Beyond the Checkered Flag: NASCAR's Future in Focus

February 16th, 2024
By Cody Robinson @MKTG

While NFL has its showcase Super Bowl to culminate the season, NASCAR always kicks off with its own showcase event – the Daytona 500. There’s been a lot of talk of the 200 million viewers who tuned in to watch the Chiefs win (with a little help from a certain singer’s fanbase), but NASCAR is facing its own seminal moment as we head to Florida. With the threat of more global motorsports series looming ever larger in the US, our premier homegrown racing series could either break records or hit the wall this season.

NASCAR is in some undeniable headwinds: lower attendance, a decrease in linear ratings and rise in popularity of other racing leagues but here are six reasons (and suggestions) for keeping NASCAR off the wall.

  1. Rise with more eyes: In December, NASCAR unveiled a groundbreaking seven-year television agreement valued at $7.7 billion. Notably, this agreement marks the first time in the sport's history where a Cup Series event will be exclusively streamed online. Despite some initial negative fan and industry perception, this diversification in broadcast platforms marks growth in the sport and shows intent in evolving with the US sports audience. It provides an avenue to reach new viewers, enhances the viewing experience and puts NASCAR on par with other top-tier professional sports leagues.

  2. Spread the wealth: With the new TV deal intact, focus shifts to team charters and revenue sharing. Stakeholders are publicly voicing what they want in a new deal. Within the garage, teams are advocating for an increased share of media revenue and longer agreements, while NASCAR wants to control team spending. The teams are “the show” and should realize more revenue from broadcast fees. But NASCAR is right to push for a model that safeguards the future of the sport, ensuring financial sustainability and competitiveness of all teams. A deal will get done that both parties can and will live with.

  3. More brands = more fans: A universal truth in the sport is that corporate sponsors are the engines that drive NASCAR. If teams secure a larger share of the revenue, a significant portion should be redirected to sponsors to allow more dollars to be spent on sponsorship activation. This ultimately helps NASCAR, the teams, the tracks and rewards the most valuable asset, the fans. Lower and more variable entry points make the sport more accessible and appealing for brands.

  4. Make life simple: While NASCAR has taken steps to streamline the sponsorship landscape, inefficiencies still remain in the current structure. The independence of teams, the league, and various tracks often results in the need for multiple agreements, each accompanied by substantial costs. The challenge lies in simplifying the process for brands seeking to deploy multifaceted programs. Finding ways to revamp the current model is paramount to retaining sponsors and bringing new brands to the sport.

  5. The cars aren’t the only stars: There is a heightened commitment from sponsors, teams, NASCAR and manufacturers around investing in the development of young drivers. Having a strong driver pipeline is crucial to the future of the sport. It not only improves accessibility but builds the star power of young drivers pursuing the Cup Series. This will directly address the current challenge of limited driver star power in NASCAR.

  6. Diversify, diversify, diversify: There is a commitment amongst the industry to attract new fans to the sport. Teams have increased their external visibility and are actively collaborating with sponsors to create programs that resonate with the evolving fanbase. NASCAR has implemented enhanced fan engagement initiatives, ranging from the new Netflix TV show to gambling and other second screen experiences. The key is integrating the engagement of current fans with the mission of attracting new ones. Fostering an environment of openness and inclusion is a shared responsibility among all stakeholders and should be a priority for all in the NASCAR industry.

Competition for eyeballs, sponsors and new fans is as tough as it’s ever been for sports properties in the US. Specific to motorsports, Formula 1 arrived with much fanfare, but the jury is out on if its growth/momentum will continue in such a competitive sports/entertainment marketplace. The US consumer has an ever-growing menu to choose from.

While there are many unanswered questions and several important decisions on the horizon for the sport, I am bullish on NASCAR. It has iconic history, enviable scale and has implemented a strategic road map to secure its prominence and position as a premier sport in the US for decades to come.