Natalka Lindstrom: Leilani Münter, Green-Sports Super Fan

LEED-certified stadia and arenas increasingly dot the sports venue landscape. Zero-waste games are becoming more and more the rule rather than the exception these days. Eco-athletes can be found in most sports. What sports hasn’t had, at least to my knowledge, are Green-Sports Super Fans — fans who support and sometimes travel great distances to watch athletes and/or teams specifically because of their environmental advocacy and actions.

Until now, that is.

Natalka Lindstrom traveled last week from her home in Edmonton, Alberta to Daytona, Florida to see her favorite driver, Leilani Münter, the “vegan, eco, hippie chick with a race car,” compete in the Lucas Oil 200, the opener of the ARCA series.

GreenSportsBlog talked with Natalka both before and after her Super Fan sojourn.

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 6: BEFORE LEAVING FOR DAYTONA

GreenSportsBlog: Hi Natalka! I am so happy to find a Green-Sports Super Fan, and one who is a devoted supporter of animal rights activist, plant-based diet advocate, electric vehicle (EV) devotee and climate change-fighter Leilani Münter makes it all the better. Let’s start from the beginning. Where are you from originally and what do you do when not traveling the almost 2,800 miles from Edmonton to Daytona for Leilani’s race in the Lucas Oil 200?

Natalka Lindstrom: Well, I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, moved to Regina, Saskatchewan and now am in Edmonton…

GSB: A woman of the prairie! 

NL: Yes indeed. I work for the Service Alberta division of the provincial government.

GSB: Provincial government worker; that sounds like a great alter-ego for a Green-Sports Super Fan! So how did you come to follow Leilani? Were you always an auto racing fan? Or were you an animal-rights devotee and plant-based diet activist first?

NL: When I was a kid, maybe eight years old, I visited my dad in Winnipeg — my folks were divorced — and he took me to a little raceway nearby. There was this bright yellow car, which I loved. Dad even took me down to the pit! It was so cool. But then I lost interest. I mean, I’d watch auto racing if there was nothing else on TV but I got into other sports like football, softball, baseball and curling.

 

Natalka at 8

An 8 year-old Natalka Lindstrom during her first visit to a racetrack (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

GSB: Curling? I love curling…Even tried it one time. I will curl again, you can bank on that! So if your interest in auto racing fell by the wayside, how did you end up booking a vacation to Daytona to watch Leilani race this weekend?

NL: It goes back to my love of, and concern for dolphins and whales at the hands of humans. I believe it was in 2009 or 2010 that I first heard of Leilani when I saw the DVD of “The Cove,” a powerful documentary film about the slaughter of dolphins off the coast of Japan. I started reading her blog posts, learning more about her activism, saw “Racing Extinction,” another documentary she was in about man-made mass extinction. I just became very impressed with her dedication and willingness to advocate on behalf of animal rights. I loved that she drove a Tesla; that she was using her platform race car driver for animal rights and electric cars was amazing to me.

GSB: So then what happened?

NL: For a few years, Leilani found it tough to get enough funding to race. But I continued to follow her on social media and online and told myself that, when she gets back on the track, I’m going to be there! And so last year, when Leilani was able to race at the ARCA Series season opener at Daytona, I went down.

GSB: Had you ever followed an athlete or celebrity on the road like that?

NL: Nope; this was a first.

GSB: How was that experience?

NL: It was great! I got to meet Leilani at the driver autograph sessions as well as her team, went to the vegan food tent Leilani was running, got some great photos — I’m an amateur photographer. It was all very exciting and great, aside from the fact that Leilani got run off the track and was unable to finish. But she is a fighter and I knew she’d be back in 2018. So I saved my money and when it became clear that she would be racing at the Lucas Oil 200, the ARCA series opener at Daytona this year, I booked my trip. And then last week I received an email from Leilani’s husband Craig — everybody calls him “Kiwi” — offering me a “Pit Pass.”

GSB: You hit the jackpot!

