Talented Builders Deliver Despite COVID
By Chris Kersting
In a year that delivered a lot of obstacles, it’s been a challenge for enterprises of all types to stay focused and deliver on long-term goals and objectives. Here at SEMA, our team has been intent on making adjustments but also working with the industry to keep valuable, long-term programs and benefits on track. An example is the annual Battle of the Builders program, a show-car competition involving SEMA and the industry’s talented builders that helps energize people everywhere to engage and enjoy the automotive lifestyle.
As a long-term strategic initiative, the Battle of the Builders checks a lot of boxes. It celebrates the important role builders play in our industry, and the Young Guns component shines a light on career paths in automotive customization. As the source of TV and digital content that’s broadcast to a wide audience, the program generates excitement about specialty automotive hobbies and creates greater awareness of the industry’s products among consumers. For the future, we see the Battle of the Builders content helping SEMA attract more and more enthusiasts who can then increase our collective voice on legislative and regulatory issues impacting the hobby.
Delivering the Battle of the Builders program this year required participants and SEMA to work an entirely new plan. Without the live SEMA Show in Las Vegas, it was necessary to create a means of virtual judging to narrow the field to the Top 12 finalists.
Next, we transported those finalists and their amazing rides to a studio setting in Los Angeles, where the builders convened and took on the role of competition judges. They carefully reviewed and scored each of the Top 12 and selected the category winners and, ultimately, this year’s winner.
Over the seven years of its existence, the program has consistently increased audience size and exposure across the spectrum. The TV audience was measured at 3 million in the first year and had grown to 5.9 million by 2019. Last year’s program (the most recent for which complete data exists) generated another 16 million social-media impressions through the use of influencer campaigns, and short video webisodes yielded another 2.6 million video views.
This year’s SEMA Battle of the Builders show premiered February 7 on History Channel outlets, and earlier preview webisodes had already logged more than 1 million video views prior to the premiere. This kind of exposure has attracted entries from the industry’s best-known builders—the likes of Chip Foose, Alan Johnson, the Ringbrothers, Troy Trepanier, Troy Ladd and so many more. But the program has also been successful at nurturing younger builders and bringing them into the spotlight through its Young Guns category (under age 27), which begins at regional car and truck events.
This year, five of the Battle of the Builders Top 12 were either Young Guns or former Young Guns. Over the years, Young Guns participation in the program has grown, with many now connecting with SEMA Show exhibitors and gaining experience in elite circles. It’s been exciting to chart the progress of the younger builders who have been eager to prove that their work compares with the best in the industry.
SEMA and our industry partners are making preparations for an outstanding in-person return to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas next November. But if for any reason we have to veer from that plan, rest assured that your trade association—and the industry members we serve—will maintain a sense of priorities and deliver the goods even as we manage through short-term disruption.