EXCLUSIVE: Monster Energy and NASCAR making great memories together, so far

Photos by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' The Tires

 By Jerry Jordan, Editor

CORONA, Calif. – A few critics have pontificated that Monster Energy might already be trying to claw its way out of its marriage with NASCAR, but company representatives feel like everything’s great. And based on past partnerships, it’s not been in the business of short-term relationships. So, fans needn’t worry about this cross-country courtship ending up like those of California couples Drew Barrymore and Tom Green or Britney Spears and Jason Alexander.

“Our brand was built to a large degree on racing, on motorsports, and we look at NASCAR as the biggest and premier racing series in America,” said Mitch Covington, Monster Energy VP of Sports Marketing. “I would say, that in a lot of areas, NASCAR has exceeded our expectations so far. I don’t think there have been a lot of surprises.”

Following the race in Fontana, Kickin’ the Tires was invited to Monster Energy’s inner-sanctum for a behind-the-scenes tour of its headquarters and a chance to meet with numerous company representatives on how they anticipate getting more fans in the stands with cans in their hands.

Located just 15-miles from Auto Club Speedway, the weekend was a homecoming, of sorts, and several Monster Energy employees made their first of many trips to a NASCAR race.

Covington, who serves as the direct link between NASCAR and Monster Energy, likes how things are going, and he believes the fans like it, too.

Although Monster is a relatively small company – with only 2,646 employees worldwide – in terms of revenue, capital, sales and profits it is a powerhouse. It’s size and the fact that only a few people make the bulk of the major corporate decisions means that the company can adapt quickly and doesn’t fall victim to the political correctness flag being waved like other businesses do. For example, when USA Today created a story from six tweets ahead of the 2017 Daytona 500 about “outrage” over the Monster Energy Girls, the company took it in stride.

Kickin’ the Tires reached out those Twitter account owners and, except for one that simply blocked the attempt, none proclaimed “outrage,” just concern over the perception of family values.

Looking back over its history, pretty girls standing beside drivers exiting their winning cars has long been a tradition in the sport.

Since first announcing in December that Monster Energy would be sponsoring the “Cup Series”, the mantra of “racing is in our DNA” has been repeatedly told to reporters, fans and other corporate affiliates in the sport. Nowhere is that statement more evident than in the offices at Monster HQ.

Walking through the door, visitors are greeted by the iconic green “M” claw over the security desk, which is bookended by the #1 Kawasaki Supercross bike of Ryan Villopoto and the #68 Arctic Cat Snowcross machine of Tucker Hibbert. On the ceiling, a video plays featuring extreme sports, and the Monster Energy logo is directly ahead with two action sports videos playing on either side of it. To the left is a conference room and the Monster jackpot of beverages – four coolers stocked full of most, but not all, of the company’s drinks and the tell-tell burnout marks lead the way to the elevators.

On the second floor, one of Valentino Rossi’s actual racing bikes – planned as a backup at Circuit of the Americas MotoGP event in Austin, Texas – stands prominently as guests exit the elevator. And on the way to Covington’s office, the walls are an homage to Kurt Busch, NASCAR, Supercross, Rob Gronkowski and the Monster Energy Girls.

“We spent quite a few years in the sport prior (to being the entitlement sponsor), as our history has been we started out in sports with competitors only and kind of become a part of the fabric of the sport and be authentically engrained in the sport through the competitors, and we certainly did this for a number of years,” Covington said. “While we haven’t been that big in sponsoring the series itself, we have spent a lot of times at NASCAR tracks.

“I’d say Monster is very happy being the entitlement sponsor of NASCAR and the way the races have come off so far this year, but we are working hard to make improvements and continue to bring about the kind of edgy, disruptive branding that we like to do to make it appear to be a Monster Series more and more every week.”

Covington said Monster has been around its own genuine brand of marketing for so long that it overlooked some of the basic tenants that helped build the brand and propel it to greatness in the Supercross world. Extreme activities like the Ball of Steel and motorcycle stunt shows that are commonplace in Supercross are new and exciting to many NASCAR fans, which is apparent by the number of people watching in the fan zone each week.

“We ask ourselves that every week, and it has been easier than we thought because we found the true NASCAR fan to be our kind of people,” he said. “It has been a good fit, and if you go out into the campgrounds and talk to the everyday NASCAR fans, it is race fans, it is people that like gnarly racing and, you know, really the badass kind of racing that Monster supports. So, we found the NASCAR fan is just what we wanted them to be.

“Of course, we’d like to see Kurt Busch win every week, but aside from that we have been left with some pretty good racing this year. Sure, maybe we would like to see the racing a little closer at the end sometimes but that is racing and, so far, I think the racing has been good.

“I think in Las Vegas Kyle Busch probably saved the day and made things a lot more interesting for everyone to talk about all week long,” Covington continued. “And then the racing this weekend at Fontana was great with how it all came down to the end, with several crashes and pit strategies played into where if there had no yellow flags and no crashes, everybody knew that when Kyle (Larson) made his first lap he was probably going to win.

“My hat is off to NASCAR on the rule changes they have made and their continuing push with Steve O’Donnell (NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer) and how they are persistent and willing to make changes to make more entertaining racing.”

If fans are wondering how much input or direction Monster Energy had with creating the new rules package, the answer is now known.

None.

According to NASCAR officials, Monster Energy key executive’s were briefed on the changes but not sitting-in on the meetings where the discussions were being held on just exactly what would be implemented.

“We were definitely interested in what the changes were, as probably most NASCAR fans were,” Covington said. “ … it was the kind of rule changes that they indicated to us in the beginning when we first started talking, that they would be willing to make significant changes to make the competition better and make the show better.”

