Opinion: Five Challenges for 2013
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on February 12, 2013 | 4:04 P.M. EST
NASCAR's new Gen-6 car went on a tour of the country before making its competitive debut at Daytona this weekend. (Photo: Getty Images)
NASCAR will face a few obstacles during the 2013 season.
Competitiveness of Gen-6 Car
Everyone knows they look great and fans will identify with the cars on track much more than during the Car of Tomorrow era. But will the Gen-6 car produce good racing? That’s a much more important element to the new machine’s success than simply good looks.
NASCAR has worked hard to create a rules package that will promote better competition. Fans simply will not accept single file parades or leaders pulling away from the field in clean air as was the case more often than not during the days of the COT. While early indications are encouraging, will NASCAR be forced to keep tinkering with the rules as the year progresses? Buckle up because there may be some bumps in the road after the new car smell wears off.
Attract a Younger Audience
The mantra for NASCAR this year is definitely an attempt to bring a younger fan base into a rapidly aging sport’s following. The average ago of viewers who tuned into last year’s Daytona 500 was well of 50, not anywhere near the sweep spot target demo of 18-35. But aiming at this lucrative group and actually making a mark are two completely different animals.
For the most part this younger crowd does not share the inherent love of the automobile of previous generations, which helped build the connection to auto racing and NASCAR. While the Gen-6 Sprint Cup car does look like its showroom counterparts, there probably aren’t too many in the Gen Y crowd clamoring to buy a Fusion, Camry or Chevy SS.
NASCAR is hoping a bigger embrace of technology will be key to hooking the younger crowd on big time stock car racing. They might not be working on their cars but today’s youth know how to handle a laptop, iPad or other mobile device. For the sake of the sport’s future that connection will be made.
Shorter Attention Spans
No matter what the age most of today’s society has a much short attention span. The fast-paced world of multi-tasking, mobile devices and taking a more active rather than passive view of entertainment has changed how people watch sports, including NASCAR racing.
Interactive elements are a necessity, whether they be at the track or in the comfort of home. No longer content to simply sit and watch an event unfold, today’s consumer needs to have a vested interest and more of a connection.
But asking anyone to sit through a 3-1/2 or four hour event even with interactivity is a major stretch. NASCAR has to find a better way to fit into a more compact window to keep fans’ attention and not let them drift off to other activities and interests. While some tracks have recognized the issue and taken steps to streamline the proceedings (Fontana, Pocono, Dover) while at the same time improving the product with more immediacy, others refuse to address the problem.
There is certainly room for some 500 and even a 600-mile race on the schedule. But Texas, Talladega and Charlotte are at the top of the list for needing to trim 100 miles off of one of their races for the overall betterment of the sport.
NASCAR remains adamant there will be no immediate changes to the lineup of Chase races and tracks. But it’s apparent the fan base has grown tired of basically the same ten events deciding the championship every season through the playoff schedule.
The glut of 1.5-mile tracks inside the Chase has to be dealt with and NASCAR needs to infuse new life into the most important time of the year. It’s time a road course finds its way into the Chase as well as another short track event.
And if lights are truly in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s future, the Brickyard 400 should be the Chase lead off race on a Saturday night. While the racing may not change for the better around the 2.5-mile track, the spectacle of NASCAR’s championship stretch kicking off in prime time at one of the most famous venues in all of sports would definitely generate attention for the Chase kick-off.
Sagging Television Ratings
Audiences for Sprint Cup telecasts have been shrinking dramatically for the last few years. While it’s true fans have more options to consume races than ever before with streaming, satellite radio, social media and DVRs, the sport has to find ways to attract more eyeballs to the television.
A compelling product will help the cause immensely. Exciting races that generate “water cooler” moments of discussion the next day are what NASCAR needs most. Fights and trumped up controversies may get some tongues wagging for a day or two, but have proven not to attract more casual fans to the TV in the long run.
Split screen television commercials are another element fans demand, but sponsors and networks are still hesitant to go all the way with the concept.
NASCAR is on the brink of signing a new TV deal that will begin in 2015. In order to reap another rights fees financial payday like the last two contracts have brought, numbers of viewers must rise.