NL: I can’t wait…

 

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 14: BACK HOME IN EDMONTON

GSB: So, aside from it being a lot warmer in Daytona than in Edmonton, how was it??

NL: AMAZING!! On Friday, I met Leilani and used the pass to watch the qualifying runs that day for Saturday’s race from the pit. It was so cool. I was watching with Kiwi and her sister Nicolette.

GSB: How does qualifying work?

NL: So there are 40 cars in the race. Groups of four to six cars of the field of 40 race for a few laps — the track is 2.5 miles long — at speeds that sometimes top 180 miles per hour. The order of the start of Saturday’s race is decided by the racer’s time in the qualifying runs. Leilani won her group and she was in first place overall at that time. But there were several groups still to go. In the end, Leilani qualified with the fifth fastest time, a good position for her. And her Venturini Motorsports teammate Natalie Decker had the fastest time to earn the pole position. Two of the five fastest qualifying times by women drivers. How cool is THAT?!

GSB: Pretty cool, I’d say!

NL: We met Leilani back in the garage — she was very excited to get fifth. Kiwi welcomed me like I was part of the team, which was just great. And there were people from SpaceX there…

 

Natalka + Leilani + Vegan Strong

Leilani Münter and Natalka Lindstrom (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

GSB: …That’s right…SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space exploration company, launched a rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral just a few days before the race, and Leilani drives a Tesla, a company also run by Elon Musk. That SpaceX was there makes perfect sense. So tell me about Saturday, race day!

NL: The race started at 4:30 but I got to the track at around noon and went to the vegan food tent, funded by Leilani’s sponsor, Veganstrong.com. A little while after that, the chef brought out Impossible Burgers for the fans to sample…

GSB: …I know about Impossible Burgers…they’re the vegan burgers that not only taste like beef but also have the look and feel of beef! Are they any good?

 

Impossible Burgers

Impossible (vegan) Burgers get ready for sampling last weekend at the Veganstrong.com tent at Daytona International Speedway (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

NL: They’re delicious! I can’t wait until they come to Canada.

GSB: They are in New York City…I need to check them out. OK, take us inside the Daytona International Speedway for the run-up to the start.

NL: The build up is intense. At around 4 PM, the drivers get introduced and enter the track, from last qualifier to first, back to front. Leilani, who had meditated before the race, came out looking very confident, waving to the crowd. They loved her. For me, being in the pit was incredible — I was right next to the tire changing crew!

 

Leilani Before Race Start

Leilani Münter enters the track at Daytona International Speedway before the start of Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

GSB: Then the race starts…

NL: …And Leilani is right in there with the leaders for much of the race. I really think she could’ve won. But she had a couple of challenges with her tires that put her near the back of the pack. That she was able to climb back from 30-something place to eighth is something. Leilani will I’m sure judge herself critically but I think it was one of her best races. We all went back to the garage — Leilani was burning up at first as it was incredibly hot in that car — and there were hugs all around. Her Venturini Motorsports teammate Michael Self ended up winning the race and pole sitter Natalie Decker finished fifth, so the team was very happy.

GSB: Sounds like a strong race for Leilani, terrific publicity for Vegan Strong…

NL: …Oh yeah, for sure! On Sunday I went back to the track as there was another race…

GSB: …That’s right, Leilani and her team have been at the Vegan Strong tent most of this week leading up to Sunday’s Daytona 500, NASCAR’s Super Bowl…

NL: Yes. So I hung out at the Vegan Strong tent where they were again serving Impossible Burgers.

GSB: How did the fans react?

NL: At first, most said things like “this can’t be plant-based. It’s too good!” It took awhile to convince them. One guy insisted, “I’m not gonna try it!” His friend brought him back later, he tried the Impossible Burger and loved it! And, this was really cool…there were some workers at the track who are vegans. They heard what was going on and came over to try the burgers. They could not believe how good and burger-like they were.

 

Leilani at Tent

Leilani Münter takes a photo of skeptical racing fans trying Impossible Burgers (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

GSB: It sure sounds like Impossible Burgers are aptly named! Did you meet or hear any detractors, climate change deniers…that sort of thing?

