Posted by: David Kiley on August 2, 2005
Nascar CEO Brian France says his organization is planning to launch a Nascar news service, which he calls the “AP of Nascar,” because he feels his sport is under-represented and under-covered in the media.
And to think, just yesterday, I was having coffee with a big-time executive telling him my theory of how big and trusted consumer brands will become bigger and more robust portals of information. Why? Because—and this is painful for me to say—the evidence is clear in the marketplace that an increasing number of consumers, especially young ones, don’t care much about the source of their news and information. To many, unfortunately, www.nytimes.com equals www.businessweek.com equals www.joeblowblog.com equals www.family.org equals www.nascar.com.
Of course, conservative groups like Focus on the Family and the drug industry have pefected this model. Create a “news service” that creates content that under-resourced “media outlets” will run in their pages, on their websites or even on their “news” shows because the “news” editors either feel the story is of interest to their readers/viewers no matter what it says, or because they get paid to run it, or because they are too lazy to discern whether the story is any good or properly reported.
Take www.SpotlighHealth.com, for example. This website distributes all manner of health/information content to outlets, besides being a destination site itself. While it says on the site that it “derives revenues from many sources, one of which is sponsorships associated with our Web site health issue communities,” it takes an inquisitive eye to determine that the site is really a PR firm for health product and service related companies. Spotlight uses a “news service” and web community to get its clients’ messages out instead of those clients simply relying on advertising on one side of the equation and traditional PR (getting legitimate reporters interested in your story) on the other.
Nascar’s “media company” is in the conceptual stage of what could include a wire service and, potentially, a cable network. “I’ve been told by our organization that you can’t control [editorial coverage],” Mr. France told 3,400 cable marketers last week. “So you’re going to see us get into the content business, not to distribute live events, but similar to the NFL channel in that it is a 24/7 promotion channel.”
Nascar thinks that a lot of mainstream media outlets don’t spend “enough” space and time covering Nascar because most outlets are populated by blue-state liberals who would rather hang out in a Starbucks or Barnes & Noble than a track or in front of their TV sets watching cars speed around an oval. Here is another possibility. Nascar, with exceptions few and far between, just doesn’t generate that much interesting copy. It is a passtime that lends itself much more to fansites and fan magazines than journalism—again, with some exceptions. Nascar also tends to have regional popularity. It’s big in the South. No Nascar races I know of in Vermont, though there are two races a year, I’m told, in New Hampshire.
“We are redoubling our efforts to educate editors, producers and reporters on the sport and to help to make Nascar easier to cover,” said a Nascar spokesman.
We know full well that many local TV stations and newspapers will carry packaged news. Besides its own channel, if that’s the way Nascar goes, there will also be loads of stations willing to take Nascar “news” packages because it’s free. The U.S. government has been getting away with it very successfully with content about education. Private corporations, too. About two years ago, a relative of mine said they saw me saying good things about Sirius Radio on the “News.” Turns out the company had taken a soundbite from a press event I spoke at, and that they said would only be used “internally.” Sirius recycled my comment for a video news release, which was picked by an Erie, Pa. TV station. That’s the way the local “news” business in rural markets—Nascar country—are operating these days.
What’s the big deal? Will Nascar’s content services talk about or report when drivers behave badly or the details of sponsorship deals? Will the biggest sposors get the most screen-time in this “news” context? We’ll see. Mr. France pretty much spells it out that it will be a “promotion” vehicle. But let’s just see how much turns up in local papers and TV stations as “News.”
It’s no wonder Nascar is turning to producing its own content, which it will put out in the marketplace as “news.” Everyone else is.