DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
With NASCAR’s TV rights deal ending after 2024, the coming months will be pivotal for securing partners that will boost its younger audience.
With the rise of streaming services taking over cable and older populations more hesitant to cut the cord, NASCAR must retain their grassroots fanbase while expanding their outreach to regain their popularity.
The next TV deal will be the catalyst in bringing new fans to the sport. Here are a few ideas for how the next deal should go.
1. Has to be someone who will prioritize it, but also needs to get a big outlet
When NASCAR fans think of the ESPN days, memories of race finishes getting bumped due to exceeding the TV window still haunt their mind. The frustration is very fair, but for the long term good of the sport, ESPN might be a sacrifice fans have to accept.
The fact of the matter is, the sport needs to grow its audience. NASCAR cannot take the LIV golf route, who signed a deal to broadcast on the CW channel. Without getting too far down the golf rabbit hole, anyone who is paying attention knows that would not be a good deal for growing their brand.
FOX is not a bad option as it relates to getting eyeballs, even with its flaws. NBC does a really good job covering the sport and can also easily attract eyeballs.
NBC would be a fantastic candidate to take over the full season rights if they choose to. The addition of their Peacock streaming service could be a valuable asset for the eventual transition to the streaming world.
ESPN should throw their hat in the ring if they’re willing to put in the effort. ESPN does own the Formula One rights in the U.S., which may or may not complicate their involvement.
Recently, NASCAR and F1 went toe to toe, with the Miami Grand Prix and the Cup Series race at Kansas taking place at the exact same time.
NASCAR succeeded, outdrawing F1 overall, but F1 nearly doubled NASCAR in the 18-49 age demographic ratings. They had a 0.61 18-49 rating compared to NASCAR’s 0.33.
NASCAR should look into how the NHL has done with their move to ESPN. Opinion among hockey fans varies, but getting every out-of-market NHL game, not nationally broadcast, has exploded the leagues outreach. ESPN+ undeniably put the sport in front of way more eyes than it previously had.
That could bode well for the lower series and grassroots racing.
NASCAR on ESPN+ would also eliminate the possibility of a race getting bumped due to exceeding the TV window. That takes care of fans’ biggest gripes.
A deal with ESPN could cost NASCAR money in the short term, but think about what would come with it.
Prior to the NHL’s deal, hockey rarely made its way onto SportsCenter. Now, Scott Van Pelt interviews players every night throughout the playoffs after extensive coverage. Imagine drivers hopping on with him from victory lane. That would be a massive boost for the sport.
2. Futuristic broadcast
As mentioned before, I think NBC does a great job broadcasting NASCAR. However, using new technology could add things we’ve never seen on the broadcast.
Advanced analytics have taken sports like Baseball and Football by storm. NASCAR can certainly provide plenty of advanced analytics that would interest fans.
Already, they’re using some new stats like this. One hit so far is the driver heart rate but this should only scratch the surface of possibilities. NASCAR has all of this data. They just have to share it with the world (within reason).
As for the graphics, Fox tried its comic book style caricatures of each driver but that hasn’t helped. Making more futuristic graphics will make the product more appealing.
3. Bring back the dramatic
Looking at how NASCAR was broadcast during its climb to its peak, the broadcast did a great job letting you know how intense and dramatic the sport is.
There’s a reason fans connect so deeply with the dramatic theme music of the NFL or the NBA. When they hear it, it brings back all the exciting, heart pounding memories from the past.
The next deal’s partners should make this a priority.
Another way to make things more dramatic is to improve the race intros.
I don’t think this is a massive weakness for the current broadcast but watching races from the 90s and 2000s, the race intro videos get your adrenaline pumping before a single lap has been run.
This drama attracted the demographic NASCAR needs to re-engage with today. Get theatrical with them, get fans excited for what’s about to take place.
Given the boom of Formula One’s popularity, viewers might think they just have a better product. This is obviously a subjective take but their product is not any better than NASCAR. They just know how to capitalize on the moment and get fans out of their seats.
NASCAR has way more exciting moments. Formula One just has announcers getting excited in the booth when they need to.
4. Re-teach the sport to its audience
NBC currently does a decent job with this but with a younger fan base entering the sport, they’ll need to teach them about it. Without putting in the effort to teach the next generation of race fans, they will continue to think it’s just driving in circles.
A brief mention of what makes each race unique won’t cut it nowadays. Take the time and thoroughly explain what what setup differences there are from track-to-track, in addition to what makes each track unique and possible strategies. Throw it in their face till they’re sick of it.
It’s a lot of new information for new fans, so NASCAR and the broadcast need to make sure this is a point of emphasis for years to come.
5. Re-introduce Hot Pass
For the most passionate race fans, this could be a massive boost. Bringing back a version of Hot Pass could allow fans to customize their viewing experience and likely aid in individual driver popularity.
There are so many ways to go with this. The possibilities are nearly endless.
NASCAR is a unique sport given the size of their playing field can vary from a quarter-mile track in the L.A. Coliseum to the 2.5 mile superspeedways at Talladega and Daytona.
The current broadcast setup simply does not allow fans to see all the action at once. A modern HotPass could give fans the opportunity to see many other things that the main broadcast doesn’t necessarily pick up.
The evolution of virtual reality could play a role in this as well. The younger fans that NASCAR wants to engage with are more in tune with this technology, creating endless options with enough ambition.
Imagine if you could sit in your living room and get a real time view of a flyby at Daytona just like you’re in the stands.
The more creativity for the fans that it allows the better. This would also be a great money making opportunity as it would likely be an extra subscription to get this feature. This could also generate way more ad revenue, with the race being broadcast in more ways than one.
If NASCAR takes one thing away from this, it should be this: The current setup does not help bring new fans.
An overhaul as big as the one NASCAR’s broadcasts needs will be a scary risk.
What’s more scary is a world where stock car racing disappears into the dusty, forgotten pages of history.
That’s the world that looms if risks like these aren’t taken.