NL: I have to say that I did not hear or see anything like that during my time at the tent. But it is possible that people say the “right thing” but really think another. Still, as far as I could tell, nothing negative was being said.

GSB: Well, in a small way, this is progress. Which is what Leilani is aiming for. Progress.

NL: Exactly. And that’s the thing about Leilani: She won’t take no for an answer yet she’ll also listen. You will not find anyone more passionate about animal rights, plant-based diet and climate change. And that’s why I’m a fan.

GSB: Correction…that’s why you’re a Leilani Münter, Green-Sports Super Fan. Now we need to find more of you!

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Leilani Münter, Looking to Turn on the Speed and Turn Auto Racing Fans on to a Vegan Diet at Daytona

Tenacious.

Leilani Münter needs to add that descriptor to her already adjective-laden tag line. Because while “Eco, Vegan, Hippie Chick with a Race Car,” is very clever and certainly stands out, it doesn’t quite do her justice.

Why tenacious?

Because she continues to hustle to find mission-driven sponsors to fund her races at Daytona and elsewhere. And because she continues to bring her vegan, plant-based diet mantra — along with food samples — to stock car racing fans, when conventional wisdom would say her efforts are being directed at the wrong audience.

OK; “Tenacious, Eco, Vegan Hippie Chick with a Race Car” is maybe a tad wordy, but you get the idea — tenacity is central to what makes Ms. Münter tick.

GreenSportsBlog caught up with Ms. Munter for a quick preview of her 2018 racing and activism schedule before she took off for Daytona in her Tesla from her Charlotte, North Carolina-area home. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Leilani, it’s great to reconnect. What’s new for you and your team for 2018?

Leilani Münter: We’re building on our 2017 “Vegan Powered” program. We have a new branding — Vegan Strong — with the website launching before our race at the ARCA racing series opener at Daytona on February 10. And we will have a vegan food tent with tasty samples that will be open for fans each racing day at Daytona Speedweeks, which includes the 10th, 11th and then from the 15th to the 18th, which is the day of the Daytona 500. Building on our positive experience doing this last year, our emphasis this year is going to be on the health benefits of a vegan diet.

 

 

Leilani Munter Scott LePage

Leilani Münter (Photo credit: Scott LePage)

 

GSB: How do you think racing fans at Daytona will respond?

LM: I think those who come to our tent will learn about why being vegan is good for your body — it’s the most efficient way to get nutrients — that’s one of the reasons we call our program Vegan Strong. They will also learn that vegan food tastes great! Not just good but GREAT! Last year we served vegan wings at Daytona and also at Talladega Super Speedway in Alabama that, compared to chicken, have half the fat calories, provide 100 percent of the protein and have zero cholesterol. This year we have something new up our sleeve.

 

Fun, must-watch video from Leilani Münter’s 2017 vegan food giveaway at Alabama’s Talladega Super Speedway (3 min 17 sec)

 

GSB: We look forward to hearing about it. Now I know that your on-track career, your ability to actually race, has been limited by the challenges of trying to find sponsors who are on board with your vegan, climate change mission and who are interested in reaching auto racing fans. I also know that if you are racing in 2018, you have some sponsors, including a new one. Fill us in…

LM: Getting corporations to sponsor us has been a challenge but we’ve found success with some great, mission-aligned nonprofits. In 2017, we were sponsored by A Well-Fed World and they are back again this season. We’ve also added a new nonprofit sponsor, TryVeg.com. These sponsors are essential to allowing us to race and to having our tent at Daytona Speedweeks as the costs are significant.

GSB: Congratulations on gaining the sponsorships. Why do you think they came aboard, aside from their belief in you and your mission?

LM: One big reason is that we had a successful 2017 in terms of media coverage of our efforts at Daytona and also at Talladega. Fox Sports covered us during the race and also ran features on us. That, along with other online and social media coverage, generated media exposure to the tune of 161 million impressions

GSB: Incredible!

