NASCAR uses SpongeBob to reach kids Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway (Getty Images)
NASCAR uses SpongeBob to reach kids

On a muggy Saturday afternoon, two children dragged their parents through the garage area at Kansas Speedway. The kids were intent on catching up to a hero they had seen only on television.

They weren't after star drivers Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson, though. They were after a giant, yellow Nickelodeon character better known as SpongeBob SquarePants whose name was attached to the Sprint Cup auto race that featured Gordon, Johnson and the sport's biggest stars.

It was exactly what the children's TV network wanted out of its partnership with NASCAR and just what NASCAR wanted out of the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 race. NASCAR is the organization that oversees stock car racing. Sprint Cup is one of the classes of races within NASCAR.

"You know, you're always looking for a younger demographic," Sprint Cup star Clint Bowyer said, "and what better way to attract that younger demographic? I can't imagine any younger kid not wanting to come to the SpongeBob SquarePants race."

NASCAR has been trying to reach younger demographics for years, particularly as stars such as Gordon close in on retirement. The fan base that brought about the racing boom of the 1990s and early 2000s has started to age and filling that void has become a priority.

That's why a few years ago NASCAR announced a plan designed to attract younger and more diverse fans. It began with a rebuffed website and mobile apps, inviting more mainstream celebrities to races and providing concerts and other ancillary entertainment.

That was just the start of the outreach, though.

NASCAR has also opened its garages to children accompanied by parents on race days, allowing them to get closer to the cars and drivers. It lowered age limits on some regional competitions, giving up-and-coming drivers a chance to compete earlier. And it embraced social media, fantasy racing and online simulators such as iRacing that are popular with younger demographics.

The push toward a younger demographic in some ways mirrors the push that NASCAR made toward women in the 1980s and '90s, which ultimately succeeded in growing the brand.

"This is really cool to engage the youth and bring in a new fan to NASCAR, and that is an important aspect for all of us, for all our partners moving forward in the sport," said Michael McDowell, whose No. 95 car had Larry the Lobster from the SpongeBob show painted on it.

A recent Turnkey Sports poll found that only about 10 percent of NASCAR fans these days are in the coveted 18-to-24 marketing demographic. While that may be a sobering number, polls also have found that 37 percent of NASCAR fans have children under age 18.

In other words, there are plenty of potential fans just waiting to get hooked.

"The SpongeBob SquarePants 400 gives Nickelodeon the opportunity to expand its relationship with NASCAR, while working with a best-in-class track to give fans a unique, engaging and high-quality race experience that the whole family can enjoy," said Pam Kaufman, the chief marketing officer for Nickelodeon Group who has spearheaded the affiliation with NASCAR.

"Nickelodeon has embarked on some great initiatives with NASCAR over the last 10 years," Kaufman said, "sponsoring and participating in marquee racing events that have resonated with motorsports fans across the country."

This may be an opportune time to attract younger fans, too.

There is a new set of drivers poised to take over the leadership of the sport. Eighteen-year-old Erik Jones made his first Sprint Cup start at Kansas and Ty Dillon, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott are at an age that resonates with a younger fan base.

Then there are the current Sprint Cup stars with children of their own. Images of Greg Biffle toting daughter Emma around the garage area or Matt Kenseth celebrating with daughters Kaylin and Grace in victory lane, get beamed by television into living rooms every race weekend.

"My daughter is 3 1/2 and she loves watching SpongeBob and she asked before I left if I could bring him back with me," Biffle said. "It's kind of funny how the kids go in cycles. There are a lot of young kids and a lot of new dads in the garage right."

The sponsorship brought out the child in those dads, too. Many were caught taking selfies with the SpongeBob character traipsing through the garage area.

"My 6-year old son thinks I am the coolest dad ever because I got to drive the Ninja Turtle car and now I get to drive the Larry Lobster car," McDowell said, wearing a big grin. "I am definitely winning cool points with my kids."

Critical thinking challenge: How does SpongeBob attract adults?

Assigned 3 times

  • DamienQ-Kut
    5/14/2015 - 05:59 p.m.

    I think that this is really cool for NASCAR because it will atract more and more younger veiwers. though most children that just racing a car in circles is boring but now that they have a SpongeBob SquarePants car now is cooler!!!!!

  • CRobert-Cas
    5/15/2015 - 10:01 a.m.

    I think this was a great idea to include a popular cartoon character in a race. I also think that if they continue to bring more cartoon character into races maybe more kids will get interested in NASCAR.

  • clairedoucet
    5/15/2015 - 01:17 p.m.

    This is a great idea to get young kids and even adults hooked on NASCAR. The idea of using Spongebob is great because it will attract a lot of kids that wouldn't have watched NASCAR races before, but now, since they used the Spongebob theme, it has proven to attract a younger group. Also, it benefits NASCAR and Nickelodeon. The T.V. show can advertise the race and get its young viewers to have interest in or go to the race and the people who love NASCAR may start watching Spongebob which would benefit Nickelodeon. Spongebob also attracts the adults because since their kids love it then they have even more of a reason to love the themed NASCAR races. NASCAR needs to keep doing some of these themed races because it will attract more kids and adults. Maybe they could do some more Nickelodeon themed races, but I think it would be amazing if they could team up with Disney and have Mickey or Minnie Mouse cars.

  • BMichael-Cas
    5/15/2015 - 02:06 p.m.

    This is awesome for both NASCAR, Nickelodeon, and all of the children. The kids get to meet Spongebob, NASCAR gets more people to come by the kids dragging their parents there to see Spongebob. It is helpful for everyone. And it makes everyone happy because they make more money and the children will be happy.

  • KAnthony-Cas
    5/16/2015 - 08:25 a.m.

    I think it was a very smart idea on how to reach kids. Sponge bob is always an eye catcher for kids. I know if I was a kid and saw this it would convince me.

  • LEcho-Cas
    5/16/2015 - 09:08 p.m.

    I think it is a very smart idea to attract a younger audience by using SpongeBob. I learned that 37% of Nascar fans have children below 18.

  • franklynm-Koc
    5/17/2015 - 06:08 p.m.

    Spongebob attracts adults because they know kids love him and the show and their kids will enjoy the show and or whatever they use to advertise spongebob. I think you can pretty much throw his face anywhere and kids will love it and it will gain attention. using him as an ad to bring kids in is a good idea

  • jorgeh-Koc
    5/18/2015 - 01:49 a.m.

    Nascar is cool, i love cars. The fact that there trying to incorporate things to get kids into the scene too is awesome. Kids love sponge bob. Add a car with it and perfect!

  • vancer-Che
    5/18/2015 - 01:42 p.m.

    This is a very good strategy to attract younger fans, because nascar is a company that is mostly accommodated to adults and young adults/teens. So whoever came up with this idea is very well known to kid's interests.

  • treyb-Che
    5/18/2015 - 01:49 p.m.

    my 6-year old son thinks I am the coolest dad ever because I got to drive the Ninja Turtle car and now I get to drive the Larry Lobster car.

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