Eric Ryan: Building the NASCAR Brand
Eric Ryan, Vice President of Corporate Communications for NASCAR, knows a lot of the RG team from his days at NYSE where he spent the first 13 years of his career as part of the Communications team.
When he came to speak at a recent Ricciardi Group Lunch & Learn, we were excited to discover what would cause a fellow New Yorker and (former) NASCAR-novice to leave the city and his beloved Brooklyn to move to Orlando, Florida.
Turns out that when it comes to NASCAR, there’s more than meets the eye. According to Ryan, that’s only one of the many senses that are overwhelmed during a NASCAR race. The sound, vibrations and even the smells of the 40 stock cars buzzing down a straightaway at speeds reaching nearly 200mph is unlike anything he’s ever experienced.
After NYSE, Ryan spent five years at AT&T before landing a role at his dream company, Nike. And then, in a move that was shocking even to him, he left that job at The Swoosh to join NASCAR working across the street from the famous Daytona International Speedway, home of the Daytona 500.
Why? He was enticed by the challenge of subverting expectations around a sport that was far more innovative, accessible, and bold than he first believed. Nike supported the values of inclusion and social responsibility that Ryan has always been passionate about. At NASCAR, however, he could help build a brand that embodied his values while welcoming new and diverse audiences with a unique and timely opportunity to change people’s minds about motorsports. Timing is everything and on the heels of monumental social change and a global pandemic he felt the time was right to join a sport with what he calls, “a generational opportunity to diversify and expand its global audience.”
Prove that everything is not what it seems – with human-first storytelling
Ryan’s mission to communicate the right brand story – at the right time – for NASCAR started with his team unearthing people-focused stories from across the sport. Drivers, pit crews, owners, fans and employees are all potential story mining opportunities. He brought together a group of strong and diverse people who could align around their love for the power of sport.
Nike taught him that sport and the indelible memories it creates can truly change people; how we interact, which events we talk about and the passions that connect us. This foundation informs Ryan’s aspirations for the brand. In car racing, there’s an opportunity for people of color to own teams that does not exist in stick and ball sports. Michael Jordan, Pitbull, Emmitt Smith and others are already leading the way. There’s been increased energy around NASCAR in recent years as it’s one of the few leagues where men and women can compete on the same track and diverse drivers can rise through the ranks to its highest levels. In fact, NASCAR’s developmental leagues have multiple women and/or drivers of color competing each week, some of whom even began on eNASCAR’s iRacing simulator.
His experience has already shown him that the more you learn about the sport, the more your preconceived notions of NASCAR disappear. That’s Ryan’s goal in action.
Build inclusivity and transparency
NASCAR is a sport about the love of cars. Everyone can relate to driving a car. And when drivers are on the track, you can tap into their audio or video feeds to hear everything they say to their crew. Unlike the “walled gardens” of the NFL or NBA, NASCAR allows fans to get within feet of the athletes and the cars themselves for a one-of-a-kind experience at an accessible cost. Ryan’s team is working to make sure that the brand—like the sport—is inclusive, transparent and most of all, welcoming to everyone. Pick a driver, a car or team and enjoy the unparalleled sensory overload that a NASCAR race provides.
To that end, Ryan’s team brings the experience of the racetrack to audiences at home alongside its broadcast partners at FOX and NBC. “It’s such a challenge to take the energy of the race and put it on television. Our partners do a truly amazing job bringing the impact of the sights and sounds to viewers at home,” he says. “We ask ourselves: How do we take those things that are really interesting about the in-person experience and translate it beyond the track?”
In 2022, NASCAR exhibition tracks will expand the brand geographically. First up is the first-of its-kind racetrack that will be built inside the LA Memorial Coliseum in February; next, Ryan has his sights set on the hard-to-win-over New York City crowd and is intrigued by the opportunity to establish the NASCAR brand in the Northeast. NASCAR non-believers, Ryan says, only need to feel the energy of a race in person to get what it’s all about.
Put audiences first
Along with the exhibition racetracks in new cities, Ryan is developing a “NASCAR 101” communication plan to educate audiences on how to properly enjoy a race and better understand the new Next Gen race car launching in 2022. Their audience insights team collects feedback on the races from all types of fans, and a multicultural marketing team helps dig into other audiences to ensure NASCAR always keeps fan excitement top of mind.
Ryan’s biggest worry? That once they’ve gotten people into the sport, they must ensure that they consistently create an environment that continues to welcome and energize them. “We can convince people to give us a shot,” he says. “When they do, we have to deliver. And I’m confident we will.”