Growing the Sport with Grassroots Marketing

When I worked in the NFL, one of my primary responsibilities was to create out-of-the-box opportunities for fans to connect with the team and players. Mostly, this was through media and community relations opportunities.

For example, one of Vernon Davis’ interests is fashion. So I worked to secure pieces in high-end fashion magazines for Davis to show off his style.

It might seem frivolous – does an NFL player really need more PR? Especially that of the fashion world? Maybe not.

But, how many fashion magazine readers get exposed to the NFL every day? Probably not many. It was an opportunity to reach a potential new fan in a place they’re already putting their attention.

Getting new fans for any sport or cause often requires thinking outside the box. But it doesn’t have to be hard.

It does require some thought, research and ingenuity. Because you have to reach people where they’re already spending their time, attention and money.

Getting to the point…last week I wrote an article that got a lot of (mostly) positive response. As excited as I am about the future of racing, there are some places in the country where tracks and drivers are struggling. In my opinion, it’s not the racing itself that needs fixed to solve that problem. We have a great product. It’s the marketing that’s not working.

And I said I’d give you a few ways that you can help grow the sport through grassroots marketing.

[Note: Grassroots marketing is a free or low-cost strategy that starts from the ground up. It often utilizes unconventional or nontraditional methods in order to get a message out through a group of existing fans. It’s perfect for grassroots racing.]

Talk it up. Whether that’s on social media or in your daily life, don’t hesitate to talk about going to the race track. When you express interest and excitement about racing at your job, church, family functions or massage appointment (yes, we’ve gotten our massage therapist to the track!), you’ll inspire others to ask questions. And that’s the first step in getting their interest piqued. 

Invite others. This is the next, obvious step to growing the sport: getting new people to the race track. Invite your neighbors, co-workers, family and friends. Know a family that would like an activity for their kids? Invite them. Most tracks have free admission for kids, so it’s cheaper than, say, a movie. And once you get kids to a race track? They’re hooked.

Always feel like you’re missing functions? Suggest the race track as a venue. I guarantee that your local track has a pavilion or picnic area that you could use for the family reunion, kids’ birthday party, Fourth of July celebration, or any other weekend event that you usually have to skip for racing duties.

Reach the kids. Speaking of…appealing to kids is one of the most underrated ways to get people to the track in my opinion. What parent hasn’t pulled into a McDonald’s because their kids wouldn’t stop begging to go there? I know mine did. When kids have an interest, they are obsessed. Since-focused. They will wear their parents out to do what they want to do. Imagine if that was your race track?

Whether you’re a driver or a promoter, it’s easy to setup opportunities to reach kids. Carl has visited schools, vacation bible camps, and charity events, even birthday parties, because kids love race cars and race car drivers. Now, we run into those kids’ families at the race track – many of whom have never been there before. We don’t see a direct return from that – the tracks do – but it makes our sport stronger (and our sponsors happy!).

Encourage the media to cover it. When I see a great piece on racing, I do one of the following: Share it. Comment on it. Email the author thanking them for taking the time to write it.

It’s a reporter’s job to write pieces that people are interested in. Whether they write for a newspaper or record video for an online magazine, their job is to get and keep a fan’s attention. If you don’t support that and encourage it, they won’t continue to cover it. And every piece of coverage is an opportunity to reach a new fan.

Get other businesses involved. Almost every company does something for employee appreciation. Every charity has a group of passionate volunteers that supports them. Local restaurants, gas stations, and hotels benefit from the presence of a race track. But when you talk to most of them, they’ve never even been to the track. Reach out and try to change that. They’re much more likely to recommend you to their other customers if they know who you are and what you stand for.

Give away tickets. There are so many reasons why I feel this  One of the guys I see having the most success with grassroots marketing right now is Roger Hadan of Eagle Raceway. My favorite promotion of his? His ticket giveaways. Each year, Roger and his staff give a pack of tickets to each banquet attendee. They’re encouraged to distribute these tickets to people who have never seen them race before to encourage new fans. Roger doesn’t just stop at counting how many of these tickets come back. He even goes so far as to track what driver brought those fans in, and gives that driver a bonus. Can you imagine the impact on his bottom line?

Let’s talk about worst case scenario, because that’s where many people will go first. Worst case: the drivers give those tickets to people who already attend. If you got a free ticket to a race track that you normally paid for, would you hesitate to spend money in the concession stand? Nope. Heck, you’re up on the night. You’re more likely to buy a beer, buy little Johnny the ice cream he always wants, upgrade to a pit pass or purchase a driver’s shirt.

As a promoter, I can tell you that the faster you realize that the show costs the same whether there is one fan in the stands versus 10,000, the better off your marketing will be. Those bleachers are sunk costs. So you can charge people a lot of money to sit in them and then try to entice them to give you more for food and apparel. Or  you can use ticket giveaways strategically to create a fun, happy, profitable atmosphere.

Be positive (to a point). Who wants to be around someone who thinks they’re perfect? No one. It’s annoying. It might seem logical to advise you to be positive no matter what. Who hasn’t heard that negative feedback only hurts the sport and turns new people off, right? I agree, but only to a point. 

My take: if you’re going to talk, be positive while keeping accountability. We’re not perfect, and if we pretend to be, people will be seriously turned off. We’re an approachable sport, and admitting that we love what we do but don’t always get it right is important for encouraging people to join us. I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, a new fan isn’t perfect. Let’s be friends.

Ask for help. While there’s plenty of lamenting about not enough young people being involved, there are still plenty of young people in the sport who are willing to help you grow it. Whether you hire an intern or just recruit a college student to your team, I guarantee you they know how to get other people’s attention and they’d be excited to help you do it. Even if they’re not going to college for marketing, video production, PR or communications, they know how to use social media, film a video or take a beautiful photo. If they’re specializing, they can probably show you how to build an app, create an SMS campaign or design a nice, functional website. 

If all else fails, call me. I’ve got plenty of proven ideas that you could use as a driver, track or sponsor to get more people to your local race track, and I’d be happy to help.

Because more fans = more tickets, more apparel sales, more sponsors and more future drivers. Our sport depends on it.


P.S. Have more? Feel free to share. We can all benefit from more ideas.

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About the author

Kristin Swartzlander Kristin Swartzlander is passionate about applying business sense to racing 'nonsense' in hopes of growing the sport of dirt track racing. She is a business strategist who works with entrepreneurs and small businesses to help them learn how to use public relations, marketing and social media to achieve their goals. Learn more about social media, marketing and racing sponsorship on the DirtyMouth blog.