Jimmy Small graduated from Notre Dame in 2008 with a degree in Economics and has since served the motorsport industry as Manager of Industry Marketing for NASCAR.
In 2012, Small sold a one-race NASCAR team sponsorship to HBO and was selected for the Ivy Sports Symposium 10 NEXT Class.
As a young professional, Small started his career with NASCAR in Daytona Beach, Florida before moving to the Charlotte, North Carolina. He assists with business case studies, working alongside teams from the three series — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck.
Small took time out of his day to answer the following questions regarding NASCAR from a marketing perspective.
MSBC: Talk about your college career at Notre Dame and what you did to eventually get to NASCAR.
Small: After taking a macroeconomics course at Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, I decided to pursue a degree in economics at the University of Notre Dame. Although I enjoyed studying economics and currently apply some of the principles I learned, I realized it wasn’t a field I wanted to focus on professionally.
Basketball was my passion throughout childhood and adolescence. It was basically a lifestyle. I identified myself primarily as a basketball player, and secondarily as a student. An athlete-student! In fact, as a 5th grader, I won a speech contest in which I claimed I would one day become a professional basketball player in the NBA. However, after high school ended and I stopped playing competitively, I found myself searching for a new passion. When I arrived on campus in Notre Dame, Indiana, it wasn’t long before I found a new way to channel this passion for the sport. The Bookstore Basketball Tournament is an annual basketball tournament held on Notre Dame’s campus. Everyone affiliated with the University, including students, professors, coaches and other staff members, competes in this one-of-a-kind tournament. On any given year, this tournament fields approximately 800 teams of five players. These entries generate the largest bracket I have ever seen. Imagine trying to fill that out for the office pool! Anyways, I caught the fire and applied to assist fellow classmates in the coordination and execution of the tournament and its rules. As a sophomore, I assisted as an operational manager, but I had larger ambitions. As a junior and senior, I applied and was accepted as an executive council member for the tournament. We would meet year-round to organize, market and staff the tournament. At that point, I determined if I treated this opportunity as a professional experience, I could argue that sports marketing and management was my second major at the University of Notre Dame.
I did just that. While heading into my senior year of college, I began applying to sports properties and agencies across the country. While I was not familiar with NASCAR at the time, I was advised that it would offer an unparalleled experience from a sports marketing perspective. I applied to NASCAR and began researching and following it. I couldn’t believe how well brands were able to activate within the sport. I knew that this was for me. However, I’m not so sure NASCAR knew I was for it! I flew down to Daytona Beach, Florida twice and interviewed over the phone another two times during my senior year. Not until the week after finals, in May, was I offered a job. Despite other offers closer to home, I immediately accepted the position and moved down to Florida. Almost five years later, I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I am very fortunate!
MSBC: At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to work in the sport industry?
Small: Yes, although the details of that ambition changed drastically. As a child, my goal was to play professional basketball. Then I woke up! I was pretty aimless throughout high school, but I regained and altered a much more realistic focus on sports marketing in college. I would pinpoint the day I began working on the Bookstore Basketball Tournament at Notre Dame as a moment of revelation.
MSBC: Will you talk about your HBO sale? What other shows is HBO looking to promote through the relationship with NASCAR?
Small: Stars aligned for this deal, and it came together very quickly. In early February 2012, I was contacted by one of our NASCAR Nationwide Series teams, MAKE Motorsports. They informed me that they had inventory available on their Chevy Impala at Daytona International Speedway later that month. This team, MAKE Motorsports, takes pride in being the only NASCAR team based in Shelby, North Carolina. Being a big fan of Eastbound & Down, I also knew that Danny McBride’s character, Kenny Powers, was portrayed as a baseball player from Shelby, North Carolina. The timing couldn’t have been much better, since HBO was promoting the Season 3 premier of Eastbound & Down. Our Entertainment Marketing department, based in Los Angeles, put us in touch with HBO, and we had a deal done within 24 hours. The partnership was a big success in Daytona. It received a tremendous amount of coverage from national media outlets, demonstrating how powerful NASCAR can be as a marketing tool and platform. Since then, we have discussed a number of opportunities to promote other shows in HBO’s lineup, but we haven’t been able to sync our available inventory with their marketing calendar. HBO has a talented and very creative marketing team that is an absolute pleasure to work with, and we look forward to the next opportunity to work together.
MSBC: What are the major differences or similarities between marketing for NASCAR versus other professional sport properties?
Small: Using a sports property as a marketing platform can be very rewarding. Sports are ingrained into our culture, and as a result, they tap directly into our emotions as enthusiasts. I read an article earlier this year that indicated the ratio of emotional-to-rational purchase decisions can reach 70:30. I know this to be true from personal experience. From what I fed myself to how I dressed myself, my consumption habits were heavily influenced by my role models as a kid. Though my role models and priorities may have changed since then, my purchasing decisions continue to be influenced by emotion every day. Having said that, the key similarity between marketing in NASCAR and other professional sports is the emotional connection made between a brand and consumer via athletes.
From a marketing perspective, the major difference between NASCAR and the major stick-and-ball sports is found in the degree of that emotional connection. In NASCAR, brands can become part of a team’s DNA. Brands become much more than sponsors in our sport. They become partners. The brand becomes the mascot. Brand guidelines become the hometown colors. Brand placement authenticates licensed merchandise. Press conferences are even held to announce new sponsors, and they’re covered by major national media outlets like USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Have you heard of that anywhere else? Sponsors are able to write themselves into a team’s DNA code by providing the funding necessary for the team to compete at the highest level. Because sponsorship is so vital, fans look beyond the superficial logos on the car, and establish deep emotional connections with brands. They appreciate each sponsor’s support, and demonstrate that appreciation by purchasing its products or services. Since a licensed hat, shirt, or jacket is authenticated by a sponsor’s presence, our fans also become walking and talking billboards for the brand.
I’m just now getting to the paint scheme! Since sponsors control the paint on the car, they are able to authentically integrate themselves within the competition. They receive exposure through broadcasts and live attendance. Considering the proliferation of digital video recorders and the evolving methods of media consumption across America, NASCAR sponsorship is quite advantageous. The NASCAR race cars are the focal point of each event and broadcast, providing ample exposure value to the brands associated with each team. Taking it a step further, when teams and drivers are particularly successful, sponsors are even able to write themselves into the history books. Considering this, sponsors have the unique opportunity to transcend time and become iconic.
MSBC: What is your particular role and corresponding responsibilities as Manager of Industry Marketing?
Small: I serve as a direct liaison to our national race teams across the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. My responsibilities include assisting teams in business development strategy, creating additional value, identifying and sharing best practices, and generating new business.
MSBC: NASCAR provides a level of visibility that other sports cannot. Other than the logo presence on racecars, what other forms of sponsorship activation does NASCAR offer?
Small: Our sport is driven, no pun intended, by sponsorship. Simply put, sponsors are able to activate anywhere the sport takes them. I know I provided a few examples in the earlier question, but I didn’t get to mention the size of our live audience at the racetrack 38 weekends per year. From Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving, we average approximately 100,000 fans each weekend at a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. I don’t know of another sports marketing platform that can deliver that many people, that often, from coast to coast. The size of our live audience presents a valuable opportunity to make many, many impressions. Brands are able to engage with fans by sampling products and services while leading the conversation at these events.
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