Case Detail

Case Summary

NASCAR: Leading a Marketing Transformation in a Time of Crisis

Case Number: 5-214-257, Year Published: 2015

HBS Number: KEL889

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Authors: Eric T. Anderson; Vasilia Kilibarda Funston

Key Concepts

Consumer marketing, Crisis management, E-commerce, Leadership, Market research, Marketing, Marketing communications, Marketing strategy, Social media, Strategic planning


It is February 2011 and Brian France, CEO of NASCAR (the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), is facing a crisis. In the last five years, attendance at weekend NASCAR races has fallen 22 percent and television viewership has declined 30 percent. Key marketing sponsors have recently left the sport. At the same time, the U.S. economy was only beginning to recover from an economic recession that had an adverse impact on the sport of auto racing as a whole. Some leaders within NASCAR counseled Brian that these trends in attendance, viewership, and sponsorship stemmed from the recession and that NASCAR should continue with business as usual. But Brian sensed that the industry needed fundamental change and that he, as CEO of NASCAR, was the one that must lead this change.

With Brian at the helm, NASCAR embarked on an unprecedented amount of qualitative and quantitative research to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the entire industry. At the center of this research was the NASCAR consumer. Highly engaged, enthusiastic consumers were at the heart of an industry business model that had been successful for decades. But in 2011, marketing within all of NASCAR needed to transform, as it was clear that consumers were disengaging with the sport.

As the consumer research results unfold, Brian and leaders within NASCAR must make tough choices and set priorities. The case focuses on four key areas in which decisions need to be made by NASCAR leadership: digital marketing and social media, targeting the next-generation NASCAR consumer, enhancing the star power of NASCAR drivers, and enhancing the consumer experience at NASCAR events. Focus group videos offer students a customer-centric deep-dive into these challenges.

At its heart, this is a case about great leadership and transforming marketing throughout an entire industry. A wrap-up video from CEO Brian France summarizes how NASCAR executives tackled the difficult questions posed in the case.

A Spanish translation of this case is available.

Learning Objectives

After reading and analyzing the case, students will be able to:

  • Understand how deep consumer engagement is at the heart of a successful marketing ecosystem
  • Analyze focus group videos to understand the needs of today’s consumer
  • Prioritize the market segments that should be cultivated as the next-generation consumer
  • Understand how differing incentives within an industry are at the heart of many marketing problems
  • Analyze a complex set of problems and set and manage priorities
  • Understand the importance of leadership in a time of crisis

Number of Pages: 15

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Marketing

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: United States

Industry: Sports

Organization Name: NASCAR

Organization Size: Large

Decision Maker Position: CEO

Decision Maker Gender: NASCAR

Year of Case: 2011