LM: Thanks. That’s really what helped us secure the funding for Daytona 2018. And we will be making an announcement at Daytona about the rest of our season schedule, so stay tuned for that.

GSB: We will for sure. Now, as you mentioned at the top, you’ll be racing in the ARCA Series event on February 10 at Daytona. Just what is the ARCA Series and how does it relate to NASCAR?

LM: Sure. ARCA stands for the Automobile Racing Club of America. It is a feeder division into the top three national series of NASCAR.

GSB: So is it fair to say ARCA is to NASCAR as Triple A minor league baseball is to Major League Baseball?

LM: That’s about right.

GSB: What will you be driving at the ARCA Daytona race?

LM: I’ll driving a number 20 Venturini Motorsports car with the new composite body,

GSB: What kind of result are you hoping for?

 

Leilani Munter car Jim Jones

Leilani Münter, driving her Vegan Strong Venturini car during a practice run at Daytona (Photo credit: Jim Jones)

 

LM: There is absolutely no reason I can’t win it this year. Last year I was running in fourth place in the final stages of the race and then with just 15 laps to go I got taken out by a competitor. As long as I have a clean race, I’m going for the win!

GSB: I wouldn’t bet against you, that’s for sure…Now, in the ARCA Series, you’re driving a standard, internal combustion engine car that consumes gasoline. I, of course, get that that’s the price for bringing your vegan, eco message to auto racing fans — an audience that is assumed to not be open to such a message. So this makes perfect sense. On the other hand, have you looked into also racing in the Formula E, electric vehicle (EV) series that is gaining lots of fan interest?

LM: Actually, I’m involved with a new EV series that’s just getting started; the Electric GT Series based in Barcelona. When it launches, we’ll all be driving Tesla Model S that has over 1,000 lbs of weight removed and many other adjustments to make it into a real race car. And it’s the first electric car to win Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award. I was the first American driver to sign up for the new series.

GSB: Why the Electric GT Series and not Formula E?

LM: The appeal of NASCAR is that it uses cars similar to the models driven by regular folks. Similarly, I love the fact that Electric GT will feature Tesla Model S, the car I’ve been driving since 2013 — and charging it with electricity generated by solar panels on the roof our house.

GSB:…And now Tesla’s started selling and shipping their Model 3 — priced at $35,000 range — by far their most affordable offering yet. Once they up their production run on the Model 3, many, many more people will be driving Teslas…

LM:…Which will make this series more relatable to racing fans. And I really believe in Tesla as a game changing, disruptive force in transportation — I love that Ferrari recently announced it wants to compete with Tesla

GSB: How cool is that?!?!

LM: Very cool. And competition is good but my loyalty is to Tesla because they took the risk, powered through the times when no one believed in electric cars. So the Electric GT Series and I are a perfect fit.

GSB: When will the series launch?

LM: It’s not clear just yet. Starting a new racing series is not an easy task, especially as it relates to signing sponsors.

GSB: You know that better than most…

LM: Exactly! I know they are hoping to launch the series in the second half of 2018, and there are a lot of moving parts but eventually I think it will be a fantastic racing series. Meanwhile I’ll race in the ARCA series and hopefully make the next step to NASCAR. Stock cars is where the eyeballs are and I want to do what I can to influence fans to make their next car purchase or lease an electric car. And, while I’m at it, I will work to show them that eating a plant-based diet and buying solar power are also great life decisions. The more fans I reach, the more I impact…Simple as that.

GSB: That’s so great. How has the fan reaction been?

LM: Oh, they love it! At the vegan tent, I tell them, with a plant based diet, aside from the health benefits, there’s no animal cruelty and it’s better for our environment, and the food tastes great. They’re like “How do they make chicken out of plants?” Then they taste it — the first bite is the key — and they’re hooked. It’s the same thing as with driving a Tesla — once you try it, you’re hooked.

GSB: Well, I can’t wait to taste the vegan wings. In the meantime, all the best at Daytona, Leilani! 

