SBJ/October 31-November 6, 2011/Media

Study shows NASCAR fans' digital migration

A year ago, NASCAR saw TV viewership among 18- to 34-year-olds decrease dramatically, and a new study by marketing and communications firm Taylor offers at least one reason why.

Young NASCAR fans are much more likely to follow races online, on their phones, on the radio or even by attending than fans over the age of 55, according to the study. They’re also a major reason that more than half of all fans now get NASCAR-related information from social media, with Facebook being the destination of choice, and 31 percent of fans say they regularly follow races live on mobile devices, up from 6 percent in 2010.

“Media consumption is changing very rapidly,” said Christian Alfonsi, Taylor’s executive vice president of strategic planning. “That audience is moving to the digital and social media space, and that has huge implications for how NASCAR, owners in the sport and sponsors engage with them. The key to reaching them is providing compelling digital experiences that allow them to continue to engage with a sport they love and do so in new ways that didn’t exist a few years ago.”

Alfonsi added that the increase in mobile consumption reflected the wider population’s increasing use of smartphones. Among NASCAR fans who participated in the survey, 32 percent said Verizon Wireless is their wireless provider, 32 percent said they had AT&T, 13 percent said they had T-Mobile and 12 percent said they had Sprint, which is the title sponsor of the sport’s premier series.

The study, which is based on a survey of 1,500 self-described avid NASCAR fans, was fielded for Taylor by the global research company Toluna. The firm counts NASCAR as a client and oversaw several studies last year that the sanctioning body did in such areas as communications and the race-day experience.

For the first time in Taylor’s four years of conducting the study, NASCAR fans said that mainstream sports websites had become their preferred source of NASCAR news and information. Most respondents said they turned to NASCAR.com (68 percent), ESPN.com (47 percent) and FoxSports.com (32 percent), and only a handful said they got NASCAR news from local television stations (30 percent), local newspapers (29 percent) and national television outlets (26 percent).

“We’ve been watching this trend for years, but we really saw the tipping point in 2011 with the majority of fans for the first time getting news and information from digital sources,” Alfonsi said.

The survey also revealed that Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains the most popular driver across all male, female and age demographics, but Junior’s popularity declined for the second consecutive year. Only 21 percent selected him as their favorite driver and 11 percent as their second-favorite driver, down from 27 percent and 16 percent, respectively, in 2010.

Junior wasn’t the only one to see fewer fans selecting him as their favorite driver. Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and A.J. Allmendinger all saw declines, as well.

Alfonsi said that the declines were partly attributable to the success of other drivers in 2011. Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin, Casey Mears, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano all added fans.

“We believe it’s not a case of Dale Jr.’s fan base shrinking as much as it is driver affinity building for a much broader range of drivers,” Alfonsi said. “Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500 was a harbinger of that trend. There’s a broader set of drivers fans are being excited by.”

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