A new era of NASCAR merchandising began on July 31, 2015. One year later and Fanatics has taken the fans of NASCAR by storm, introducing never before seen products, ultimately becoming part of the racing experience.
For years, fans were accustomed to the driver souvenir haulers, located around each and every race track. Many fans were sad to see their favorite drivers stand go away, but in the process adapted to Fanatics.
Chris Williams, Vice President of Trackside for Motorsports Authentic was one of the people in charge of setting up Fanatics. He had a vision of what he wanted to see at the track, and thought that this was the way of the future.
Williams has worked around for the sport for the past 30 years, and much like Fanatics celebrating it’s one year anniversary at Pocono Raceway, so is he. He once worked for Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and then became the man in charge of the 30 plus souvenir haulers.
Much like the fans, getting used to the 1.5-acre tent that Fanatics is made up of has been a transition process for him over the season.
“Fanatics had a great vision of what they wanted to do with Trackside,” Williams said of the merchandise. “A lot of people don’t realize that we were digressing away from trailers because there were really only five guys that were making a profit and we were reducing trailers as they went. What was happening is we didn’t have a full assortment of drivers. We didn’t have any Truck drivers, hardly any XFINITY drivers at all and the lower tier drivers weren’t having any coverage at all from a Trackside standpoint.”
The support of the XFINITY Series drivers has said to gone up over 100 percent and the Truck Series over 150 percent, simply because prior to Fanatics, Motorsport Authentic didn’t carry much product for those two series.
Not only did the value of product increase, but so has the support from NASCAR. The way to purchase NASCAR merchandise at the race track is unlike any other sport. For that Fanatics and NASCAR have had a great relationship in year one.
“They [NASCAR] saw the numbers go down from the trailers and they knew they needed to keep the environment as part of the show,” Williams said of the support from NASCAR. “Shopping is a part of the excitement. We have the displays, interactions and hospitality, so they wanted something to be created that was going to be fan friendly. Going up to the trailers and waiting 40 minutes to be serviced was difficult.”
While shopping at Fanatics, fans will get in and out as quickly or as slowly as one wants. Each team has its own individual pod with hundreds of products for that organization. 15-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has five pods dedicated to him, which is upward of 100 feet of merchandising.
Over the past year brands such as Columbia, New Era and even Under Armor through Hendrick Motorsports have joined the sport. Fanatics is always trying to produce more and are hopeful that even more companies will join in the next calendar year.
Last weekend at Indianapolis was the last track that saw the new setup. Though the tent has been to every track, the company is not afraid to change.
“A year into this, we’ve gone to all the race tracks, we’ve changed them all a few times,
Williams said. “We’ve even changed in dimension a few times. We’ve changed even location from a couple of the historical places that we set with the trailers. But when they find us, the shopping has been very good. All of the transactions are doing extremely well, compared to last year. Though we might have seen a declining in some of the race attendance, our sales are pretty much flat or better, which tells us we are giving the right things to the fans.”
Going into the new process, Motorsports Authentic wasn’t sure how the process would go. Most of the people are the same from the trailers, but this is said to be a unique experience that sets NASCAR apart.
Many of the products, including die-cast cars, t-shirts and fans are all merchandise that fans can see up close and even feel. Before, fans had to ask to see the product after waiting in a long line just to be serviced.
For years, there were over 30 trailers touring the United States, going from track-to-track. Now, full-time employees are given days off in-between races, something that hasn’t been done before.
“Presentation wise, it looks very good and fans love the presentation part of it,” Williams said. “I think from an expectation standpoint everyone seems happy. I know from a process standpoint it’s really good.”
With 26 full-time employees, Fanatics goes into each region looking for help. The company hires over 100 people per region to help set up the process as well work at the track. Over the last 52 weeks, the company has hired 12 new people, but that doesn’t fill more than 60 cash registers.
“We do a deal online through our HR department, where they can go out and say that they would like to work in Fanatics,” Williams said. “We have a training deal that we do for different colleges that come out that’s kind of like an internship as well as a placement of positions. So far it’s turned out really well. Everyone that has come on board except for one is still here and they really like the job. They like being mobile and dealing with the consumer, they thrive on getting it done in a certain amount of timeframe because there is such a limited window.”
As year two is now in the making, Fanatics is trying to get bigger and better. With goals of expanding based on each race track, the company knows that there will be challenges.
Unlike other sports, the drivers are constantly changing colors due to sponsorship. It’s something that some fans enjoy and other fans despise, but it’s all part of the game.
“I think what we need to do is get a little bit thinner and deeper in product because we didn’t know what to expect,” Williams said of one of his main goals. “We probably enlarged our inventory 30 to 35 percent more than we ever had it. Our sport is a little different than any other sport, so we kind of learn through that.”
Income is based solely off the market. There will always be that die-hard fan that comes in at whatever track they go to, but the money varies by different markets.
It was announced earlier this week that Earnhardt was the top driver in merchandise sales. Six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was second on the list. Defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch was third in product sold, rookie Chase Elliott was fourth and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.
Since the beginning of the 2016 season at Daytona, Tony Stewart and Martin Truex, Jr. have seen their merchandise sales improve the most from last season.