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Volume 24 No. 156
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Motorsports Marketing Forum: Efforts To Reach Next Generation Of Fans Being Explored

What can the motorsports industry do to appeal to a younger demographic? That was the focus of the session, “Marketing Motorsports to the Next Generation,” with Wasserman Media Group Principal Steve Astephen, Fuse Marketing Partner Bill Carter, former Fuel TV Exec VP C.J. Olivares and Spin Master VP Craig Sims. Many find it natural that digital and social media should be a way to reach a new generation, and Astephen noted, “This demographic is living in the social and digital media, the Twitters and the Facebook, and this is just the start.” Carter said the initial focus should not be strictly on digital and social media, calling those specifically “tactics,” but added the first focus should be, “What are the belief systems among teens and young adults and what are the key parts to pull out from that to develop a content strategy, and that leads to your digital and social activations.” The panelists generally agreed that the focus needs to be on increasing access to drivers. Olivares: “There is this isolation between the potential audience and the drivers. NASCAR has a lot of young drivers with new personalities, but we are not getting to know them. The access to them is limited. We have to identify interesting characters and tell great stories. My advice is to develop documentary-style shows that would give the committed NASCAR audience and a potential new audience these type of stories.”

Astephen says it is important to diversify distribution
through various social media outlets

DIVERSIFY DISTRIBUTION: Astephen stressed that you have to diversify your distribution through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, not just on the sports networks: “You have to share all that content. ... That will allow all these personalities to be shown even more.” Carter: “The interesting aspect to me is the lack of accessibility to the stars of the sports. That is in direct conflict with how young people consume sports and direct conflict with their expectations on how to consume anything. It is all about accessibility, so to put any sort of barrier between the athlete and the fans doesn’t make any sense to them.” Astephen: “NASCAR has an unbelievable touch and feel, the fan base is very loyal. ... But NASCAR could focus on making their drivers to be more tangible, to be more touch-and-feel with the consumer and the fan base.” He compared the access points within the pits and other parts of Supercross and Motocross and added, “A lot of what NASCAR could do to differentiate itself from the NHL, NBA and others is to allow these athletes to be more accessible.”

HOW MANY STARS CAN WE HANDLE? Carter cautioned about focusing too much on developing stars, saying that the American population has a limit on how many “stars” they can identify with. Carter: “Everyone says the NFL has all these stars. That’s just simply not true. There are a handful of stars in what by far is the most popular sport in America. I bet all of us could name five true NFL stars, we’d name less in baseball, probably zero in hockey and a handful of stars in golf and tennis. In motorsports, you have to set realistic expectations when you look to develop stars, and pick one or two, because that is how many the general sports public is going to accept. In action sports, it’s one, it’s always been one. It was Tony Hawk, and now it’s Shaun White. Motorsports has to set an reasonable expectation of how many stars it can market.”

Olivares says new fans might latch on to
action sports stars in NASCAR
WILL ACTION SPORTS STARS MAKE A DIFFERENCE? Carter said he was not sold on the slew of action sports stars coming to motorsports. Carter, “I think these guys’ intentions are totally in the right place. But who they are going to bring to NASCAR are their own fans who are willing to watch them essentially do anything. I think it has a very short shelf life. ... It feels like a spectacle to me, like Michael Jordan playing baseball. It doesn’t feel authentic. We will see how it plays out.” But if the new fans come, could the fans stay interested in the sport? Olivares: “Getting action sports stars to come race in NASCAR is a tactic. But if NASCAR is committed to getting more people engaged and telling more stories around these athletes, these new fans might latch onto another driver that they didn’t know about.” Astephen said that by bringing these new athletes into the sport, “It will allow NASCAR a chance to diversify. ... If they get to those races and there is more for them to do, these type of fans could stay. These young people need to be stimulated, young people want stimulation.” He likened it to the Vans Warped Tour with all the different music elements provided. “NASCAR has an interesting opportunity to maybe diversify their business.” Carter chimed in, “There are lifestyle elements that are interesting to young people that you could add at the track, mainly music or video games, that could fit in.” Astephen: “I agree, I think it should be around music.”