INSIGHT: Truth or consequences for motorsports in the year of the vaccine

Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

INSIGHT: Truth or consequences for motorsports in the year of the vaccine

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: Truth or consequences for motorsports in the year of the vaccine

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The 2021 racing season got off to a strong start on RACER.com driven by high audience energy related to last month’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Building upon 2020’s trend of double-digit year-over-year growth for RACER.com, January 2021 registered a 23 percent gain over January 2020 with 793,899 users visiting the site. For additional perspective, this is a whopping 105 percent increase in users over January 2019 which further underscores the remarkable growth in audience and engagement we are experiencing.

So why is this happening? The passion of RACER’s audience of committed racing fans is one reason. Another is what a good job IMSA has done in building interest in its crown jewel which also attracts stars from NASCAR, IndyCar, F1, WEC and elsewhere.

RACER’s record-setting high-energy audience engagement during January continued in other areas as well:

— There were 373,269 direct shares of content from RACER.com and 5,190 on-site comments.
— On Facebook, our RACER content had a reach of 6,502,027 and engaged 325,215 users.
— On Twitter, RACER content generated 2,308,257 impressions and 55,221 engagements.
— RACER content on Apple News delivered 118,028 unique viewers.
— RACER content on Google News generated 1,900,000 impressions and 52,000 clicks.
— On Google, RACER content produced 352,000 clicks from 14,400,000 search impressions.

The future is now – thanks to our audience

The growth and energy shows no sign of slowing down. As of today (Feb. 9), this month has already become the biggest traffic month in RACER.com history. It took only 9 days and 9 hours for our user traffic to soar past the previous all-time monthly record of 810,946 users set in the 30 days of September 2020 that featured the postponed 24 Hours of Le Mans.

That month in turn beat the prior record of 802,586 users set in August 2020 with the postponed Indianapolis 500.

Our growth this month has been driven by multiple NASCAR stories leading into this weekend’s Daytona 500. One story in particular – Kyle Busch’s reaction to the new crew for his JGR No. 18 – generated a whopping 175,000 shares (and still climbing) directly from RACER.com and an astonishing organic Facebook reach of 983,293 with 222,135 engagements.

Kyle Busch feature generated a whopping 175,000 shares (and still climbing) directly from RACER.com and had an astonishing organic Facebook reach of 983,293 with 222,135 engagements.

This year we’ve also seen huge audience energy behind stories about the lofty auction selling price for Carroll Shelby’s personal Cobra; the shuttering of the NBC Sports Network at the end of 2021; Marco Andretti stepping back from a full-time IndyCar ride to focus on the Indy 500; and of course, one of our audience’s favorite subjects: changes coming to the IndyCar aeroscreen.

Our RACER audience has diverse interests and has shown that they embrace our heroic sport in all its varied forms because they are racers at heart.

Forgive me, but I doubt that any of this enormous growth was driven by the followers of the many social media influencers – like the one who famously screamed the F-word live on network television as she rode in the IndyCar two-seater with Mario Andretti at the IndyCar finale in 2019. I wonder what the ROI was for that private-jet-plus-entourage social media experiment versus the ROI relative to investing in energizing the existing audience.

While I am thrilled by this growth, I remain concerned by the mindset of some motorsports marketers who appear to take racing’s committed fans for granted. In so doing, they risk the future of our sport at this pivotal moment. At RACER, we believe that this is misguided and short-sighted as we collectively endeavor to emerge from the societal and economic disruption of the pandemic.

Put simply, there will not be growth without retention and there will be no retention without positive audience energy.

How can any business succeed by ignoring loyal customers while chasing customers who are indifferent to what is being offered? Put more bluntly, who will actually buy tickets or products without an emotional connection to racing? We believe it will be someone who identifies with the sport rather than someone who saw a contrived, inauthentic post from a paid social media influencer who did not know or care about racing before last weekend.

The world is changing. Fast. With the ongoing disruption to traditional media, the direct power and influence of the audience has never been more important to the sports and entertainment sectors. The same can be said for the specialized media that serves them. This is especially true in motorsports which faces uncertainty in how to distribute live event content as their traditional broadcast partners shift to new business models that anticipate or respond to changing consumer behaviors.

By this time next week, RACER.com will have passed the 1-million-monthly-unique-user milestone for the first time in our history, and who knows what the final tally will be for February 2021? One thing is certain: We will continue to grow because of the commitment and passion of our audience.

We must never forget that many, if not most, were introduced to our sport by their parents, a family member, or their circle of friends who were racing fans. As is evident by RACER.com’s remarkable growth, there has never been a better time for this type of communal energy amplification and interest acceleration because people seek comfort and inspiration from our sport during challenging times like we are now experiencing.

Our families and friends come together in-person or virtually to enjoy and celebrate big events like the Rolex 24 at Daytona, King of the Hammers, the Daytona 500, the Formula 1 season opener, the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I submit that all of these high holy days of our sport have yet to be effectively harnessed in the modern age where the audience is the medium in new media.

So, it is now truth-or-consequences time for our sport. The year of the vaccine can and should be the restart of a lifetime for auto racing on a global scale. The sports/entertainment playing field has been leveled in a way we’ve not seen before, and there has never been an opportunity to redefine and reposition our sport to help it grow like we have before us now.

Clearly the leadership at some series understand this while emerging forms of motorsports “get it” and leverage the sport’s cultural gravity. Committed, energized and passionate fans hold the key to our sport’s future. Our mission is to be there for these existing and new fans every day, between races and between seasons, giving them something worthy of their devotion. They are RACER’s reason for being, and they should never be taken for granted … unless you enjoy seeing vast empty grandstands like we’ve seen during the year of the pandemic.

Empty grandstands at the 2020 Indy 500. May it never again be so. Abbott/Motorsport Images

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