Monster Energy could be huge for NASCAR, but there’s work to do


i

Those buzzwords rang through the NASCAR news conference last week when the league introduced Monster Energy as the sponsor of its Cup series, or whatever it chooses to call it in the future.

The news conference included two mentions of “global” and three references to “edgy” … but “fun” — a fun, fun, fun 10 times.

It sounds good. It sounds like last Thursday could go down as a historic day in the sport. Or at least a fun day.

The potential appears awesome, and the storyline sounds so, so fun and good. But thinking NASCAR just landed a sponsor with a florescent green wand that will magically wave and automatically create great things for the sport would rate as a stretch of the imagination.

If the NASCAR-Monster pairing provided the perfect deal, they would have gotten it done six months ago and not late Wednesday night or Thursday morning of banquet week. Both sides had such little time to prepare for the news conference, they didn’t have an elaborate plan, leading to even more speculation to what Monster intends to do with the sport’s premier asset.

While Monster’s consumer fan base trends younger, those fans won’t migrate to NASCAR just because their favorite energy drink sponsors the sport. If they did, they would have followed Ricky Carmichael or Travis Pastrana. Those famous athletes didn’t win as they had in their motocross and X Games endeavors, and their fans loved them because they won and because of their personalities.

So NASCAR can’t just slap a logo on a bunch of NASCAR drivers, have some Supercross (and even recent Monster signee Tiger Woods) show up at the track and expect those ages 18 to 34 to fall in love with the sport.

It could expose NASCAR to a new group of fans, but NASCAR will need to make the most of it. It seems strange that people seem to still stick to the philosophy that if someone goes to a race, that person will turn into a fan for life. Tracks wouldn’t remove seats if that philosophy proved true.

NASCAR doesn’t need all those fans — it just needs some of those fans — and hopefully with the cars having less downforce in 2017, the competition will build on a strong 2016 season on the track.

The gnawing question: What will Monster get from this relationship?

Monster has money to burn — its net income for the first nine months of 2016 was $539 million. Its market cap, the combined worth of all of its stock based on the current stock price, sat at $25.63 billion at the close of trading Monday. For comparison, International Speedway Corp. had a market cap of $1.67 billion, Lowe’s $63.43 billion and ESPN’s parent company, The Walt Disney Co., $159.1 billion.

Monster Energy’s revenues rank it 787th on the Fortune 1000 list, up from 875th a year earlier with a revenue increase of 10.5 percent and profit increase of 13.2 percent in 2015 from 2014. About 23 percent of its gross sales come from outside the United States.

So did Monster just buy the series — for what some would consider at an estimated $20 million to $25 million a similar amount to the sponsorship of one full-time Cup car on a prominent team — because it can? Part of having an edgy persona requires doing the unconventional.

That edginess could ruffle traditionalists and alienate an already frustrated longtime fan base. From the marketing standpoint, not everyone will look favorably upon the scantily clad Monster Energy girls. And what will Monster want on the competition side?

Will Monster try to influence race formats to try unconventional ideas to attract millennial fans? As the whole Chase concept has evolved, NASCAR hasn’t shied away from unconventional, but every step will serve as a test of whether it goes too far.

NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell appears as the executive most likely to sit in the crosshairs as his job will include saying yes or no to any stir-the-pot ideas that conflict with competition philosophy. O’Donnell perfectly fits that role — he has pushed for change while also trying to balance it with NASCAR’s historical roots — but even his strong diplomacy skills inside and outside the garage could receive a mighty test.

Monster Energy obviously faces a hurdle as an energy drink, and it remains a legal target by certain families who blame the drink for ailments and even deaths of loved ones. Monster doesn’t market to children under 12, while some in Congress have urged energy drink companies not to market to anyone under 18.

But all companies have challenges, and Monster and NASCAR (which navigated the world of cigarette marketing for decades) at least know what they signed up for. Or at least they should.

Among those things, they should know Monster enters a sport with drivers who already have deals with beverage companies.

“At least in the relationships I have, I know everybody wants to grow the sport,” said Gatorde-sponsored and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. “Sure, I’m going to get out of my race car, I’m going to drink a Gatorade; I’m not going to drink a Monster Energy drink.

“I am sure there will be some collaboration and support from both sides.”

If that’s the biggest issue, then NASCAR did better than some of the other sponsors it apparently considered that could have had much bigger conflicts. The only primary sponsorship conflict at the moment appears to be the 5-Hour Energy deal with Erik Jones, and many consider energy-shot and energy-drink markets as different.

So what to make of the Monster deal? Well, maybe look at it a lot like the product itself. For some, it makes their day go much easier. For others, it doesn’t have as much of a boosting impact.

Life is about the ride, and NASCAR has paired with a company that promotes the motto “Unleash The Beast.” In a sport of many leashes, it could end up entertaining — ahem, fun — to watch, if nothing else.

Source: www.espn.com