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Brian France.
Brian France.

CEO Brian France on technology, the Confederate flag and why it dumped Trump

Tell us about your communications model.
Given how heavily our sport relies on earned media, I saw the need a few years back for a major shift in our comms model. We were previously built to help service media covering our sport, and we did that well, but we needed a more strategic approach.

We now have comms leaders embedded in all of our key departments who not only counsel our executives, but also help drive the business. We collaborate with teams, tracks and driver representatives on storytelling, building driver brands through traditional and social media, and increasing the consumption of our sport. This was a huge change for our industry, and it continues to pay dividends and help position us for the future.

How are you promoting the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup?
In 2014, we set out to introduce a new playoff format predicated on winning, and in just the second year of this new format, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has become the focal point of our sport.

Our team is planning arguably the biggest media blitz in sports history by sending out our top 16 NASCAR challengers on a chase across North America media tour, touching every Chase market.

We’re also rallying the industry and fans to participate in a highly interactive social media campaign; an all-things-Chase digital platform; and the fan favorite, a Battle of the Nations, with our online Chase Grid Games.

How do you use technology to engage fans?
We work hard to enhance the fan experience in everything we do — whether that’s through interactive apps such as RaceBuddy that feature live in-car audio or the Digital Dash display that transmits real-time data to and from the race car. The capability to communicate live race data to the teams, broadcast partners, media, and fans is another touch point that differentiates the NASCAR fan experience from that of other sports.

No sport can bring fans closer to the athletes than we can thanks to our game-changing technology, which puts fans in the cockpit alongside their favorite drivers.

You reported a 7% year-over-year increase in Fortune 500 companies investing in NASCAR. What do you attribute this to?
Simply put, NASCAR is a key part of the marketing mix for so many of these brands because they get such strong return here. For instance, Mars said it receives a 4-to-1 ROI in NASCAR, and we gave Great Clips a 3-to-1 return in media value over dollars invested.

Also, many of these companies see our sport as a place to validate their technologies. Big brands such as Comcast and Microsoft have joined us to do just that. We’ve seen a massive influx of Fortune 500 technology companies entering our sport – increasing more than 66% in the last two years. Tech brands that have hooked up with us include HP, Microsoft, and Arris.

We weren’t always as open to innovation as we should have been because we didn’t see the opportunities [it could bring]. Now we are using it to make our racing better, for example, with track-drying systems. We have also taken a holistic approach to protect the environment, for instance with a Green Clean Air and a biofuels program in partnership with Sunoco and American Ethanol. So we have some natural platforms where our sport is relevant and comfortable to tech, biotech, and clean energy companies.

NASCAR is distancing itself from the Confederate flag, but some fans still bring it to events. What is your stance on this?
People are on different sides of that. My position is that symbols that are offensive to a population of people cannot be helpful and should not be part of our events. They aren’t welcoming. Because of this, we felt it was better for NASCAR to have a program that eliminates the Confederate flag, and we are on our way to doing that.

NASCAR was supposed to hold its season-ending awards ceremony at the Trump National Doral Miami. However, your organization cut ties with Donald Trump in early July after he called Mexican immigrants "rapists." Was this a tough decision?
We had a very small relationship with Trump. It was an awards ceremony we had not even finalized, so it was an easy decision for us to go elsewhere. We are not a political body, so we don’t want to get in the middle of those kinds of political exchanges.

NASCAR was featured in "Sharknado 3." How did you take advantage of the opportunity?
It’s just one of many dynamic projects to place NASCAR and our drivers in relevant entertainment opportunities, especially those that put us in front of new audiences. The placement of drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and Daytona International Speedway was a great opportunity to showcase our sport and a few personalities.

We generated even more buzz, producing a spoof digital video about Keselowski’s role. We released this on our website and social media channels, and it has generated more than 2 million social impressions.

 This article first appeared on prweek.com.


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