Thanks in part to a plan created by Albert Lea native Eric Nyquist, the number of Fortune 500 companies investing in NASCAR has gone up for a second consecutive year.
NASCAR has a lot of moving parts, including drivers, teams, tracks and events.
As NASCAR’s vice president of strategic development, Eric Nyquist, an Albert Lea native and Carleton College grad, takes all of those moving pieces and helps drive the future of the sport.
Nyquist grew up in Albert Lea playing football, running track and water skiing. He was captain of his high school football team and an all-state middle linebacker in 1989.
At Carleton College he was an international economics major who played football and lacrosse. An injury ended his playing days but he spent the last two years at Carleton as a linebacker coach.
He was accepted at the University of Chicago for its MBA and law school programs and graduated a little more than four years later with degrees from both schools. While at the University of Chicago, he interned for United States Soccer, and after graduating he got a job working for the National Football League.
Q: Why did you switch from the stick-and-ball leagues to NASCAR?
A: What really captivated me about NASCAR was its deep engagement with corporate America. There is another level of strategy that comes with that.
Q: One of your key roles at NASCAR was the development of its Industry Action Plan. How did that come about?
A: We were facing the headwinds of 2009, [and] we took a step back and engaged in a very introspective process. We commissioned a number of research studies and brought a number of assessments across the scope of our business. The results brought forth the data we needed to put forward our first strategic game plan across all the stakeholders in the sport — the teams, the tracks, the drivers ... aligning in a way with the various corporate partners.
Q: What are those key parts of the plan.
A: Right now we have seven key planks — youth; multicultural marketing; millennial marketing; digital and social media, event engagement — which is elevating our event experience and the consistency behind it; driver star power — which is the collective effort ... to raise the individual profile and the collective star power of all our drivers. [Finally] product relevance — our sport has had great growth as a result of being very relevant to what consumers see and feel on the street in terms of their experience behind the wheel. The more relevant our form of racing is, the cars themselves, the entertainment, the better we have done as a sport.
Q: Part of the plan was getting back your digital rights for NASCAR.com from Turner Sports. How will that play into NASCAR’s future?
A: We reacquired those rights, brought them back in-house and we launched NASCAR.com under our own operation. We were the first sports league to engage Twitter on a national strategic partnership, where we worked with Twitter directly to create — for the first time ever — a leaguewide Twitter marketing platform.
Q: In 2008 you helped craft the NASCAR Green program. What is that?
A: Our research showed that our fans are two times as likely as the average consumer to value sustainability, to practice it in their home and see it as an important value. We saw a natural fit. We are still in the early stages of what we want to do with NASCAR Green, but not for nothing we went from having no work in the space to now having the largest recycling program, the largest carbon-offset program in our tree planting program, and the largest solar facility in all of sports.
Q: What separates NASCAR from other professional sports?
A: We have a number of independent stakeholders that come together every weekend to put forward an event. That is different from other stick-and-ball leagues in that they are all collectively organized in a very tight fabric of agreements. Whereas we have a number of them that brings us close together but there is a lot of latitude in terms of what a team can do, what a driver can do, and what the tracks can do.
What we needed to do was to put a game plan together that recognized the need for each of these parties to have their independence ... but at the same time brought us together on these key strategic planks.
Q: NASCAR has enjoyed strong affiliation with its corporate sponsors. How does that work?
A: At NASCAR one in every four Fortune 500 companies invest in our sport. This is the second year in a row that the number of Fortune 500 companies investing in our sport has gone up. It is important that we allow for enough latitude so that a Best Buy or a Cargill can come into our sport and have enough latitude to modify their engagement in a way that drives best return for them.
Q: NASCAR does not run any of its major races in Minnesota, but it’s one of your strongest corporate markets with seven Minnesota-based sponsors. Why is that?
A: I would like to think that our drivers really resonate with Minnesota companies in how they conduct themselves, how they treat the fans, how they see that relationship to the company, to the consumer, to the fan base.
Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926