Thursday, August 19, 2010

Niche Connection

As many of you may (or may not) know, as much as I'm into hockey; I'm also into the other oft-bashed sport-- NASCAR. In fact, myself and Todd "Wilson" Butts used to do a NASCAR internet radio show called "Pit Stop Radio" from 2001 until 2005. Todd has moved onto Wilson's Race Report and far surpassed the fame I have, but that's neither here nor there.

The thing that I've notice is how closely the two sports intertwine and intermingle in terms of promotional events. Also, these are sports that have their niche markets and have tried to expand out to the more mainstream across the country and even in other continents. Granted, NASCAR has seen a bit more success when expanding into the mainstream; even though they have plenty of detractors for one reason or another. Notwithstanding, there's a decent amount of parallel with the sports on the surface.

When you look deeper, you can see a lot more parallels when it comes to the two, especially when it comes to the minor leagues and their promotional activities. Before we get to that, we have to start out with one of the first cross-promotional items between the two sports. It happened in 1997, the first year for the Carolina Hurricanes. To get their name out there to the masses after the move from Hartford, the team bought space on the back deck-lid and bumper of Jeff Burton's #99 Exide Ford. They call NASCAR the fastest billboards on Earth and it seemed to get some word out there for the masses.

While the Burton thing seemed to be just a one-year deal, the NASCAR community would welcome some more NHL logos in 2004, when Jeremy Mayfield had the 2004 NHL All-Star Game logo on his #19 Dodge Dealers Dodge for the Budweiser Shootout, seen in the picture above. This is when Dodge was the official car of the NHL and they took the chance to get the word out for the All-Star Game during Daytona's Speedweeks. Since then, there has no out and out sponsorship of a team or event.

That said, the likes of Regan Smith (formerly of the #01 DEI Chevy) have used the Carolina Hurricanes logo as a design on his helmet. Also, Martin Truex, Jr. of the #56 NAPA Toyota is an avid Philadelphia Flyers fan since he grew up in Mid-South New Jersey and has seemingly pulled Kevin Harvick (seen here with Flyers forward Jeff Carter), driver of the #29 Shell Chevy in with him to the Flyers fandom. Both Truex and Harvick followed the Flyers through their playoff run last season. Harvick also admitted to watching the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL, which is his hometown team. With NASCAR going into Canada, the Montreal Canadiens embraces driver David Reutimann of the #00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota and owner Michael Waltrip by presenting them jerseys of the team.

Conversely, there's plenty of hockey teams that incorporate NASCAR into their game-day and jersey schemes. The Charlotte Checkers, where most of the NASCAR teams have their headquarters, often have a NASCAR theme night during the year and the name goes along with the motif of the city prior to hockey. The old UHL has had many NASCAR nights with the checker pattern, as seen here with the Danbury Trashers and many other lower minor leagues and junior teams have done such ideas, as seen by this interesting Tri-City Americans' (WHL) jersey during their NASCAR night. Truex ties into this with being at Syracuse Crunch's NASCAR night in March of 2010.

One of the bigger tie-ins happened earlier in the summer with the SPHL announcing that the Ryan Newman Foundation would be a partner with the league and incorporate special nights with all eight SPHL teams for trips to NASCAR events. Ryan Newman is the driver of the #39 US Army Chevy and his foundation educates and supports animal welfare. Newman and his wife are hockey fans and thought that this would be a nice tie-in to the area that the SPHL targets.

While they seem miles apart in terms of philosophy, the fans of each sport and the sports themselves are somewhat on par. The fans, most of them are avid and very knowledgeable of the ins and outs of the game, while those who are new to the sport often pick it up fairly quickly and embed themselves quickly. The sports are both quick, high tempo, and often have strategy to them when the game or race is on the line. Of course, hockey can turn in all directions and NASCAR is usually all-left, that's neither here nor there. The point is that while it seems like these two "niche" sports wouldn't be in the same ballpark as each other, they are closer than some would like to admit.

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