• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

MORE ON JUNIOR's BIG WEEK

An incredible season of "Business of Racing" news hit the rev limiter last week. While most of the media continue to not understand the intersection of sponsorship money and corporate objectives, and misreport a "merger" vs. a "partnership" and "branding" vs. "positioning," that didn't stop 'em from portraying opinion-as-fact after the Dale Earnhardt Jr.-to-Mountain Dew/Amp/National Guard/88 and Budweiser-to-Kasey Kahne announcements.

Junior IDing himself with the double eights was the NASCAR week's biggest story, topping Carl Edwards' win in Chase Race 2 at Dover. Gentlemen, start your souvenir sales! There were some journalism wrecks along the way. The day Earnhardt Jr. finally made it all official, NASCAR Now -- the most disappointing element of ESPN's stock car coverage all year -- relied on two reporters who, as I explained here last June 19, got the Dale Jr. sponsorship story wrong right from the start. They bookended an Around the Horn mouthpiece, who, relatively speaking, discovered NASCAR 10 minutes ago. (Another NASCAR Now "highlight": Thursday, while discussing Buddy Lazier's Truck series debut at Las Vegas, viewers were treated to B-roll of Scott Goodyear!) Thankfully, the show salvaged some credibility by letting the audience hear directly from Junior and Rick Hendrick. It was no coincidence the Budweiser/Kahne/
Gillett Evernham deal was revealed the day before Dale Jr. unveiled the green (Mountain Dew/Amp energy drink) and blue (National Guard) colors that would replace his Bud red. The TV analysts apparently didn't remember, but Kahne has occasionally run the Dew identity on his No. 9 Dodge. Someone should have been sharp enough to remind us of that fun fact while producers showed us that video. Let me remind them (above).

With something north of $40 million -- possibly closer to $50 mil -- on the table next season in these team sponsorships, the race to keep -- or capture -- consumer loyalty is ON. (!) Bud marketed Dale Jr. mainly to young males; thanks to the image created by Allstate's TV commercials, Kasey opens the door to females. Non-alcohol backers will allow Earnhardt Jr. to pitch directly to the under-21 demo he was limited in reaching before. Hello, adidas, and the “Dale Jr.’s Big Mo’ ” milk chocolate candy bar (creamy caramel or peanut butter) also introduced last week. It was a $ign-of-the-Time$ that NASCAR's most popular driver traveled to the Candy Expo trade show in Chicago, and then Dallas for the annual meeting of Pepsi bottlers, where he appeared before about 1,500 people prior to the press conference. Anheuser-Busch apparently had no such forum available at the required time, as Kahne rode into his team's shop in Statesville, N.C., atop the brewer's iconic Clydesdales' wagon. I would have been disappointed with any less a grand entrance.

One needed a HANS Device to avoid whiplash because the NASCAR.com Superstore, Hendrick and Earnhardt Jr. websites had new Junior goodies for sale so, well, FAST! T-shirt, $21.99. Cap, $24.99. Sweatshirt, $29.99. Diecast (1:24), $69.99.

Meanwhile, here's something else the "experts" didn't tell you. Rick Hendrick said in Dallas that he never spoke with Teresa Earnhardt about obtaining the No. 8 for Junior. I found that to be incredibly revealing. If a man of Hendrick's stature doesn't feel he can pick up the phone, call Teresa, and ask her how they could resolve the number issue -- just between them, without the strife of family emotions -- well, I say, that gives us true insight into the secluded Mrs. Earnhardt's relationship with her fellow Nextel Cup owners and lack of interaction within the sport. Even with those at the highest level. Congratulations to Robert and Doug Yates for having the good PR sense, in addition to whatever deal they made with Kelley Earnhardt Elledge (Dale's sister and business advisor, credited with getting this done), to release the 88 to Junior. Yates father and son bought themselves a ton of public goodwill.

