A report from USA Today’s Nate Ryan is a good one to read in full, summing up the prospects of NASCAR’s international aspirations. NASCAR’s senior vp Steve O’Donnell told Ryan the sanctioning body is “approached every day” with opportunities to race in other countries.
Some of the countries mooted are Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, Brazil and Japan. NASCAR has already had exhibition races in Japan in the 1990s, and points races for its Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series divisions in Mexico and Canada. Additionally, the report notes that the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will race in Germany, England, Spain and France in 2014.
All of the above countries hold a round of the Formula One World Championship except for France and Mexico; Russia’s inaugural GP will premiere in 2014 as part of a banner year for that country. It hosts the Sochi Winter Olympics in February, and that’s going to do the most to expose modern day Russia to the world stage.
But the difference NASCAR wants to achieve, per this report, is that it doesn’t want to merely show up and collect an appearance fee. In O’Donnell’s words to Ryan, “We want to be international but build from the grass roots. The goal is not to become Formula One and collect a fee and leave.”
The goal, ultimately, is to attract more foreign drivers to NASCAR over F1. And O’Donnell’s comment is also a big statement because it speaks to NASCAR wanting to export its brand and become a part of other countries, rather than merely a stop on a circus, as F1 is in the countries it chooses to visit.
NASCAR has the American motorsports market cornered. F1’s fan base in America is smart, passionate, dedicated … but still a fraction of NASCAR’s. IndyCar – for all its upsides, including an excellent on-track product – perpetually underachieves and deals way too frequently with political wrangling. Sports car racing, at its core, is simply too confusing to grow beyond the ultra hardcore, niche market it already has in play.
When it comes to motorsports around the world, F1 is the pinnacle and will remain the pinnacle based on the sheer volume of coverage it receives. NASCAR, worldwide, is a mere foot note. And if it truly wants to grow internationally, it needs to expose its brand and build drivers and fans in other countries.
So what NASCAR is saying in this story, to me at least, is, “We’ve conquered the U.S. and now, a la an NFL, we are determined to grow our brand globally.”
It’s not something that can be done in a day. The NFL is king of the American sports market, yet NFL Europe has already gone under and it’s taken a handful of years to begin to export the brand globally thanks to the regular season games in Wembley Stadium in London. And no, having the Jacksonville Jaguars there isn’t the best way to do so.
NASCAR is a uniquely American sport and one that probably could, I’d argue, almost be better served by trying to return more to its Southern roots rather than try to expand its brand globally. More short track races, dirt races, or races in Southern markets could do more to placate and grow the fan base domestically.
But that’s a topic for another day. Assuming NASCAR forges ahead with these aspirations, it will be very interesting to watch whether it can sink or swim as part of a global sports market, and who chooses to eat it up.