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Avid fans are turning to digital media to connect with NASCAR

By Tripp Mickle
Special to the Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

Avid NASCAR fans increasingly turn to digital and social media for news, information and interaction around their favorite drivers, according to research conducted by marketing and public relations firm Taylor.

The study, which is based on a survey by Greenfield Online of 1,500 self-proclaimed avid fans, showed the share of avid fans seeking news about drivers from mainstream outlets like newspapers and TV stations declined from 43 percent to 35 percent between 2009 and 2010.

More than a third of respondents said they visit NASCAR-related websites for information, and only one in five NASCAR fans younger than 24 prefers receiving information on drivers through traditional media outlets.

Taylor, which is advising NASCAR on its new communications strategy, paid for the survey. It was conducted in September and shared with the firm's brand clients, which include Diageo, Gillette and other NASCAR sponsors.

Taylor executives pointed to the pervasiveness of online content and decline of traditional media as the primary driver for the change in the way NASCAR fans consume news, and they say sponsors should consider it as they make activation plans to reach NASCAR fans.

"It's a perfect storm, and the key takeaway is: Are brands that are involved in the sport reacting fast enough?" said Brett Jewkes, managing partner in Taylor's Chicago office.

The survey also revealed:

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to be fans' favorite driver, and Jeff Gordon remains the second favorite.
  • Kyle Busch is surging in popularity. When asked to name "all the drivers you cheer for" in 2009, fans in two of 12 demographics named Busch. But this year fans in seven of 12 demographics put him among their top five drivers.
  • Sprint and Kobalt made major strides in brand recognition. Sprint joined Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Lowe's as the fifth-most-recognizable brand in the sport in 2010. The telecommunications giant and title sponsor of NASCAR's top series was ninth on the list in 2009. Similarly, Kobalt, a Lowe's hardware brand that appears on the No. 48 car driven by Jimmie Johnson, went from not appearing on the list in 2009 to being sixth on the list this year.

"What I think data like this and other research is calling for is a rebalance for how sponsors spend," Jewkes said. "There are some real actionable nuggets that come out of this that we believe all marketers can use to hone their programs."

Tripp Mickle is a reporter with SportsBusiness Journal