Study shows avid fans getting more interested in NASCAR

Tom Pennington

Avid NASCAR fans are getting more enthusiastic about the sport they love, though there's plenty of room for industry improvement in relation to how fans consume racing-related content.

An independent study by the Taylor public relations firm, the findings of which were released Monday, discovered half of avid NASCAR fans are "more" or "much more" interested in NASCAR now than they were a year ago. And those fans who are newer to the sport are especially getting more excited about NASCAR (65 percent of people who have followed it for less than five years are more interested than last year).

"They may not have the baggage of older NASCAR fans," Taylor's Ryan Mucatel said. "They don't know what it was like, they only know what it's like now."

Taylor found 27 percent of avid NASCAR fans are using Twitter, which is a 35 percent increase over last year. Still, it's a small number compared to how many use Facebook (74 percent).

It's interesting to note avid NASCAR fans – who have a reputation for not being technologically savvy – use social media at a higher rate than the general population. Overall, only 6.8 percent of Americans use Twitter and 47 percent use Facebook.

"We were shocked to see how much higher the numbers are than the general population," Taylor's Gretchen Hutter said.

Not surprisingly, 78 percent of avid fans ages 18-34 visit social media sites regularly for NASCAR content. But overall, the number is 54 percent because NASCAR fans skew toward an older age group.

Despite a high degree of social media involvement, only nine percent of fans said they've ever interacted online with a driver. Taylor didn't specifically have information as to how each respondent viewed the question of interaction, but it could mean less than 10 percent of avid fans have even tweeted to a driver.

That's obviously startling for those who use Twitter regularly. Even more puzzling, nearly twice as many avid fans say they've interacted with an athlete from another sport via social media.

It's not that avid fans don't want to interact with NASCAR drivers – 47 percent say they're "extremely interested" or "very interested" in interacting with a driver online – they've just found it difficult for some reason.

Mucatel said it's a sign to sponsors that perhaps meet-and-greets outside retail stores should be mixed in with Twitter chats, Google+ hangouts and tweetups (depending on the sponsor's goals).

"It's the evolution of our time," Mucatel said. "It used to be that a driver would hand out autographs on an 8-by-12 card. Now, I'd much rather get a tweet from Jimmie Johnson I can send to 100 of my friends. It's easier to share."

One important finding for Taylor was mobile device usage continues to explode at the track. More than one-third of avid fans now use a mobile device to supplement their race viewing – and that's while attending the race.

At home, the numbers are slightly lower (35 percent vs. 37 percent, in a mild surprise), but 55 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds agree they "like being able to engage with NASCAR on multiple screens when watching."

That shows two things: Tracks must increase their infrastructure to support more smart phones usage at the track (by building a wireless network, for example) and NASCAR must continue to increase its mobile offerings for those at home.

The latter includes videos, because fans are "demanding behind-the-scenes content" where they can see the drivers outside of the cars, Mucatel said. Fans aren't necessarily asking for more race highlights – there's plenty of those already – but videos of things they don't normally see (like what goes on inside a hauler, for example).

Taylor's study also found women are some of NASCAR's best ambassadors. Though there are more male fans than female fans, 82 percent of avid female fans are "extremely likely" or "very likely" to recommend NASCAR to their family and friends – compared to 73 percent of males.

One particularly interesting discovery: While fans have traditionally supported the sponsors of their favorite drivers, more fans are starting to support the driver who happens to be associated with their favorite brands. Of fans aged 18-34, 41 percent said they pick a favorite driver in part due to the sponsor.

To put that into better perspective, imagine if Apple sponsored a race car. There are so many iPhone loyalists that fans might pull for the driver just because of who the sponsor is.

This is Taylor's fifth year of the study. To qualify for the survey, respondents had to describe themselves as an "avid NASCAR fan." Taylor was also instrumental in shaping NASCAR's five-year industry action plan as a result of a study commissioned by Brian France in 2010.

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