Champ Car World Series, an open-wheel auto racing organization, has emerged as an unlikely challenger to mainstream U.S. sports for the attention of the affluent Hispanic consumer.
A 2006 study conducted by Scarborough Research revealed that 14 percent of Champ Car's TV viewing audience is Hispanic. That ties the racing series for No. 2 with the NBA for the highest percentage of Hispanic viewers. And while the company uses different methods to reach Hispanic fans, Garrett Mudd, vice-president of marketing for Champ Car, notes that none of their broadcasts are aired in Spanish.
"Fourteen percent of our audience is Hispanic, and we're not broadcasting on ESPN Deportes or doing special Spanish-language broadcasts," he says. "We're building on our audience and we're doing it in English. I think that's indicative that Hispanic Champ Car fans consume English media."
Then known as Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), the franchise made a push to broaden its Hispanic fan base in 2001 by showcasing its Latin drivers – Adrian Fernandez and Michel Jourdain Jr. – and staging races in key U.S. markets. It also expanded its race schedule to include events in Mexico, and incorporated sponsors with clout in the Hispanic marketplace.
"We have always had a significant Hispanic following, especially when we've had good Hispanic drivers as full-time competitors. That's why we've been popular," says Mr. Mudd. "There has always been a strong motor sports culture in Mexico and South America. When we started racing one event in Mexico, it drew 200,000 people. Now, it's one of our largest events on the regular schedule."
The head of a popular California race says the success of the event depends on the overall product.
"First and foremost, you have to have a driver in the race that the Hispanic community can get behind or relate to," says Jim Michaelian, CEO of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. "Some come out to Long Beach in April to party and have a good time, but we want to create a high-profile event the Hispanic community can relate to. For that, you need drivers they can relate to."
Four years ago, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach partnered with Tecate beer to create "Fiesta Friday," a pre-race festival with vendor booths and entertainment. Mr. Michaelian says the promotion has worked as its Hispanic fan base has increased from 6 percent in 2001 to 28 percent this year.
Arturo Rojas, the international marketing director for CCM Brewery, which produces Tecate, says Fiesta Friday has also benefited the beer brand. "Attendance at the event each year tops the previous year's attendance, and volume of beer sales increases every year. Those are the two core areas we use to measure success."
Mr. Michaelian adds: "We wanted to create an environment that would make people say, 'I had a helluva time last year, let's go again. And, by the way, who's racing this year?'"
Drivers David Martinez and Mario Dominguez are slated to help Champ Car wrap up its 2007 season next month in Mexico City, capping a tour that included stops in the targeted U.S.-Hispanic markets of Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and the California cities of San Jose and Long Beach.
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