 


 

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Tesla and Nike: Promote Your Greenness to Sports Audiences

Precious few companies with sustainable product/service lines have used sports as a platform on which to market their greenness to fans. Fear of consumer backlash could be a reason for the reticence. 

Sure, some aspects of those fears could be well founded. But, it says here that the marketing climate, even despite the results of November 8, is more favorable than not for Green Giants (companies with sustainability as a core value and a market cap of at least $1 billion as detailed in the book of the same name by recent GSB interviewee Freya Williams) who are also influential, trend-shapers to market their sustainability bona fides.

Companies like Tesla and Nike.

In case these two Green Giants are not quite ready to advertise a sustainability-focused and/or climate change-fighting message, GreenSportsBlog is here to offer rationale—and even some free creative concepts—to nudge them in the green direction.

 

 

BASF and White Wave are two companies with strong sustainability track records who successfully market their greenness through sports. They both get that, in an ever more fragmented media landscape, sports is still the best way to reach a mass audience. And they obviously believe that promoting their greenness through sports will enhance their image and build their business.

But BASF, a global chemical conglomerate that is aggressively shifting to greener processes and products, is mainly in the Business-to-Business (B-to-B) space. White Wave is a small-but-growing, purpose driven food company. Neither are major, Green Giant consumer brands with the ability, spending-wise and image-wise, to use sports to influence a wide swath of the population.

Is it time for Green Giants to build upon what BASF and White Wave have started to market to fans of the New York Giants—and those of many other teams? 

Yes, it is.

But what about those consumer backlash fears?

Perhaps the election of climate change skeptic Donald Trump validates the notion that companies should shy away from promoting their greenness as an important feature through sports or any other advertising platform. 

But other data from 2016 point in a very different direction:

  • Several polls show that up to 70% of Americans think climate change is real (Monmouth University, January), with about half citing human activity as the main cause (Pew, October). 
  • Concern about climate change was at an 8 year high as of March (Gallup).
  • And, post-election, a majority of US adults say stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost (Pew, December).
  • More broadly, a global research study sponsored by Green Giant Unilever revealed that 78 percent of US shoppers feel better when they buy sustainably produced products. (Europanel and Flamingo, December)

Our take? The winds seem more at the backs of the Green Giants in terms of marketing their greenness than not. But even if there are some headwinds, GGs like Tesla and Nike have made their reputations in part by going against the grain. 

So here are some ways Tesla and Nike can go about using sports to communicate their green bona fides.

 

TESLA

Tesla, synonymous with the small but fast-growing electric vehicles (EV) market, is one of the coolest brands of this era. It launched in 2008 with the ultra-high end, ultra-high profile, ultra-hip $110,000 Roadster. That many, including company founder Elon Musk, judged the Roadster to be a technical failure was of little import; Tesla’s ultra cool brand image was born.

The company broadened its potential audience in 2014 by moving down to merely the high end market with the $70,000 Model S sedan, seen by most observers as a clear technical and commercial success. And, by the end of 2017, although Tesla is notoriously late on actual launch dates, its Model 3 is expected for delivery. Expected to be priced at $35,000—while, according to the company, not making any compromise on range and performance—the Model 3 will be Tesla’s first EV offering targeted to a mass audience. 

tesla-model-3

Premarket version of the Tesla Model 3. (Photo credit: Tesla Motors)

 

To reach that mass audience, Tesla would do well to reach sports audiences.

The Super Bowl is always the most watched television show of any year by a wide margin. The number one rated series in 2016? Sunday Night Football on NBC, despite the NFL’s well publicized ratings drop. The Olympics, Final Four and World Series all easily out-rate most other non-sports shows.

One could imagine the Model 3 being advertised on NFL games, especially since its mass audience (even despite this season’s ratings drop) will be a great fit for the leader in the fast growing/scaling EV market—according to a study by Navigant Research, EV sales are expected to almost triple between 2015 and 2024.

