SBJ/November 28-December 4, 2011/Opinion

NASCAR’s positive turn

As NASCAR celebrates its annual season-ending championship banquet this week, the vibe around the sport should be more upbeat than in recent years. The metrics and story lines were generally positive. NASCAR reversed a five-year decline in its television audience through smart moves working with its TV partners. Fox was up 10 percent in viewership for its 13 races, Turner up 3 percent (6 races), ESPN up 7 percent (11 races), and ABC up 1 percent (3 races) Perhaps most encouraging was the uptick in young male viewers.

On the track, 18 different drivers celebrated in victory lane, an unprecedented number that bodes well for the future of the sport. All this came with a more aggressive digital strategy, using Facebook during the final race, for example, and increasing social media engagement, displayed in a refreshingly candid way by Steve O’Donnell, senior vice president of racing operations, who has done a nice job serving as a sounding board and resource for the sport’s fans on Twitter.

One year does not make a trend, and most executives I’ve talked to point to 2012 as the key indicator of any rebound. NASCAR is in a very tough position where so much of its success is based on the advertising market — in series, team and track sponsorship and advertising support. The global economic stress is going to prevent any aggressive growth. But positive news should be recognized, and NASCAR deserves credit this year for sound strategic planning and focusing on the product.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.
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