NASCAR, just not what it used to be……

With the NASCAR racing season underway something is painfully clear, the brand’s identity and appeal to fans is waning.     Why you may ask?  Well ever since one can remember or at least for the past fifty plus years, NASCAR has been the premier racing group in the United States.   NASCAR enjoyed market dominance and millions upon millions of fans as well as deep-pocketed sponsors to pay for the large costs of racing teams.

From its start in the once small town of Daytona, Florida the group grew exponentially over time to become the one of the largest sports in the country.   There was a time where betting on NASCAR for advertising dollars or filling speedways with people was a sure bet.   Not anymore.  TV ratings that were once in the stratosphere have dropped to all time lows for NASCAR events.    People familiar with the actual ratings have stated that overall NASCAR viewership is down over forty percent from its high in the early 2000’s.

What happened?  Well it’s a multiple part problem.

First, NASCAR expanded to venues and areas where a die-hard fan base did not exist.   Some fifteen years ago, NASCAR ventured into more trendy spots building new tracks in glitzy places Las Vegas and California.   This also meant closing locations in states where NASCAR fans grow up going to races and fueling (no pun intended) the race machine. In doing this, NASCAR alienated those core fans and miscalculated the crossover of a new fan base.   People did go to see races, but they did not become loyalist fans like the original base.

Second, in the move to modernize and uplift the brand out of its roots in southern states, NASCAR completely forgot how it got to where it was.   Being a brand based in the south is not something to be ashamed of and lets face it that is basically where it was born and that is the fan base that focuses on this kind of racing.  It is somewhat akin to adding grits to a New York Ray’s Pizza menu.   Something that just doesn’t belong.   What the NASCAR marketing executives miscalculated was the crossover of different markets to their product.   One can experiment on changing the product, which they have, but you never alienate your current and most important fan base.

Third, NASCAR did fiddle with its racing format, which of course did not help either.  Fans were used to the old format and while innovation is sometimes good, sometimes it is just not necessary.  Then they went on to redesign the actual cars to make more of a streamlined and alike look, which did not translate well either.   The way in which cars looked and their differences was all part and parcel of fan loyalty.   Fans identified with drivers, race teams and cars.  That goes to individual team brand awareness and overall NASCAR awareness or brand recognition.  They also tried to make the cars “safer” and have fewer accidents. But what no one realized is that, as sick as this sounds, fans loved to see the accidents or pile ups.  This is somewhat like fans who go to hockey games just to see the fights. Additionally they worked on reducing the sound that comes from these powerful machines.   Which is why people love to watch these cars in the first place.  The sound they create touches our senses in regard to its overall power.   Taking that away reduces our interaction and the fan’s ability to identify with it.  Everyone who has ever heard one of these cars fly down the track has pictured in their mind what it must be like to actually drive it and hear it from inside.  The exhilaration is what sells here folks.  Just a stupid example of marketing gone wrong.   The NASCAR Experience where you can go with a driver or drive one yourself was born out of this idea.  Who wants to strap themselves into a quiet car to meander down a speedway? NO ONE!   This is why exotic cars are always getting deeper throaty growling exhausts.  Because IT SELLS!

Fourth, the economic times of the past ten to twelve years have not helped NASCAR either.  Completely dependent on sponsor dollars to operate, race teams were strapped for capital, as companies large and small could not continue to spend what they once spent.   Where a sponsor could once be counted on for a full racing year, now sometimes race teams are searching for new sponsors throughout the year.   Changing the focus on many teams, as they are not focused on the actual racing but being distracted by worrying about the dollars needed to race.

NASCAR has to focus on its core fans if it is to continue and keep its garnered share of racing traditions.    It also has to mix the recipe a little and keep focused on streaming video and online formats.     Networks are willing to pay more today for access to live sporting events, yet the viewership is down significantly.  This becomes an increasing share of an ever-decreasing market.   NASCAR needs to focus on how to garner the following in digital or instaneous format.  These are the future venues of once stagnant sporting events.

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