Students rev up their marketing ideas for raceway

November 06, 2020 / by / 0 Comment
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Colangelo College of Business senior Trevor Mikulin, one of the students who helped on the Phoenix Raceway project, lifts the 68-pound NASCAR championship trophy during its time on campus.

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Grand Canyon University students didn’t just come up with a few low-rpm marketing ideas for Phoenix Raceway officials heading into NASCAR Championship Weekend.

They lapped the field.

Julie Giese

Not that Phoenix Raceway President Julie Giese expected anything less after speaking with Dr. Mark Clifford, Assistant Dean and Director of Sports Business for the Colangelo College of Business. He suggested last summer that students and the Avondale track both might benefit from brainstorming ways to embrace race fans during the pandemic.

Giese is on Clifford’s advisory board, employs a number of GCU graduates at the raceway and has seen their productivity.

“We’re a big fan of the Colangelo College of Business and the students that they turn out – we’ve had such great success with them,” she said. “When he brought the idea to us, it was something we definitely wanted to do, and I’m not at all surprised by the quality of ideas that we’ve gotten.”

Giese met with students in September via Zoom and asked them these questions:

  • How do we maximize NASCAR Championship Weekend in the Valley?
  • How do we engage with fans who can’t attend?
  • What types of virtual experiences can we provide to extend our reach to new fans?
  • How do we retain our existing fans when they can’t attend our event in person right now?

The students responded with ideas for virtual activations, virtual sponsorship engagements, a watch party, Zoom calls with the champions and the drivers, and other ways to help fans feel like part of the event even if COVID-19 forces them to stay home and watch it on television.

And while there wasn’t time to make all of the ideas happen right away, they got Giese’s mind revved up for how they can be used the next time NASCAR visits Phoenix Raceway in March.

“They came to us with a ton of different ideas, and, honestly, every single one of the ideas that they provided to us are things that we can continue to ideate on and hopefully implement in March,” she said.

The best of the ideas, according to Clifford, was the one cooked up by two business management majors, Faith Clear and Trevor Mikulin, who had never done a project like this before: They proposed creating a NASCAR-branded ambassador program for college students in Arizona.

“The idea was to have campus ambassadors at local universities to talk about the race – get students excited, pass out memorabilia,” Clifford said.

That wasn’t going to happen overnight, but there was something they could do before this weekend:

The trophy tour in recent weeks included two Grand Canyon stops — one at the major tourist attraction in northern Arizona, the other at the fast-growing university in Phoenix.

The NASCAR championship trophy, the same one a driver will hoist after winning Sunday’s race, was brought to campus Monday and set in front of GCU Arena before Chapel.

The timing of the project was perfect for Mikulin, who came into his senior year looking for an experience to make his resume robust. He heard about Giese’s request when Chuck Jarrell mentioned it in his marketing class.  

“This kind of fell in my lap,” Mikulin said. “GCU does such a good job of giving real-world opportunities to students. Coming into this year, I was like, ‘I need to make some things happen.’”

Clear learned of the project in the Sports Business Club, of which she is a member.

“It gave us the real-world experience that we’ve been getting in the classroom,” she said.

Most of the 24 students involved in the project – all of them majors in sports business, business management or marketing – will volunteer at the track this weekend. (There’s still time for more students to volunteer by contacting the raceway or Clifford.)

“We want to continue to engage them to develop those ideas,” Giese said. “And, obviously, having an event weekend perspective will help.”

And even though Clear won’t be able to go, the experience has changed her perception of racing.

“You get a different perspective when you’re looking behind the scenes and realize what it takes to put an event like this together. You really respect it,” she said.

“Seeing people who are NASCAR fans and the enthusiasm they have for the event made me realize, ‘Oh, wow, I’m missing out on these races.’ I will definitely be tuning in.”

It’s another victory lap for getting CCOB students real-world experience. Students, start your engines.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].

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