NASCAR race puts Las Vegas in fast company

Often, you're only as good as the company you keep. And this week, Las Vegas is hanging with the fast crowd.

A New York institution for 25 years, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion's Week was relocated to Las Vegas three years ago. The weeklong celebration of speed culminates with the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony on Friday at Wynn Las Vegas.

NASCAR now wants to solidify its working relationship with Las Vegas by joining the two highly recognized brands.

"The relationship continues to get stronger and stronger," said Steve Phelps, chief marketing officer for NASCAR.

Leading up to the week's events, $2 million worth of Vegas-centric television ads ran in a few spot markets.

"It's a significant push to get people to come to Vegas," Phelps said. "We want fans to understand we're going to Las Vegas and we want them to join us there."

That relationship could mean more money and increased visitation for Las Vegas. NASCAR boasts some of the most loyal fans in sports, which translates to dollars for associated brands.

"The great thing about NASCAR is ... we have a very large, loyal and passionate fan base," Phelps said. "It really is a significant point of difference between NASCAR and stick-and-ball sports."

Prior to this year's Champion's Week, for example, NASCAR and Ford hosted a sweepstakes called Send Me to Vegas. Based on data collected from customers who entered the contest last year, Ford sold 87 vehicles in 120 days, a direct result of the contest and the association with NASCAR.

"Fortunately, our trends are all going up," Phelps said. "Attendance is up and ratings are up, and those are two key consumption metrics that are really important for us."

Specifically, TV viewership is up 10 percent over 2010. In the males whose ages range from 18 to 34 years , viewership is up 17 percent over 2010.

NASCAR also is seeing increases on the sponsorship side. Kraft recently renewed its commitment to NASCAR, Bank of America returned as an official partner and Goodyear signed a five-year deal earlier this month. This past year, five large NASCAR sponsors returned to the sport and new brands, including AARP, Outback Steakhouse and Bosch, have entered into sponsorships.

"We clearly have momentum," Phelps said.

And, attendance to the 2011 Motorsports Marketing Forum hosted by Sports Business Journal is up 15 percent year over year, Phelps said. The forum takes place Nov. 29-30 at Caesars Palace in conjunction with Champion's Week.

During the marketing forum, motorsports professionals will discuss marketing to a younger generation of fans, using social media to drive fans and industry growth opportunities.

The events also have received ESPN coverage, which helps solidify Las Vegas' association with NASCAR. On Dec. 2, the SPEED television network will provide same-day coverage of the awards.

"It's been a great relationship, but more from the branding perspective," said Pat Christenson, president of Las Vegas Events.

From an economic impact standpoint, the end-of-week awards ceremony draws only about 1,500 people, which is significantly less than other events.

Contact reporter Laura Carroll at or 702-380-4588.