NASCAR, partners plan up to 500 branded campgrounds

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By Ben Klayman

CHICAGO (Reuters) - NASCAR plans to roll out up to 500 branded campgrounds in the United States in a move to build consumer loyalty to the U.S. auto racing circuit and attract a new generation of fans.

The sports organization, known for its three stock car and pickup truck racing series, said on Friday it is teaming with Morgan RV Resorts and real estate investor and developer Silver Companies to open 13 locations this spring. The goal is to expand over the next decade.

"The NASCAR fan is an avid camper. Some numbers have put it over 60 percent are RVers. It's a perfect fit," Robert Moser, chief executive of NASCAR RV Resorts and co-owner of Morgan RV resorts, said in a telephone interview. "When you drive through our properties, you see that there's avid NASCAR fans.

Morgan RV Resorts, the largest private owner and operator of recreational vehicle facilities in the country, also sees this as a way to stand out in the $5 billion campground industry, he said. About 30 million Americans go camping every year, according to the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it is a licensing agreement under which the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing would get a royalty.

NASCAR, with an estimated 75 million fans, is one of the most popular U.S. sports, but it has been hurt by the recession as consumers cut back on attending races and companies reduce their sponsorship spending with race teams.

The RV sector also has felt the pain as U.S. motorhome makers saw demand for their vehicles evaporate as a result of the weak economy and related credit crunch. Still, Winnebago Industries Inc said on Thursday that demand for its biggest motorhomes showed signs of life.

While some tracks that host NASCAR races own adjacent campgrounds, the plan is to roll out the NASCAR RV Resorts further away from racing facilities in order to bring the racing experience to campers not at or near the tracks.

NASCAR, citing data from Simmons National Consumer Survey and Scarborough Research, sees opportunity as its fans are twice as likely to stay at campgrounds and twice as likely to own a motor home.

"In a sense, NASCAR has been in the camping business for more than 60 years," said Blake Davidson, NASCAR's managing director of licensed products. "The infield of any NASCAR Sprint Cup track demonstrates NASCAR fans' strong association with camping and RV ownership."

The branded venues will offer campers live NASCAR races shown on giant screens through DirecTV, tailgate parties, race weekend content available only at the campgrounds such as driver meetings, and NASCAR-themed activities, games and merchandise.

Morgan RV owns about 45 campgrounds, but the NASCAR campgrounds will be rolled out at non-Morgan facilities as well, Moser said. The plan is to rebrand existing campgrounds as well as build new ones.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Richard Chang)