Tuesday, February 7, 2012

NASCAR Association With The WWE Is Not Such A Bad Thing

NASCAR got some television time Monday night when 2011 Sprint Cup Series runner-up Carl Edwards made an appearance on the WWE's Monday Night Raw. 

On a segment taped prior to last week's Raw event, Edwards was shown asking WWE Superstar John Cena to be the honorary started of this year's Daytona 500.

Some in the industry feel that any association with professional wrestling is a bad move and potentially damages the reputation of the sport, even going as far as to say it was "never a good thing."

While some may fear aligning too closely with the WWE could bring into question the legitimacy of NASCAR, they fail to see the larger picture, the similarities between the two industries and a potential to grow the fan base.  

Is is truly such a bad thing if the WWE and NASCAR have a business-to-business relationship?
Of course the WWE is staged and ultimately decided prior to the event. NASCAR is in no way either of those things. Sure, there are questionable calls here and there, controversy from time to time, but few in their right mind can honestly say they believe NASCAR is rigged.

If it was, do you think Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have just one win since leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc.? 

What the critics fail to realize is both industries are built around the personalities of their stars, and the devotion of the fans. NASCAR is a team effort, but ultimately the driver is the star. Once fans find their favorite driver, they're typically a fan for life. Much is the same when it comes to the WWE.

When drivers are introduced each week, fans rise to either cheer for their favorite or jeer the guy they do not like. WWE Superstars are treated with in the same manner, for most you either love them or hate them. Bristol Motor Speedway has even taken this similarity a step further, hosting driver introductions much like WWE stars are introduced. Does, "Kyle Busch is an ass!" ring a bell?

Perhaps more importantly, many of the WWE's loyal fan base falls into the ever important 18-34 male demographic - with 74 percent of the audience 21 years or older, according to Nielsen Media Research - each week broadcasting to an estimated 12 million fans.

The relationship is also one that has been going on for some time. Charlotte Motor Speedway has used wrestling icon Ric Flair to promote the Sprint All-Star Race, WWE stars such as Cena and Stone Cold Steve Austin have been to multiple NASCAR races, while Edwards and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Joey Logano have all been guest hosts on Monday Night Raw.

When Edwards first hosted Monday Night Raw in 2010, it was just days before the season-opening Daytona 500. Burning donuts in the parking lot in his No. 99 Ford, the car drove into the arena - packed full of potential or current fans - revved its engine and stopped as Edwards' was introduced. Instead, a midget wrestler named Hornswaggle in Edwards' garb climbed from the cockpit. 

With the crowd already drawn in by the car and the subsequent joke, Edwards was introduced by one of the WWE divas and walked to the ring by another set of girls. The Sprint Cup Series driver looked at home in the squared circle, jumping to the turnbuckles to salute the fans, then climbing atop the ropes and pulling off his signature back flip. 

Taking the mic, Edwards quickly won over the crowd and promoted the upcoming Daytona 500. 

Fast-forward to Monday night, and Edwards was once again making an appearance on Raw, again doing donuts in the parking lot. This time, it was really Edwards who climbed from his car and met his friend, and  WWE Superstar, John Cena. 

"This is huge," Edwards said. "I am honored to come here on behalf of NASCAR and everyone at the Daytone 500 to invite you, John Cena, to be the honorary starter, to wave the green flag for the 54th running of the Daytona 500 on February 26."

"I'm starting the race?" Cena said. "Yes, I'll definitely be there." 

With Edwards, a "familiar sight" to the WWE fans, inviting one of the industry's biggest stars "on behalf of NASCAR" to be the honorary starter to the season's biggest race, the potential for crossover fans flipping on the broadcast of the race is probably pretty high, even if it is just to see their favorite wrestler wave the green flag. 

Those same WWE fans, who may have never seen a race in their life, may stay tuned in to watch Edwards and the rest of the 42 drivers throughout the course of the race. 

Now would that be such a bad thing?

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