Why NASCAR changed the names of its playoff rounds in 2016 Chase? CMO explains

Chase for Sprint Cup logo

Two years ago, NASCAR moved toward streamlining its playoffs through a format more traditionally in line with other professional sports

In the third season of the revamped Chase for the Sprint Cup, the branding of the 10-race championship also has moved in a conventional direction with the dispensing of nicknames for its four rounds in favor of traditional labels.

Jill Gregory, who was named NASCAR’s chief marketing officer last month, said it’s about simplicity.

“At the end of the day, we need to make the sport accessible and easy to consume, and sports fans, whether motorsports, NASCAR, stick and ball, they’re familiar with a certain vernacular, and we wanted to keep it simple,” Gregory, the guest on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast, said in the Wednesday episode. “Sometimes, you can out-clever yourself.”

When the Chase for the Sprint Cup was reintroduced with elimination rounds and an expanded field in the 2014 season, the first three rounds were known as “Challenger,” “Contender” and “Eliminator.”

“At the time we instituted the new chase format with the elimination rounds, that was an important distinction to make to showcase what these rounds meant,” Gregory said. “But after more research and a lot of input from our partners, it’s, ‘How can we communicate this in the easiest way to the fans, both casually and avid, that they know what’s happening?’ ”

After using the branded rounds again last season, they were dropped this year. The number of title contenders in each segment is the determinant for the name (i.e., Round of 16, Round of 12, Round of 8 and Championship 4).

“It’s very easy to understand Round of 16, Round of 8, so we wanted to make it as easy as possible for fans to engage with it,” Gregory said.

It’s indicative of an ongoing and subtle shift in how the title run has been promoted. When the Chase was introduced in a January 2004 news conference, NASCAR chairman Brian France said “we’re not going to call this a playoff.”

Gregory said the terminology has become more embraced with the evolution of the Chase.

“We did a lot of research on this, and our fans know what the Chase means,” she said. “That’s our playoffs, but the playoff time period is a sports term that’s universal across any sort of sporting event, so I think the fact we’ve been able to make the Chase synonymous with playoffs and they can be used interchangeable, that’s great for us.

“The Chase has got a lot of equity for us, but we know we’re going to explain it to a variety of fans that we can use both terms and be comfortable with it.

Other topics discussed by Gregory on the podcast:

–How NASCAR is marketing the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup with drivers as action-movie heroes;

–The challenges of engaging fans and deciding which social media platforms are most effective;

–The tricky concept of introducing rising stars to fans before they’ve had success on the track.

To listen to the full podcast, you can listen below or download the episode by subscribing to it on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone or tablet.

The podcast also is available on StitcherGoogle Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.