As I've written before: It's impossible to understand Modern Motorsports without understanding the Business of Racing. All but a microscopic fraction of racin' reporters don't -- and, to be blunt -- don't feel like taking the bother. Yet, editors continue to assign them to these stories, and then too often don't challenge the validity of their conclusions or fact-check for accuracy. I keep hoping the required standard of knowledge will go up, but there's still no sign of that happening.

Finally, Junior won the battle of sound bites.

"We'll be able to work with Amp. They got me up at 5 o'clock this morning, so I've had a chance to really try out the effectiveness of the product. I'm pretty pleased to be sitting here and not yawning in front of you guys."
********************************************************************
I've never met Brad Daugherty, the former NBA player-turned-ESPN NASCAR analyst. But, I'll bet during his basketball days, Daugherty had off-the-record conversations with reporters. And, I'll bet, Daugherty wasn't happy if the broadcaster or writer used his name anyway. Well, before last Saturday's Busch Series race at Dover, it was Daugherty who broke this accepted rule. Brad revealed he'd talked with Robby Gordon, who in Daugherty's own words, said: "Don't say this on TV" but then added, "I'm going to say it anyway," and quoted Gordon as describing racing at Dover as like driving "in a toilet bowl." It's no secret relationships among some NASCAR drivers and ESPN personnel have been strained, and Daugherty just made it worse. Garage area dealings among participants and media are best based, at least in part, on mutual trust -- from my experience, the same as in a stick-and-ball sport locker room. Daugherty, better than most, should understand this protocol. He blew it. An apology to Gordon is in order. As is some "instruction" from producers to their so-called "Voice of the Fans."
********************************************************************
On the other hand, ESPN2's ace NHRA production team did it right, reporting the story of John Force's serious accident at the Texas Motorplex. Paul Page came on the air reminding viewers that while the drag racing shows are tape-delayed, here is what happened to Force, and provided the latest medical news. "Regular" round-by-round coverage then began. When Force and Kenny Bernstein crashed in the second round, ESPN2 had all the replays, and interviewed all the right people, including Bernstein, Force's wife Laurie and daughter Ashley, son-in-law Robert Hight, and crew chiefs John Medlen, Bernie Fedderly and Dean Antonelli. Page, who has been through more of these situations than he'd like, set exactly the correct tone while letting the emotions-of-the-moment come through. Analyst Mike Dunn agreed with the team's decision for Ashley Force to skip the semifinals. Finally, the network let the coverage run an extra 30 minutes, so all the day's stories were told. Well done.
********************************************************************
The media's frenzied year of Anna Nicole, Imus, Paris, Lindsay and Britney rolled on last week with the unexpected "gift" of O.J. Simpson's arrest in Las Vegas on several felony charges. After a few days in jail, Simpson was released on bail, but not before Las Vegas Motor Speedway issued the following under the headline, "Free O.J.":

"Las Vegas Motor Speedway officials announced Monday (Sept. 17) a special reward for race fans who purchase tickets to an event at LVMS. Fans who stop by the speedway on Wednesday (Sept. 19) to purchase their tickets to Saturday night's Smith's Las Vegas 350, the Oct. 25-28 NHRA ACDelco Las Vegas Nationals or the 2008 NASCAR Weekend will receive free orange juice and muffins from Smith's Food & Drug Stores. The LVMS ticket office opens at 8 a.m. The 'Free O.J.' promotion will be available Wednesday only."

Creative? Over the line? You make the call.
********************************************************************

If you missed it last week, please check out my new "Business of Racing" video commentary on 1320tv.com. It's about Wally Parks and Linda Vaughn. You'll find it in the "Straight Talk" section halfway down the home page. Here's the direct link:
http://www.1320tv.com/straight_talk/article7.asp?vid=straight_talk/straight_talk_bor_wally_linda&title=We%20Miss%20You,%20Wally%20And%20Linda&des=Two%20of%20drag%20racing%27s%20%22stars%22%20not%20visible%20enough


[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]