NASCAR is one of America’s most successful entertainment brands, selling out races across the country and generating huge revenues through television licensing agreements. But while other entertainment brands – including professional sporting leagues – began embracing social media from the outset, NASCAR trailed behind – until recently.
In September of this year NASCAR launched its first-ever iPhone app, which provides information and updates as well as allowing users to view races from inside their favorite cars. And NASCAR VP of Racing Operations Steven O’Donnell places social media engagement high on his priority list for 2013.
And while other professional sporting franchises were quick to use social media to boost their teams’ prominence in their communities, NASCAR will likely zoom past them in social media prominence because of key differences between the sports.
The NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball are all wary of their players getting too engaged with social media. In part, managers and owners see players’ social media relationships with fans as a distraction from the playing field. Perhaps more importantly, players’ direct connection with fans can be a liability to owners during negotiations with unions.
For NASCAR it’s a different story. The organization has always encouraged drivers to have direct connections with fans, and that connection has been one of the fundamental drivers of the brand’s success. Moving that attitude into the social media universe is natural: the fans of a racing team can follow the driver via social media, react to important events, and interact with the rest of the fan base. That interaction does nothing but benefit the organization as a whole.
Because the fit is so natural one might wonder why NASCAR didn’t jump on social media as quickly as other entertainment organizations. There’s no real mystery there. NASCAR’s fan base tends to be more rural and traditional than the fan bases of other professional sporting organizations. Social media caught on more slowly in the NASCAR market than it did in the markets of the MLB or NBA.
But now that it has caught on, one can expect that 2013 will see a dramatic proliferation of social media use. Beyond engagement between racing teams and their fans, we can expect to see engagement by team sponsors. So don’t be surprised if the Nationwide Series coincides with promotions for cheap car insurance or if followers of Matt Kenseth start getting mobile coupons for discounts on Valvoline. (What NASCAR fan is going to complain about discount coverage, motor oil, or auto repair services?)
For peripheral fans of NASCAR, getting into the social media core of the organization is easy. Just find the twitter feeds and facebook fan pages of your favorite driver or team and go from there. The NASCAR community is highly intertwined and interlinked.
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