Monster Energy’s marketing does not involve splashy TV campaigns, giant billboards or Super Bowl halftime shows. The brand lets its spokespeople carry the water – er, supercharged caffeinated energy drink.
Extreme sports is central to that approach. As Monster says on its web site, “We choose to support the scene and our athletes. Who dreams about landing a 9 to 5 job? We all dreamed about being pro athletes, musicians and living the lifestyle that makes us who we are.”
This week, the brand’s home page featured Conor McGregor, one of ten UFC fighters whom Monster sponsors as part of an official partnership since 2015. Monster is UFC’s second-largest partner behind only InBev.
Monster has also made a big play in NASCAR, taking over its premier series entitlement from Sprint this season.
The brand is growing its presence in Professional Bull Riders (PBR), too, as official energy product with an event entitlement of the season-opener at Madison Square Garden along with title sponsorships of PBR Brazil and PBR Canada, divisions feeding talent to the elite tour in the U.S.
The NASCAR and PBR brands came together in an action sports marketing mash-up this past weekend at the racetrack.
Watkins Glen International President Michael Printup, understanding his business partner’s philosophy eschewing the largest in-your-face logo in favor of creating on-site experiences and attendant buzz, saw the opportunity to cross promote Monster athletes from different worlds. Printup saw a good fit for PBR with fans at the Glen because he’s very familiar with the sport and its athletes, who actually share a lot in common with NASCAR drivers.
Before going to run WGI, Printup was with the track’s parent company, International Speedway Corp (ISC). While he’s most well known as the executive who accepted the unenviable job of battling the New York City Council to bring a racetrack to Staten Island (the “No” votes prevailed), Printup had previously been on an ISC task force looking to purchase PBR. He even donned Wranglers, cowboy boots and an old duster jacket to travel with ISC boss Lesa Kennedy France to Cheyenne Frontier Days to scout pro bull riding up close and personal.
ISC ultimately didn’t acquire the PBR, and it had nothing to do with Kennedy France against the gates getting hit with a tumbling, looping translucent sling of bull snot. The company was simply reluctant to open its purse strings.
(WME | IMG saw things differently and is now reportedly thrilled with PBR’s position in its expanding sports, media, and entertainment portfolio, particularly as cultural winds favor content and stories from heartland America. Last week, WME |IMG’s primary investor Silver Lake announced an additional $1.1 billion investment from a Canadian pension fund and investors in Singapore for further acquisitions and expansion. The new funding values WIME IMG at $6.3 billion.)
At WGI, Printup and his team wanted to cross-pollinate similar fan bases – regular working people who appreciate hard work and the occasional violent smash up. Recognizing the Monster sponsor connection, he connected with PBR to send to the Glen a few Monster riders.
“Monster gives us opportunities to win new fans over to our sport,” said Reese Cates, 2008 PBR Rookie of the Year, in a track press conference. “The PBR, NASCAR and the UFC have a lot of crossover fans. Fans of other Monster sports, like motocross and super cross, may not know a lot about bull riding. We get the chance to come to cool events and expose them to PBR.”
PBR Rider Gage Gay, who is from NASCAR country in North Carolina, follows the sport on TV whenever he can.
“People come to see a race, but if there’s a wreck, they ain’t looking away,” he said. “It’s the same at PBR. Fans want to see us ride, but they not covering their eyes when we wreck.”
The appearance let the league hammer home its messages that the bull riders are legitimate athletes in an exciting sport worth sampling and that its animals are treated very well.
“These bulls have a great life,” Gay told one of several concerned fans who had asked about the animals. “They love to buck as much as love to try to ride them. The bulls are more than ten times my size. I’m the one getting hurt, not them.”
The riders participated in autograph signings, VIP gatherings, a kids’ luncheon, and Fan Q&As documented in an Instagram story that generated more than 800,000 impressions. They were introduced in the drivers’ meeting, stood on stage shaking every competitor’s hand during driver introductions, and led the field in the pace car to the green flag to start the race, won by Martin Truex.
The other PBR athletes at the Glen were an even bigger draw than the two riders strutting around in cowboy hats getting asked by fans if they had any chew to spare.
In the fan zone, Mike Miller, a top bull stock contractor, had a few 2,000-pound bulls on display. Inside a makeshift bullpen festooned with signage for Buck Off the Island at NYCB Live Home of the Nassau Coliseum on Sept. 23-24), Miller chatted up fans in his Oklahoma twang, answering questions about these extraordinary animals he treats like a member of the family.
“The bulls get fed before my family,” Miller told one fan.
He also talked up events for the developmental division of PBR, the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour, in closer locales for fans like Rochester (Sept. 9), Allentown (Sept. 16, Portland, ME (Sept. 22-23), Hartford (Sept. 30), and Albany (Oct. 7).
The speedway Printup had been trying to get approved and built in New York City was to be a low-banked Richmond-style three-quarter mile short track on the west shore of the borough.
Richmond’s recent Cup race this season drew only 29,000 fans, down significantly from the track’s heydays only a decade ago. Yet with its rolling campgrounds, green bogs and winding road course – sensibly priced for fans to enjoy – Watkins Glen is immune to whatever is ailing a handful of NASCAR tracks. The historic speedway in the bucolic Finger Lakes region of New York State celebrated its third straight NASCAR sellout. Quietly and unassumingly, Printup’s track is becoming one of stock car racing’s biggest success stories.
The NASCAR-PBR-Monster Energy integration was one of many easy-to-overlook, small yet smart things the motorsports veteran and his hard-working team planned and flawlessly executed on race weekend.
But as any big-venue boss trying to attract ever-elusive fans will tell you, those little things add up, allowing you to step on stage surrounded by race car drivers and bull riders to announce in front of nearly 100,000 fans another sellout.