Nascar Hopes Marketing a New Generation of Drivers Can Lure Fans Back to the Sport

After a big drop in ratings, the racing circuit enters 2019 with a new strategy

Ahead of the Daytona 500, Nascar is going all in on its new generation of drivers. Nascar
Headshot of Jameson Fleming

Gone are Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick and their combined 168 wins and seven championships. Instead, up-and-coming new drivers like Chase Elliot, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Bubba Wallace and more are racing to fill their void in Nascar’s top circuit, the Monster Energy Cup Series.
“It’s not the Nascar of 10 years ago,” said Jill Gregory, Nascar CMO. “You’ve got some young phenoms that are coming up and trying to establish themselves. And then you’ve got these drivers that are in the middle of Hall of Fame careers.”
To keep pace, Nascar is ushering in a new era of marketing, and not just because of the new generation of drivers. Nascar has suffered some of the largest declines across major American sports during the last two years. In 2016, Monster Energy Cup races averaged about 4.5 million viewers, but that number fell to 4.1 million viewers in 2017 and just 3.3 million viewers last year. All but a few individual races saw viewership declines, year over year.
In addition to the dropping ratings, some individual tracks have had trouble filling seats. Notably, fan favorites like Charlotte, Daytona and Richmond have torn out tens of thousands of seats to avoid mostly empty grandstands.
Despite falling viewership and attendance numbers, Nascar’s top marketers tracked its brand health through a number of key markets from 2017 to 2018, which experienced a “big bump,” according to Nascar vp of brand marketing Pete Jung. Heading into the 2019 season, Nascar plans to leverage its crop of young phenoms—who he called the greatest influx of new talent the sport may have ever seen—in its marketing, tap new technology and improve the in-person racing experience to boost fan interest in the sport.

Marketing a new generation

Nasacar faces a unique problem. When a fan’s favorite driver retires, who does the fan now root for? The racing circuit hopes to answer that by marketing its new class of rising stars.
The sport has worked with partners like 77 Ventures and VaynerMedia to create unscripted, driver-centric content for drivers to share on social media. Using their stories, Nascar “can take that creative to the next step and create a deeper dive into some of these young stars like Chase Elliot, Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace,” Gregory said, adding, “We use digital and social content to let fans have a chance to get to know them better and more quickly.”

Nascar also developed a 24-hour content studio in its Charlotte newsroom where video can be shot and cut whenever a driver visits.
Teaming with media agency Crossmedia, Jung said Nascar has developed a proprietary database that has allowed it to become more sophisticated in its marketing across a number of media, from national spots to strategic investments in 30 markets, as well as buys on streaming services like Pandora and Spotify. Nascar has also improved its programmatic and out-of-home buys.
As fans interact with content on digital, Nascar builds a profile that identifies the style and personality of a driver the fan might relate to. So when a driver like Tony Stewart retires, Nascar can target fans with content about Kyle Busch because they gravitate toward a driver who’s rebellious and surly.
“We definitely do try to feed that transfer of fandom,” Jung said.

Capitalizing on new technology

The second-screen experience is a critical component of consuming live sports—and for Nascar, it takes on multiple forms. Entering the 2019 season, the racing circuit has improved its app to deliver in-race features like Nascar Drive, a 360-degree camera feed, and communications between drivers and their crew chiefs. Nascar Drive will be available not only in the Nascar Mobile app but also on desktop and the mobile web. For the Daytona 500, fans will get the 360 view for Bubba Wallace’s No. 43 car. And with daily fantasy sports continuing to grow as an industry, Nascar has revamped its Nascar Fantasy Live game, which generated a 74 percent increase in players year over year and a 100 percent increase in total game entries.

Nascar also expanded access to other camera angles through a digital partnership. What was once only available in snippets during a race broadcast is now available on Twitter: in-car cameras. The Twitter streams showcase the view of fans’ favorite drivers, which are designed to complement, not replace the viewing experience.

“It provided a way for a younger audience potentially to engage with us,” Gregory said. “…Research shows us that if a fan is able to sample that on Twitter, for example, in that case, it piques their interest and gives them a reason to go watch more of the broadcast, where they can learn a lot more in depth.”
Once the race is over, Nascar has been more aggressive in distributing content. “Rather than relying on a great broadcast experience in a three-hour window on a Sunday, we are creating content so that Nascar is with a fan 24/7,” Gregory said. “They want to consume it in a quick-bite highlight that might be on YouTube versus sitting and enjoying the broadcast from start to finish or anywhere in between. We understand that it’s important to have Nascar at the fans’ fingertips when and where they want it.”

In-person experience

As attendance drops across the sport, the two companies that run the majority of Monster Energy Cup Series tracks, ISC and SMI, have removed about a quarter of all seats from their tracks, according to USA Today. With fewer fans at the track, Nascar and its track partners are developing ways to improve the race-day experience. That’s led ISC to pore millions of dollars into Daytona International Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway (now known as ISM Raceway) and other tracks to improve Wi-Fi connectivity, concourses and amenities, according to Gregory.
At the same time, Nascar is trying to build experiences to complement the racing action. Fans have long had a reputation for camping out for a full week before the race, which provides the sport with a chance to create a better communal experience. At Daytona, that means a beer festival and an expanded area for fans to meet drivers, take in a pre-race concert with country music star Jake Owen or simply charge their phone at a solar-power pavilion. Gregory hopes to replicate that experience across more of its tracks.

“Obviously, the race event itself is always the focal point, but all of the track operators and Nascar itself are showcasing all of the related activities in a given market or at the track that the fans can enjoy,” Gregory said.
Nascar is also partnering with Barstool Sports to help win over younger fans. The sports site will have a huge presence at the event, as Nascar is selling ticket packages around the Barstool experience, according to Jung. Barstool has a stage and a production facility near the media facility at Daytona, and fans can access that area, including Barstool president Dave Portnoy.
“They’ve got a massive highly engaged audience,” Jung said. “So what we’re going to do is get them more familiar with Nascar—experience the sport, culture and community.”