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Dramatic overhaul coming to NASCAR souvenir sales

January 21, 2015, Staff report, NASCAR.com

Fanatics' compelling vision for at-track experience ready for growth

The new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff format that debuted last season was a dramatic shift that ramped up the pressure and drama of the 10-race postseason. This season, the debut of a new partnership intends to bring the same game-changing dynamic to a different aspect of the fan experience: souvenir shopping.

NASCAR and NASCAR Team Properties jointly announced Wednesday a 10-year agreement with Fanatics to conduct its fan merchandise operations at every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. The new partnership -- which has been met with support from teams and tracks across the industry -- includes sweeping plans to transform the sales of memorabilia from an allotment of walk-up trailers to a walk-in assortment of tents in a courtyard-style mall layout.

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The first artist's renderings of the new layout, which is subject to change and evolve over the 2015 launch, illustrated the initiative's potential to make souvenir sales an even more interactive process.

"Obviously we're extremely excited as well," said Ross Tannenbaum, president of Fanatics Authentic, the Jacksonville, Florida-based company's division for licensed sports apparel. "It was a privilege to be selected by the teams, the tracks and NASCAR to be their partner in trying to find ways to improve on the current system of how retail is done at the tracks. We've committed to trying to build something up that the fans will love, that the teams and the industry will all be excited about, that will be a better shopping experience. … I think it will be a winner for everybody long-term."

The announcement was also met with approval from NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- a man who knows plenty about moving souvenirs as one of the sport's perennial top sellers.

"Our fans will soon have better merchandise selections and the opportunity to shop at centralized locations that are in covered, climate-controlled areas," Earnhardt said. "I applaud NASCAR any time it makes decisions to give fans a better at-track experience."

Tannenbaum said that Fanatics' game plan is that the courtyard layout will grow over the course of 2015, evolving from testing concepts toward a full-fledged presence at the track by midseason. The design will vary from track to track because of space limitations, but Tannenbaum said that the traveling mall's flexibility is up to the logistical challenges. In most instances at bigger speedways, he said that the souvenir setup has the ability to adjust and branch off into satellite stores.

Regardless of the track's footprint for merchandise sales, the concepts of hub location and mall layout should mark a departure from the current maze of trailers and hospitality displays.

"A merchandise center will provide a more personal, organized, comfortable and convenient shopping environment for our fans," said Steve Phelps, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. "Partnering with an industry leader in Fanatics allows us to offer a comprehensive and seamless shopping experience for our fans – whether it is in-venue, online or on mobile devices."

Fanatics officials toured certain tracks last season to get a feel for the current model of race-weekend sales, but they also drew upon the company's extensive background in promoting and selling merchandise at other big-ticket sporting events, such as the NHL Winter Classic, the SEC Championship football game and the Shamrock Series for Notre Dame athletics.

What Fanatics learned, Tannenbaum said, is that while the current model -- walking up to a souvenir trailer, selecting a shirt off the wall by giving its number and then paying -- has cost-efficient benefits, the walk-in model provides a personal touch that the walk-up model might lack. With the concept's planned inclusion of apparel customization, autograph sessions and other in-store entertainment, the personal aspect shifts into a higher gear.

"The best way to shop has been proven for a very long time is to give the consumer the opportunity to see a much broader selection of products, to be able to see the product, get a feel for the sizing of it, the material of the garment, then pick the things you want and ultimately go to a checkout," Tannenbaum said.

"That's what we've really wanted to bring to NASCAR, but we needed to find a way to do it that was cost-effective but you can transport it every single week, and literally build a mall and then take it down and do it again. That's obviously the biggest challenge. As I said, we're going to have some challenges, but we just want everyone to understand that we're fully committed to finding solutions and creating the best experience possible for the fan. And that's all that the tracks and NASCAR and the teams wanted was the best experience for the fan."

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News of the partnership between the NASCAR industry and Fanatics was overwhelmingly well received Wednesday. What they're saying:

"The race teams and drivers want to deliver the best possible experience to our fans and our sponsors, and part of that includes the shopping experience at the race track. We believe Fanatics is the right partner to enhance all aspects of the NASCAR merchandise environment at track and online for years to come."

-- Dave Alpern, Chief Marketing Officer, Joe Gibbs Racing

"Simple and efficient is the best way to describe this new trackside retail model. It is one-stop shopping. A family attending NASCAR events can each purchase their favorite driver's merchandise, under one roof and with one transaction. Fans will also see the benefit of having more time to enjoy the pre-race activities such as pit passes, hospitality clubs, fan zones and additional entertainment."

-- Ben May, Chief Marketing Officer, Pocono Raceway

"As an entertainment company, everything we do is about the fans. In every decision, we listen to our fans and bring forth initiatives that meet their needs. This partnership with Fanatics will continue to deliver on that promise. Fanatics' innovations and strong industry presence will only enhance and enrich the guest experience."

-- Craig Neeb, Senior VP of Business Development, International Speedway Corporation

"Our new trackside retail partner, Fanatics, has the knowledge, passion and commitment to create a more convenient shopping experience for the fans. It's a bold vision and we look forward to working side-by-side with Fanatics and our key licensees to deliver it."

-- Joe Mattes, Vice President of Licensing and Marketing, JR Motorsports

"The fan experience is such a critical component for all tracks to successfully exceed the expectations of our customers. This new trackside retail model will provide an exciting addition to race weekend that will enhance that experience and provide a more comfortable and convenient shopping environment."

-- Mike Tatoian, President, Dover International Speedway