings. Controlled expansion into key US markets over the past decade has not been without setbacks, however: attendance has dropped at several facilities, and TV viewership has declined in 2007. The season's NASCAR Nextel Cup races--airing on Fox, TNT, ESPN and ABC--are averaging 4.2% of US TV households--down 9% from last year's average and 21% from 2005 (Hiestand, 2007).

With a potential saturation point looming among its current audience, NASCAR has embraced diversity initiatives in a concerted effort to attract a broader consumer base to the sport. A highly attractive segment of the diversity movement is the US Hispanic audience, which NASCAR believes can be ingratiated through hosting race events in Mexico.

NASCAR remains a juggernaut in motorsports marketing, but its expansion plans may be precarious. Expansion into key markets continues, while attendance at some facilities drops and TV audiences decline. Modern racing facilities prompt the need for increased pricing, which sometimes alienates a lower-income core consumer. The quest for diversity and an increased global audience is necessary, but the sanctioning body will need to ensure that traditional fans are not lost to the sport.

Introduction

NASCAR represents one of the fastest-growing entertainment properties in the United States, attracting an average 190,000 spectators per event. The 2007 NASCAR event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway drew a crowd estimated by The Indianapolis Star to be 240,000--about 20,000 shy of capacity at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. NASCAR is second only to the National Football League (NFL) in television ratings, and attracts triple the TV viewership of the NBA (National Basketball Association) during the regular playing season (Pockrass, 2007). Initially a predominantly 'southern' pastime, a significant number of women, college graduates and non south-easterners now identify themselves as fans (Alderman, 2003).

NASCAR has developed a controlled expansion plan that includes new facilities in Las Vegas, Kansas City, Chicago, Fort Worth, Texas and Fontana, California (nascar.com). An integral component of NASCAR's growth plan is outreach to a diverse audience, a concerted effort to dispel the white Anglo-Saxon image with which the sport has been identified. 'Drive for Diversity' was launched in 2004 to help competitors, female drivers and crew members get a foothold in NASCAR through the Dodge Weekly Series (a support series run at local race facilities).

The move to attract a diverse audience is not contained by US boundaries; neither is it unique to the US sports market. IndyCar (now entitled Champ Car) made its first incursion into Australia in 1991 with what is now known as the Gold Coast Indy 300. The NFL ventured onto foreign soil when it scheduled an NFL fixture in London in October 2007.

NASCAR first moved into international events as early as 1952, when it hosted a round of its then-premier Grand National Series at Stamford Park in Toronto, Canada. A few years later NASCAR again ran north of the border with an event in the Canadian Exposition Stadium in Toronto. Subsequent support from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company focused activity on growth in the United States. Between 1996 and 1999, four NASCAR exhibition events were held in Japan.

In 2005, NASCAR held its first modern-era points race outside of the United States, when it scheduled a Busch Series event near Mexico City, at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Mexico City represented the fourth largest market in the world, with more than 15.6 million residents. Three years into the international expansion, there is speculation regarding the future of NASCAR in Mexico. The three-year agreement to lease Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez has expired, and dwindling crowds have not been an inspiring signal. …

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