Selling Experiences – Ralph Sheheen at RPM Recap

If you’ve been around these parts long – that sounded very Southern…I feel like there needs to be a ‘y’all’ inserted here – you know that I believe pretty heavily in thinking not just outside of the box, but outside of our industry for ideas on how to survive and thrive. That’s how the best do it.

After all, we’re not competing against other race tracks for fans. We’re competing against every other activity they’re choosing to do or not do.


Ralph announcing at a recent Supercross Live event.

So I was really happy to get to listen to Speed Sport’s own Ralph Sheheen last week at RPM Daytona talking about exactly that. Specifically, he highlighted his experience with and observations of the AMA Supercross events.

Here are a few things that I took away from his talk that I think you’ll benefit from, whether it’s as an event promoter, racer or marketing partner:

  • The emphasis at Supercross Live is, first and foremost, on families. It’s family-friendly, from the advertising to the event experience. If you have, or are observing, an aging fan base, you can presume that they are lifelong fans. This sport isn’t built for an aging demographic, so you can guarantee they didn’t just walk in for the first time last race. If you want to create lifelong fans today, you have to get them in young. Appealing to young fans and parents, who are constantly looking for outlets to entertain their children in a safe, fun, cost-effective activity, you need to be family-friendly from the outset.
  • They only have two racing classes. [Oh. My. Word. Did y’all just die?! Stay with me here.] This is a huge mistake that I see many tracks making to benefit them in the short-term – just add another class to the back-gate. This works for a little while, because you sell more pit passes, and those are more expensive and easier to sell than grandstand tickets. What could go wrong?!  It doesn’t take long for fans to be driven right out of their seats and to a two-hour movie at half the price of your ticket when they can’t get their kids in bed by 11pm. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle – add more classes, lose more fans, add more classes to make up the difference. It also drives your premier racers away over the long run – the ones that the fans who do stick with you are most likely there to see – because they can travel to other race tracks with half the number of divisions and be home before your program is done. True, real-life story. Two classes might not be feasible, but seven or eight isn’t either. Choose wisely.
  • They’re done by 10pm. ‘Heads would roll’, as Ralph described, if this wasn’t the case at Supercross Live. Because I don’t ride in our rig on Friday nights, I can stay for the majority of the program at Lernerville Speedway and be home, showered and in bed by 11pm on most nights. I’m getting pretty close to the majority of fans’ experience there. Sure, fans will stay out late for a special event every once in a while. But they won’t do it for weekly racing, especially if they have kids. And if Supercross Live, which is a rare special event for most families, thinks it’s that important, shouldn’t we?
  • They build relationships between the fans and the racers. From my notes, Ralph described that from noon to 5pm, the Supercross events have a ‘pit party’, where fans can go directly to all of the rider’s pit areas and get more than just a glimpse of their heroes with their helmets off. Each of the drivers has an autograph session at every event. When the riders are introduced for the first time (with tons of pyrotechnics and fanfare, by the way), many of them are shown in the stands, among the fans, instead of with their helmets on, perched on their bikes on the track. And, speaking of the track, they provide an open track walk opportunity before the event, which helps fans to understand exactly how difficult it is for riders to conquer the turns and jumps before they watch them – increasing appreciation for the skill it takes.
  • They emphasize quality. They offer quality merchandise with designs that fans want to wear every day, not just to the race track, and at the same price that you and I are used to paying. (Side note: they also market their riders’ merchandise, not just their own. They get a piece of the sale, and the teams likely generate more sales. Win-win.) They offer quality food – can someone say ‘kobe beef burgers’?! – that has benefits to the fans, whether that’s in brand recognition, quality ingredients, kid-friendly or healthy. It might not be feasible to completely overhaul your track’s menu, but perhaps you could add a high-quality pre-packaged salad, or an outside food vendor that offers fresh options or a high-end coffee bar, to serve customers who are willing and ready to spend more?
  • They activate the region and their partnerships. When Supercross Live comes to town, you know it. You see the commercials on television. You probably see a Facebook ad or ten. You might see tickets available at local retail outlets, autograph signings and hospitality offerings. This not only increases tickets sales, but also allows them to activate their marketing partnerships with more than just signage. Want to get into a Supercross pit party for free? Just bring a can of Monster Energy drink, the series’ title sponsor. Talk about track-able, sales-generating activation.

When fans buy a ticket, whether it’s for themselves or for their whole family, they are buying an experience. (Over the past 10 years, psychological studies have shown that people find more happiness buying experiences, not things, and are shifting purchasing behavior to reflect that. Aren’t we positioned perfectly?!)

Do you think that one or more of the observations above could be applied to give your fans a better experience? And, to take it one HUGE step further, can you be using your marketing to reflect these better experiences so you’re not just keeping current customers happy but also attracting new ones?

Racers: how can you be using this information to your advantage? Can you offer more live experiences for your fans and marketing partners? Can you be more family-friendly? Can you make better, higher-quality merchandise or content? Can you share this with your favorite track so that they can grow and maybe even help sell you to fans?


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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.