Covington agreed that it was too early to determine whether Monster Energy’s multi-million-dollar investment in sponsoring NASCAR premier series would pay off or not, but he doesn’t have any worries. Traditionally, Monster hasn’t jumped into a sport, sponsorship or promotion than then immediately bailed.

The current deal with NASCAR, according to several Kickin’ the Tires sources, is two years with an option to renew. The short-term aspect is also reported to be something sought by the sanctioning body and not Monster Energy. And although Covington wouldn’t discuss specifics of the contract, he appears to think Monster Energy and NASCAR will be together for a long time.

“I think the answer to that is we’re going to have to see how it pays off in the long-term,” he said. “It is really too early in the game to put a return number on it, at all. I can say we’re having a hell of a lot of fun. We are really enjoying it, it fits our brand and I will be really surprised if it doesn’t turn out down the road, over the long haul, to be a good thing for the brand. That’s why we did it.

“Obviously, it is what it is, and we will make that decision when we need to make that decision. Our tendency is to stick around and stay with things long-term and be ingrained into the sport regardless whether it is an entitlement sponsorship, an athlete sponsorship or a race sponsorship, you know. We normally don’t enter our major sports platforms to make a quick exit. We want to be part of the sport.”

So for anyone questioning why Monster Energy would want to be involved with NASCAR, it’s fairly simplistic – people.

NASCAR has a huge fan base, an incredible reach and tons of star power. That combination allows Monster Energy the opportunity to have their name on a brand that can help penetrate some of the roughly 80 percent of households in America that have not even tried an energy drink.

“One of the main reasons we went into the entitlement deal with NASCAR was to get more brand awareness, because most Americans have not even tried an energy drink,” Covington said. “I think the number for household penetration for energy drinks is less than 20 percent.

“That is one of the reasons why our sampling program is so important to us at the track,” he continued. “We think a lot of people will go to NASCAR and try an energy drink for the first time and like it. We sample a wide-range of products on a weekly basis. Not all our products are there every week, for sure, because we have a lot of them but we bring a variety each week.

“I am really focused on the sport and bringing personalities and properties that become great brand ambassadors and create goodwill for our brand.”

Previously, Covington said he didn’t want to spill the beans on what else the company had planned with regards to its marketing campaign and fan engagement at the track, but he did reveal some of his hand when he promised that hardcore fans, the ones camping at the track throughout race weekend, were a big target audience going forward.

“I think we want to get more involved in the actual campgrounds,” he said, “and where that hardcore fan is who comes to spend the weekend, brings their campers, builds a fire and drinks a lot of beer and energy drinks. We want to be part of that. We don’t want to be the kind of sponsor that sits up in the suites all weekend and looks at those fans as a demographic. We want to go out there … and have a good time with those fans.”

In fact, this past weekend Covington was joined by Monster Energy’s Chief Marketing Officer, Mark Hall, and several other corporate executives as they took a ride through the Auto Club Speedway infield.

It wasn’t Covington’s or his boss’ first trip to a NASCAR infield and it won’t be their last.

“I think it is working out for us, everything is a process and a build over time,” Hall said, when asked about his view of the weekend’s activities. “I was in the fan zone yesterday and I can tell you I saw a lot of smiles on a lot of faces and we were in the campground last night after the race and people were just coming up to us and thanking us. They can see we are trying. We are having a few nits and gnats here and there with our relationship and we are learning as we go but I am generally happy, yes.

“It is our customer, sort of an older version of our customer, that maybe we are not getting to, or maybe they don’t know us as well as some of the younger guys do from the sports we are involved in. We have some new product lines that we are coming out with to broaden the base of the energy category and we think it is a good place go fishing for new customers.”

Hall said he realizes partnering with NASCAR is a process that won’t hit its peak in the first year. He stressed people still need to get to know the brand and learn about the company but realized that Monster Energy is learning the sport and its fans better, as well. Still, he isn’t concerned and thinks, “it is a good deal.”

“We have a great relationship with the NASCAR team and the fans are getting to know us,” Hall said. “I mean, a lot of them are aware of who we are, we do enough marketing around the country that they know what the brand is but maybe they aren’t consumers yet.”

Like Covington, Hall is happy with the racing on the track but he’d like to see even more excitement and action amongst the drivers battling for points, wins and championships. Considering the high-intensity of Supercross and other extreme sports that Monster Energy is involved in, that might not be a surprise.

It is also not lost that Monster Energy sponsors the UFC, so the fight at Las Vegas a few weeks ago between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano didn’t faze the hockey-loving Hall.

“We had a few of the drivers in here earlier in the week and I was joking with them when the Kyle thing came up because we had some MMA guys here and they were joking about the fighting,” Hall said. “We saw the statement from his current sponsor that they don’t condone it and that is a perfectly acceptable attitude but I don’t mind it.

Hall continued: “My father is Canadian. I grew up playing hockey, and they tried to take the fighting out of hockey and it nearly killed the sport. So, you have a very what I would call liberal country in Canada where their national pastime is fighting every game. It is part of the sport.

“You know as NASCAR got larger and the corporate money came in the tendency is to go towards vanilla, and we like flavors.”

One Comment

  1. Sol Shine

    March 30, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    Having “pretty girls standing beside the drivers” is one thing, but in past they had been clothed appropriately. These women are clothed for something other than standing beside drivers. Nascar WAS a family sport once upon a time, I’m not sure what it is now. It is definitely a shadow of itself, and decisions like this are not helping stop the decline.

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