The ‘12 NASCAR season kicks off this weekend in Daytona with the sport “once again charting an upward trajectory on and off the racetrack,” according to Sam Mamudi of MARKETWATCH. Last year was a “bounce-back year for NASCAR, with new sponsorship deals, a reverse in falling television ratings and the closest championship finish in its history.” As the new season gets underway, the “sport is looking to build on the momentum.” NASCAR is in the “first year of a five-year plan aimed at attracting and keeping fans, a plan that will see new cars that will more closely resemble road cars, an in-house digital media operation and greater focus on the drivers” (MARKETWATCH.com, 2/24). NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France said, "We have a lot of momentum going into 2012.” He added the sport is “always hit harder" in an economic downturn, but "the future looks bright for us.” France: "Our attendance is on the up rise and there's more demand right now across the board for tickets" (FINANCE.YAHOO.com, 2/22). FORBES.com’s Kurt Badenhausen noted after a “multiyear slide that saw big sponsors and fans abandoning the sport, TV ratings for the season increased 10%, attendance at the tracks stabilized and 18 different drivers found the winner’s circle in 2011, one shy of the record.” Hendrick Motorsports President Marshall Carlson: “I’m as optimistic about the business side of this sport as I’ve been in five years” (FORBES.com, 2/22). Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage “believes NASCAR is in its redemption phase.” Gossage: “I don’t think we did anything wrong as a sport. But we’re in that redemption process again.” He added, “There’s a whole different attitude down here this year than there was two or three years ago. You can just feel it” (FLORIDA TODAY, 2/24).
SURVEY SAYS...: In N.Y., Ken Belson notes NASCAR “interviewed nearly 40 of its executives and 151 industry stakeholders, including drivers, race teams and sponsors” to review how the sport “communicates with fans new and old.” More than “1,000 casual and avid fans completed online surveys,” and news media coverage of NASCAR during the past decade “was analyzed to see how it could be improved.” NASCAR Senior VP & CMO Steve Phelps said, “The media landscape has changed so much and we were slow to change to it.” After spending “more than $5 million on the research, NASCAR spent millions more buying back its digital rights in 2013 from Turner, which had paid NASCAR a fee to run its Web site.” NASCAR also hired “nine new staff members, in part to help market to Hispanic, urban and young fans.” Drivers were also “encouraged to use Twitter and Facebook to communicate.” Phelps “commissioned an ethnographic study that gauged how fans navigate racetracks” to attract new fans (N.Y. TIMES, 2/24).
CHANGING OF THE GUARD? SI’s Jeffery Salter writes Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are poised to “dominate the sports in the coming years the way” Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson have “for much of the last decade.” Fox’ Darrell Waltrip said, “A changing of the guard in NASCAR is coming. Historically when the establishment gets firmly established in NASCAR, they’ll look in their rearview mirror and see a bunch of younger guys coming fast. We’re at that transition point right now” (SI, 2/27 issue). YAHOO SPORTS’ Jay Hart wrote to say Dale Earnhardt Jr. “winning, even once, would benefit NASCAR and everything involved with it -- TV ratings, ticket sales, Internet clicks, etc. -- would be to beat a dead horse that’s been beaten and dead for a few years.” His popularity “hasn’t waned much, which is a credit to him,” but it remains a “small consolation when the business at hand is winning races, something he hasn’t done in more than 1,300 days and counting.” Earnhardt Jr. on Wednesday said, “I just want to win -- anywhere. I just want to go ahead and get that done so I can think about the next one and get this streak over with” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/22).