NASCAR’s Lesson to Cycling

yahoo image
Peter Sagan (yahoo image)

Thousands of screaming fans standing for hours wanting to catch a glimpse of their favorite racer’s face, wearing colors that match the team colors. The bravado and coolness of speed oozes in and around the men. Power can be felt and seen. Interviews coming and going. Cameras jockeying for position. Strategies being discussed and rehashed.

No, this is not a cycling event. It is a National Association of Stock Car Racing event, better known as NASCAR.

Always having a fairly solid fan base, NASCAR has been around since the 1940s, but exploded in the early 21st Century. The question is why? In a typical family, the dads attach to the tough guys, the wives to the lookers, and the kids to the kid (Jeff Gordon). This produces a family sport. The drivers are “normal” guys, just your run-of-the-mill country boy who likes cars, speed, money, and winning. They are the guy who could work right beside you at the auto parts store. They will punch someone in the face who bumps and rubs too much. No flash. No chit chat. After racing, they will climb into their RV and settle back with a beer, only  later to be found hanging out with a crowd of fans.

Professional cycling has one event a year, according to the general public in America: The Tour de France. Ask someone to name a rider. Lance Armstrong, maybe. The professional ranks have new blood that has very strong potential of lunching the sport into a world-wide love for cycling. Yes, the fan base is super heavy in Europe, but in America  . . . not so much. What could be the catalyst for America? The bravado is definitely there. The nicknames are cool. The riders are incredible athletes. Tempers do flare. The atmosphere is tangible. The key is connecting the riders to the general public . . . marketing! America is an untapped source of what could be a cycling frenzy, which equals money. Sure, we have The Tour of California and other big events, as well as the USA Cycling organization, but the isolation and patches of interests are too spread out.

Alberto Contador (yahoo image)
Alberto Contador (yahoo image)

At the peak of the NASCAR frenzy (yes, it is dwindling), the popularity of the sport forced stations like ESPN to devote air time to it. Some people who never watched stock car racing suddenly found themselves drawn to it and more importantly the drivers. He is funny. He’s a jerk. He can freaking drive! I hope he’s embarrassed, today. I cannot stand him! Previously mentioned, cycling has the same potential. Any sports writer worth his salt can make a story out of Contador’s comeback or lack there of. Who wouldn’t want to watch the power of Andre’ Griepel (The Gorilla) crush other sprinters with what appears to be no effort? Oh, you don’t like Peter Sagan’s finish line shenanigans? Then beat him.

Andre’ Griepel
(yahoo image)

For NASCAR, driving in circles can’t be all that exciting to many people and with added restricting plates making all the cars essentially the same, boring would be word that would come to mind. Hours of laps. Many of the same drivers leading. So what was added to the races, throughout the years, that could be used in cycling? Radio transmissions. Listening to the drivers converse with crew chiefs about the car and curse other drivers is priceless. Fans eat it up. Most, if not all, cycling teams communicate with a radio: manager to rider and rider to manager and other riders. Add those conversations to the television broadcast, connecting the viewer and the teams. Yes, language is a barrier, but that is why we have the commentators. Another added component is showing the cars’ “vital” readings. Maybe at the bottom of the screen, switch out different riders’ vital readings, such as power, heart rate, speed, and cadence. Could that be used as an advantage, if another team were monitoring another rider’s vitals? Sure, but it doesn’t seem to affect NASCAR drivers too much. It’s all about connection.

For anything to become noticed and move ahead, promoters must think outside of the box. Cycling must move in a direction that leads to bigger gains in viewing and popularity. Where else in the world, in any sport, can the fans run along right beside his/her favorite athlete? The sport has multiple avenues of venture. Sitting back and doing the same thing and expecting different results is nuts. Take a message from an old European friend of mine:

…Come, my friends,
`Tis not too late to seek a newer world…
for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset,…
and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

–Lord Tennyson

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5 thoughts on “NASCAR’s Lesson to Cycling

  1. Interesting pov. Good ideas as well. BUT. Here’s the rub. (First, let me say as a former motorbike roadracer, me and my buddies would ask this same question of our sport in the U.S.) In Europe MC RR is huge, as is F1. So why, a sport that is visually very exciting with incredible feats of athleticism, not popular in the states?

    Same question we ask of cycling. Well the reason is not marketing so much. It is Cultural. Plain and simple. Europe has a different culture (among the many sub-cultures of all varying Euro Nations) pushbikes, motorbikes and road racing are a part of the fabric of their culture. Unlike here, none are entwined into the culture.

    Nascar began in the south, born out of dirt stock car racing in the early 1900’s. Nascar formed in 1948, but stock car racing is over a century old. Much before auto road racing began. Cycling, well there were the velodromes in the mid 1900’s and they were poplar for a while, but never really took hold the way stock car and sprint car racing did in the early part of the 20th century. Oval track racing was born and bred in America, it is engrained in the culture. THAT is the major difference for the lack of popularity. Now throw in the stick and ball sports and you have too much competition…

    While to those like us, two-wheeled sports are the bomb, but the majority of Americans cannot relate or just don’t have the interest. While there have been gains in popularity over the past few decades, it still trails way behind in awareness and popularity. Cultural buddy, plain and simple.

    Now, that is not to say, that it is possible to increase the awareness and popularity of cycling in the states, but it is a slim chance. Nascar, NFL, MLB, NBA, INDY CAR all have mega sponsors. Billions of dollars are spent and made. Cycling has the potential, but not the draw. Marketing can only do so much, after that it has to be the sport itself that has mass appeal. Simply riding a bike, does not equate to the average sport fan relating to pro cycling. Though I wish it did! I just don’t see cycling ever gaining a strong foothold in the states as long as the above mentioned sanctioning bodies and franchises remain in play…

    Geo

    1. Thanks for the comment, Geo! You make a lot of good points. I know that it is just wishful thinking, but it still baffles me that there is not a single strand of coverage on ESPN. I lived in Europe for two years (Army), and yes, the culture is the key. I have seen how soccer has gained some ground here. I guess it’s just wishful thinking. Being born and raised in the South, I know really know more than I’d like about NASCAR and have often wondered about F1 not being more popular here. I cannot type the responses I got when I mentioned it to some friends . . . mainly about the Euro dudes (Talladega Nights comments . . . if you seen that movie). Anyway, thanks again.

      1. I’m with you on being baffled too! As far as the comments from those who have not been to Europe, well we can put that down ignorance on the specific topic. Most of the Rickey Bobby’s of the world just haven’t had the experiences to broaden their views.

        I would also say that soccer has gained ground, imo, due mainly to schools. Grammar, High and Colleges integrating soccer in to their programs. Now, if schools (some do, but a very limited amount) had mtb or bmx teams to encourage kids to think about cycling as a proper sport, then maybe cycling could have a chance. So, perhaps there is hope! 😀

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