Improving Fan Experience At Tracks Coming In to Focus

During the opening session of the ‘12 Motorsports Marketing Forum, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ Brad Keselowski said that improving the digital experience for fans at the race track is one of the biggest issues facing motorsports. Judging by the response to a question posed to the audience before the next panel discussion, many of the industry’s top execs agree. When asked about the most pressing issue facing motorsports, nearly 50% of the audience voted, “Improving the fan experience at the track."

NASCAR President Mike Helton added, “Creating an environment at the racetrack where the fan wants to be there, they are happy to be there and they leave talking about the experience of the race and the track is what you need. The tracks get that. The drivers understand their role at the track, and we understand our role as the series in pulling all this together. You have to have the synergy of the live audience enjoying your sport so they go home and talk about it and help drive the television audience."

Another major theme was managing change and establishing stars. Helton said no matter how hard you try to manage change, "there are a lot of things we don’t have control over and we have to react to it." He cited driver retirement as an example. Helton: "Once they stop their career, there is a void there where fans have to find a new star to start following. That’s something that we have no control over."

Asked if NASCAR could do a better job of building up new talent and having a pipeline for development, Helton cited NASCAR’s Star Driver program, which is trying to help support young talent. Helton said, “What we’ve taken a role in is educating drivers on the things that make them popular. What we are taking an aggressive role in is putting these types of facts in front of them, saying, ‘This is what matters off the race track.'" He added, “That doesn’t always instantly fill the void for fans of a Richard Petty, or a Dale Earnhardt Sr., as to when their career ends, and who their fans begin following after that. But this type of program helps close that gap for fans looking for new drivers to follow. With this type of star driver program, we are trying to minimize the impact of that change."

NHRA President Tom Compton warned, though, that star drivers cannot be “created" or contrived. Compton: “I don’t know how you can manufacture someone’s personality. There needs to be a natural charisma, and on top of that, you have to win. So just creating that doesn’t happen. We have never figured out how to be able to do that. We’ve tried it. Someone needs genuine personality and they have to win races."


— Helton, on not disenfranchising traditional fans while going after new fans: “The balance is difficult, and sometimes you get out of balance. The effort is to sustain the core following while you’re going after new eyeballs. Sometimes you have to go back to the core group and tell them that the things they grew up on and fell in love with are still there."

— Helton, on the relationship with sponsors: “One of the things that helps with your sponsorships is your relationship with them. You have to have the awareness and the respect that the sponsor should get. There is a tremendous amount of respect that should go into that relationship. Then there is the function of all groups, including sponsors, being informed, and getting all groups informed with what you’re trying to accomplish. Then there is the function of pure value. We have to offer value to a sponsor. They may love to participate and love the people, but they need to have a value attached to it at the end of the day."

— Compton, on the state of the NHRA’s business: “On a sponsorship front, we’re doing a lot better than I thought we’d be doing. I think a lot of companies may be looking at us if they can’t participate in the higher level of the sport."

— Compton, on the possibility of Speed becoming Fox Sports 1 and decreasing its hours of motorsports programming: “For the smaller series, it might be a detriment. Some of the smaller series relied on Speed, and that could be an issue for some of the smaller tiered motorsports."

— Helton, on possible changes at Speed: “There are so many other players looking for sports content, and motorsports content is good content, so I think it will open the door for other opportunities." SportsBusiness Daily

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