In 2017, the Verizon IndyCar Series expanded its use of new media to garner larger and often younger audiences. In this way, the sport is embracing the same demographic as its new “twenty-something” champion and establishing platforms for future growth.
INDYCAR, – sanctioning organization for the Verizon IndyCar Series as well as the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder – executed that strategic plan in several ways, led by event-based live streaming (excludes any broadcast content), which rose more than 300 percent from a year ago. More than 8.4 million views of INDYCAR’s event-based live content has been consumed, quadrupling the 2016 numbers, further proving the increasing demand for online motor sports content. In addition, INDYCAR produced live shows away from race weekends, including Fernando Alonso’s first Indy car test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which garnered more than two million viewers in a single day.
Social following continued to trend strong, with total following now in excess of one million. Adding video content also drove higher fan engagement.
To date, total visits to IndyCar.com have increased 25 percent and unique visitors are up 27 percent versus the same point last year. Engagement with Twitter content increased 372 percent year over year, Facebook followers have increased by 250,000 since this time last year, and the hashtag #INDYCAR has delivered nearly double the impressions versus 2016.
CJ O’Donnell, chief marketing officer of Hulman Motorsports, called the 2017 season “a pivotal year.” In his words, “Growth in social media and live streaming, once considered emerging media, established new paths to a younger and more diverse audience. What was once fresh and untested is becoming a force in the continued growth of our sport.”
In a recent RACER magazine story, O’Donnell recognized new champion Josef Newgarden, along with other emerging Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, as contributors to the social and digital growth. In turn, INDYCAR has delivered action clips on social media to showcase the excitement of the sport, and its drivers participate by offering short video clips pushed to the web for free. These provide fans unique behind-the-scenes perspectives of their favorite drivers.
“In many ways, this has been a year that defined ‘who’ and ‘what’ is NEXT for the future of the series,” said Mark Miles, chief executive officer for Hulman & Company, which owns INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “The young guns or challengers – drivers such as Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud – are now front-runners and contending for race wins and even championships, standing tall versus popular legends such as Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay.”
Miles also recognizes the shifting importance of new versus traditional media in delivery of racing content.
“In a year characterized by the decline in traditional television viewership among major sports, social media and live streaming is increasing our exposure among new and younger audiences,” Miles said. “TV certainly remains very strong in audience delivery, but we must also leverage digital media to engage fans and increase our fan base.”
Despite declining viewership among properties such as the NFL and the NBA, along with many forms of motor sports, INDYCAR delivered mixed results in 2017.
• NBCSN recorded a 3 percent increase in ratings and average viewership, and that growth was achieved following a historic 2016 season, which included ABC’s showing of the 100th Indianapolis 500. Average NBCSN telecast viewership exceeded 500,000 for the second consecutive year, just 1 percent off NBCSN’s INDYCAR record. Seven of NBCSN’s 12 races drew at least 500,000 average viewers, the most since acquiring INDYCAR rights prior to the 2009 season. The September 17 championship race telecast averaged 536,000 viewers.
• ABC/ESPN posted a ratings decline of 9 percent, a figure significantly influenced by a delayed broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 in the Indianapolis designated market area. Last year, the Indy 500 was broadcast live in the market.
With a sleek new car bodywork look set for introduction in 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series competition, INDYCAR could be positioned for more growth.
“I know we have more people calling us wanting to get involved with the sport than we’ve ever had,” said Roger Penske, whose Team Penske won a record-extending 15th Indy car championship this year. “I know from my own business space and our employees, there’s more interest today with social media and the connection and speed has made a big difference.”
Penske credited the drivers engaging with the fans.
“How many other sports sit out before a big game and start signing autographs?” Penske said. “Those are things that today maybe we take for granted, but that’s a big step forward in communication with the fan base.”