With a $35,000 price point, the Model 3 should also consider the NBA with, compared to the NFL, its hipper, younger, more urban, above-average-but-not-other-worldly income viewer base. If Tesla could get an NBA star or two to drive a Model 3, look out! Add a sprinkle of tennis and/or golf to get higher end viewers who still weren’t able to afford the Roadster and Model S and you have a smart, sports oriented TV plan for the Tesla Model 3.

But we’re not suggesting Tesla only use TV. Upscale millennials will be a key target and many of them have cut the cable cord (ESPN had 99 million subscribers in 2013; that number is down to 89 million in 2016). But, according to Beth Egan, Associate Professor of Advertising at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications, Tesla can reach a good chunk of those cord cutters “where they get sports, via their mobile devices, streaming services, on social media and ‘over-the-(TV set) top’ offerings like Roku and Apple TV.”

This sounds like a great start to a sports-focused media plan for Tesla, except for one tiny problem.

Tesla does not advertise.

Or, at least it hasn’t done so yet.

This can work when you’re a boutique brand, trading on word-of-mouth and Elon Musk’s élan.

But will that ad-free strategy carry the day as Tesla looks to compete with the EVs that are/will soon be on offer from the BMWs, Mercedes Benzes and Acuras of the world, not to mention their internal combustion engine cousins?

Nope.

Tesla will have to advertise if it’s going to  maintain and build its EV leadership status as the category grows and gets more crowded and competitive. Sports will be the perfect venue, both in terms of audience size and demographics, as well as the powerful creative messaging potential.

On the latter point, GSB is happy to provide Tesla with two creative approaches:

  • Testimonial: Tesla would sign athletes who drive Model 3s as spokespeople (future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and punt returner Jordan Norwood of the Denver Broncos are among the athletes who drive Model S.) Some will talk about how cool the car is, how well it performs, how it goes from zero to sixty in less than three seconds. Others will talk about how it will help save the planet for their kids—to go from zero to sixty in less than three seconds
  • Hate-Love: Find players who are loathed by most fans (think Christian Laettner, Kobe Bryant or Tom Brady). Show scenes of fans expressing their venom. Then show the hated stars with their Model 3s, talking about how the car’s greenness is their gift to their fans and the planet. Voilà, the haters turn into devoted fans.

 

NIKE

Per GreenSportsBlog’s interview with Freya Williams, the super-fast Flyknit shoe “cuts waste by 80 percent and makes the shoe 20 percent lighter…it symbolizes the future of sustainable business at scale. “Despite having a strong environmental story to tell, Nike has, to date, chosen not to tell it. 

flyknit

Flyknit by Nike (Photo credit: Nike, Inc.)

 

Ads for Flyknit have, like most Nike ads over the past 45 years, emphasized performance and a cool look. This makes perfect sense as it is Nike’s business to help people to run faster. One 30 second ad hints at the “natural” aspects of the shoe, but Flyknit’s sustainability/climate change-fighting benefits are not spelled out. 

 

30 second ad for Nike’s Flyknit shoe

 

Should Nike add a “Just Green It” spot with a climate change message to its Flyknit ad portfolio?

Absolutely, and here’s why.

  1. Nike can mention Flyknit’s greenness and its strong performance in one 30 second spot. There is enough time (Miller Lite was able to promote “tastes great” and “less filling”) and the two are not mutually exclusive.
  2. A good chunk of potential Flyknit customers should also be in favor of Nike taking positive environmental action. Data from a 2013 Running USA survey indicates that runners are more highly educated and have higher incomes than the average American. The high education/income cohort, in the main, supports action on climate change. And it’s not a stretch to imagine that the Flyknit target audience is more highly educated and has a higher income than the average runner.
  3. Nike ads have taken on social issues (e.g. “If You Let Me Play” campaign which promoted the benefits of access to sports for girls)
  4. Nike has not shied away from controversy (e.g “I’m Not a Role Model” with Charles Barkley).

Taking a stand on climate would break the mold, spark some dialogue about the issue, and generate more sales from sustainability-minded athletes. All of this is perfect for Nike.

What might the ads look like? You know, Wieden + Kennedy and Nike’s other agencies do a phenomenal job. I will leave it to them. 

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