Race Weekend Central

Voices From the Heartland: 1 Day After Talladega, NASCAR Announces Awards for “Listening to the Fans”

Yes, you read the headline correctly… and no, this is NOT another edition of BSNews!

Almost before NASCAR could decide the “official results” for last Sunday’s (Nov. 1) AMP Energy 500 at Talladega, the sport proudly announced in a press release that they had received not one, but actually two prestigious awards for listening to the voices of their fans. Turns out they won the Forrester Groundswell Award in the Business-to-Consumer Listening category, as well as the Vision Critical 2009 Panel of the Year Award.

Just what are these awards, you may ask? NASCAR PR explains it best, so I will let them.

About the Forrester Groundswell Awards

The Forrester Groundswell Awards recognize excellence in achieving business and organizational goals with social technology applications. The awards program was developed to support and recognize the principles outlined in the Forrester Research book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies (Harvard Business Press, 2008).

This year, there were more than 140 entries to the Forrester Groundswell Awards. Winners were chosen in Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) divisions across a number of categories – Listening, Talking, Energizing, Supporting and Embracing – that represent the strategic goals that Forrester Research advises organizations to consider when using social technologies to interact with their customers.

About the Vision Critical Awards

Given at the Vision Critical Client Panel Summits in Toronto and New York, this award recognizes the Vision Critical client who does the best job of engaging consumers and generating business results from that interaction, using their online panel community. In addition to NASCAR, finalists for the Panel of the Year Award included Taco Bell, Allure magazine and Aeroplan.

Vision Critical is a global research and technology company specializing in custom online panels, private communities, and innovative online methods. Vision Critical delivers both the technology and full service research to help clients build stronger connections with their customers using interactive surveys, discussion forums and 3D environments.

So now that you know just what the awards are, I will tell you now that NASCAR received them for the creation of the NASCAR Fan Council. In case you have not heard about that, or don’t happen to be a member of it, here is NASCAR’s description:

About the NASCAR Fan Council

The NASCAR Fan Council is a proprietary online consumer research panel managed by NASCAR through the use of technology provided by global research company Vision Critical. The NASCAR Fan Council was formed in 2008 with the primary objective of listening to and quantifying fan feedback on a variety of topics related to the sport. The NASCAR Fan Council has 12,000 members, representing avid NASCAR fans from all 50 U.S. states. In joining the NASCAR Fan Council, members completed an extensive survey about their interest in and connection with the sport.

Now that you know those facts, you are probably wondering just what in the world it was that NASCAR listened to us about. Believe it or not, their crowning achievements thus far are double-file restarts, as well as earlier and more uniform start times of the races in 2010.

And… that’s it.

So while I do accept that both of those things are very positive changes that needed to be made, I beg of you, don’t be stupid enough think that they were made because NASCAR suddenly created a wonderful online experience and took what the fans are saying to heart. It simply is not true, and in my opinion it’s nothing more than a PR stunt to make themselves feel good.

First and foremost, NASCAR is the sanctioning body and has been for over 60 years. As such, they should kinda have this whole racing thing down pat. After all, setting up some rules to create an organized competition to see which car/driver can beat another from point A to point B isn’t exactly rocket science – or at least it shouldn’t be.

In the earlier days of our sport, it was about the actual competition and, while featuring good competition, making a buck or two. Sadly, over the last 10-plus years, the competition has been left out of the equation, with the emphasis by the sanctioning body solely aimed at making a buck or billion. Case in point: it is no longer called a “race” but a “show” by the very ones who sit in the ivory tower. The rules are no longer generated to increase the competition, but rather to generate a better “result of the competition” which, in turn, generates revenue.

For example, take a look at the “Double-File Restart, Shootout Style.” At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will go over this once again… as I have for several years now.

The double-file restart should have been instituted at the same time that racing back to the flag under caution was eliminated and the Lucky Dog rule was started. This is just plain common sense, as the only reason lapped cars used to restart on the inside line was to give them a chance to get ahead of the leader and get back on the lead lap. Once the Lucky Dog was instituted, it all became a moot point.

Whoever is the first car a lap down is going to get his lap back, whether he is one car behind the leader or 25 cars behind the leader. Things like that, in my opinion, should be obvious to the leaders of a sanctioning body that has been putting on races for 60 years.

Instead, NASCAR is now telling you, the fan, that the double-file restart is what you wanted and the reason you now have it is that, now that technology today being what it is, you were finally able to contact them! But if that is the case, and the Fan Council, which was created in 2008, is the reason we have it, why wasn’t this outstanding change in restarts started at the beginning of the 2009 season? Why did the sport wait till AFTER this year’s All Star race to implement them? Maybe a bit of PR from NASCAR, dated June 4, 2009 explains it best.

NASCAR recently used the “double-file” format for its non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, which produced an unpredictable finish.

So is it coincidence that the double-file restarts were started after the announcers of the All-Star Race publicly went on and on about how great it was and how, since the Lucky Dog came into effect, it should have been that way all along? But wait, let’s back up the train a bit further, before there was even the notion of a “Fan Council.”

Remember a few years ago, the fans got fed up with races finishing under caution and pelted the track with beer cans (which track was that again… oh yeah, Talladega) when yet another race finished under caution? Remember how NASCAR refused to think about implementing a green-white-checkered finish for the Cup cars?

Remember NASCAR’s Jim Hunter saying… “Here and Daytona, we’re not going to run a one-lap shootout just because of safety. We feel like here and Daytona, those just aren’t the places to do that.” Remember how just a few short weeks later, suddenly the GWC was a good idea for the Cup cars!? Where was the Fan Council then, in 2004? OK, never mind all that for a moment… let’s talk about the new network start times.

Reliable inside sources have told me that, in light of years of falling television ratings and race attendance, the networks have recently tried to renegotiate the multi-billion dollar deal that is currently in place with NASCAR. NASCAR, however, has flatly refused and insists that the networks must pay every penny. NASCAR does, of course, have that right, but don’t for one minute think that the new uniform start times scheduled for next year have anything to do with fan input.

Well, in a way it does, but the main reason is because the networks have to do something to try and get the ratings up. NASCAR, while refusing to give them a discount, has been at least generous enough to let them try to standardize start times in an effort to get the ratings back up a bit. After all, NASCAR would hate to have to go through all the hassles of turning the account over to a collection agency. It has nothing to do with listening to you, the fan, in the sense that they want you to believe.

The bottom line is, it should not take the creation of an online panel for the voices of the NASCAR consumers to be heard, and it doesn’t, as a few well-thrown beer cans in 2004 has already proven. The awards that NASCAR recently received for “listening to the fan” are nothing more than recognition by Forrester Groundswell and Vision Critical for a client (NASCAR) spending millions of dollars with them, and they appreciate their business. Unfortunately, the people that now run the sanctioning body known as NASCAR are too stupid to even know what they are being awarded for.

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

About the author

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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