Pitches to Youth
The Boston Globe
September 13, 2008
LOUDON, N.H. - Boys and girls, start your engines!
Fenway Sports Group, the sports marketing firm of Red
Sox principal owner John Henry, is taking an
unprecedented approach to cultivating a new generation
of racing buffs in New England - by aggressively
marketing its NASCAR Racing team to children.
The group is stealing a page from the Olde Towne Team's
playbook: It plans to create a NASCAR New England Kids
Club by tapping into Red Sox Kid Nation, which has
become the largest such club in Major League Baseball
with more than 17,300 members.
Plans are underway to launch children's racing shows
next year on New England Sports Network, sell licensed
model racing toys and collectibles emblazoned with the
Sox logo, and create educational curriculums. Fenway
Sports Group also intends to host NASCAR fan festivals
at Fenway Park to promote Roush Fenway Racing, a team
the group bought a 50 percent stake in last year.
"Kids love speed," said Mike Dee, president of Fenway
Sports Group and chief operating officer of the Red Sox.
"We need to find the right way to tap into that and use
the power of the Red Sox affinity to get a regional base
around the team."
New Hampshire Motor Speedway had its first NASCAR race
in 1993 and has held two such events annually since
1997, selling out many of its races and drawing crowds
from across the country. Still, New England remains a
place where it has been tough for racing to shed its
reputation as a sport with a distinctly Southern accent,
even though it gets the second-highest TV ratings for
sports programming in the country. And converting some
of Fenway's faithful into racing aficionados isn't easy
in a market flush with successful pro sport franchises
like the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics.
"To try and convert a 40-year-old adult to start to care
about a sport they didn't grow up following is
difficult," Dee said.
Fenway Sports Group says the numbers back the strategy
of marketing to youths. In a NASCAR survey, about 46
percent of NASCAR fans in Boston have children under the
age of 18, compared with just 36 percent of non-NASCAR
fans. But analysts say that even if targeting children
works, there's no guarantee parents with no taste for
the sport will go along, and take the children to the
"Marketing to children is a long-term strategy," said
Larry Degaris, a sports marketing professor at Indiana
University. "Unless kids get their parents into the
sport, it's going to take at least a decade to see
Degaris said the New England NASCAR market is worth
about $150 million annually and could be worth double
that with the right marketing and investments, such as
building a track outside Boston or in Connecticut. About
16 percent of NASCAR's fans live in the Northeast,
compared with 40 percent in the South and one-quarter in
To capture more New England fans, at this weekend's race
at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Fenway Sports Group
will rev up its children's campaign to potential
sponsors, including Dunkin' Donuts and Velcro, and
introduce former NASCAR executive Brian Corcoran, whose
new job is to persuade New Englanders that NASCAR is no
less their sport than Red Sox baseball.
Over the past year, Fenway Sports Group has capitalized
on the Red Sox brand to help negotiate sponsor deals for
the team, including UPS, which yesterday signed a
multiyear deal with the team. At Fenway Park, the Roush
Fenway drivers are featured on a sign once during each
game and 1,000 free tickets (usually costing between $60
and $100) were given out to Red Sox Nation fans for the
Sprint Cup Series at Loudon in June.
NASCAR coverage was also expanded on the cable channel
New England Sports Network, which is owned by New
England Sports Ventures, the parent company of the Red
Sox and Fenway Sports Group. The New York Times Co.,
which owns The Boston Globe, holds a 17 percent stake in
New England Sports Ventures.
It was the Roush Fenway Racing Day at Fenway Park, when
white racing cars featuring Red Sox logos drove onto the
field before a game that attracted he Bulens family of
Hanover, Mass., to the Loudon track in June. Red Sox
fanatic Pat Nee, 13, saw the cars on television and
called up his friend Jay Bulens, who persuaded his dad
to score tickets from a coworker.
About 100,000 fans from across the country descended
that day on New Hampshire Motor Speedway, with some RVs
lined up for a week in the parking lot. Families carried
in heavy coolers filled with beer, water, and food. It
was a flea market of sponsors, with signs plastered on
every speck of space. A constant roar from the track
with the cars whizzing by made it impossible to hear
anything else during the nearly three-hour race.
Staring at the track with a huge grin, Nee had just
three words: "It's pretty cool."
His friend's mom, Charlene Bulens, agreed. "I was really
surprised that I enjoyed it. And the boys loved it," she
In the past, marketing NASCAR to youngsters has been
difficult, with tobacco and beer sponsors' ads plastered
all over the cars and track. But in recent years, those
brands have largely been replaced with phone and
insurance companies, making it less of an issue. Fans
tend to come to NASCAR around the time they turn 21,
later than the age they get attracted to sports they can
play in their neighborhoods or at school. So kids clubs
haven't been a big deal in NASCAR, Degaris said. But
courting young baseball fans in New England who are new
to NASCAR may make it easier.
"For Fenway Sports Group, this is an exploitable asset.
They have the database of fans," Degaris said.
It's clear sports marketers still have their work cut
out for them. The percentage of Fenway fans who attend
three or more NASCAR events per year stayed flat - at 2
percent - during surveys in 2006 and 2008. Fans
attending two or more NASCAR events a year doubled in
that period, still just 4 percent. And while 7 percent
of those surveyed in 2006 described themselves as
"die-hard NASCAR fans," that declined to 6 percent in
Nonetheless, Fenway Sports Group says local powerhouse
brands, such as Gillette and Stop & Shop, share the
desire to make NASCAR a sport that more in the region
Gillette, which already backs Roush driver Carl Edwards,
is in talks to get its logo on toys and collectibles and
to create promotions around purchases of Gillette
From the pit at the Sprint Cup in Loudon this summer,
Stop & Shop spokeswoman Faith Weiner said Fenway Sports
Group is "helping to bring a mainstream awareness to
Boston and New England."