Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Will People Tune in to NASCAR in 2013?

It is late February, which means it is time to drop the flag on a new NASCAR Sprint Cup season. The sport's signature race, the Daytona 500, is coming up on Sunday. Unlike other sports that have its premier event at the end of a season, NASCAR's biggest event kicks off the season each year. Anticipation for Sunday's race has ramped up thanks in large part to marketing darling Danica Patrick becoming the first woman to win pole position for a Sprint Cup race. NASCAR executives and their broadcast partners hope that the build up for the Daytona 500 carries over into the 2013 schedule and reverse the trend of decreasing TV viewership of NASCAR races.

NASCAR's TV ratings experienced a bumpy ride in 2012. An average of nearly 5.8 million people per race tuned in to watch Sprint Cup Series races, down 10 percent from 2011. If that trend was not enough bad news, audience ratings among the highly coveted 18-34-year-old demographic dropped 25 percent to 0.9 percent of that age group. NASCAR officials cited uncontrollable factors like a rare weather-related postponement of the Daytona 500 and the London Olympics that hurt viewership. Add to that expected competition from the NCAA basketball tournament in March and the NFL in the fall and NASCAR finds itself challenged to spark TV interest in race broadcasts.

What can NASCAR do to encourage more people to watch televised races in 2013? Three ways that NASCAR is working to combat the ratings slide include:
  1. Emphasize NASCAR's "Main Street" brand positioning - The fan base for NASCAR mirrors the American middle class in income and values. NASCAR must continue to make the connection between its brand values and those of the "99 percent" of America.
  2. Harness the power of digital media - TV audiences are important for attracting advertising dollars, but a social media strategy is vital for connecting with more fans. Digital media and TV does not represent an either/or situation when it comes to fans' consumption; they should be used as complementary tools to increase fan engagement with NASCAR and its drivers.
  3. Reach out to key demographic audiences - NASCAR might resemble Main Street, but it must continue efforts to reach out to a more ethnically diverse audience that acknowledges the changing demographic composition of Main Street. Also, attracting young people is crucial to developing NASCAR's fan base in the long run. Research shows that many people identify with a sport or athlete between the ages of six and ten. 
 What else could NASCAR do to enhance the appeal of its sport and entice more people to watch races on TV? In particular, how would you recommend NASCAR market to 18-to-34-year-olds?