NASCAR made several bold decisions to bring auto racing back to America during the coronavirus pandemic. With no fans in the grandstands at most events, the challenges the sanctioning body faced cannot be stated enough.
With that being said, NASCAR President Steve Phelps and CEO Jim France made multiple progressive changes that NASCAR might not have made for at least another year or more. Among them is the implementation is weekday races, a move that created plenty of buzz for NASCAR’s hardcore fan base.
Weekday races are frequent events at local short tracks across America. However, until the Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 20, NASCAR’s premier series didn’t hold a race in the middle of the week since the 1984 Firecracker 400. It’s a bold move for the sport as it looks to attract a new, younger fan base.
The experiment, though, was partially derailed due to rain at several races since NASCAR’s May return, including the one at Charlotte.
Roger Breum, Hookit’s marketing head, explained that there is a large decrease in social media value for NASCAR partners during the few weekday races thus far. Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, races (all on the weekend) averaged $960,000 in value generated for brands. When NASCAR returned, weekend races generated an average of $850,000 and weekday races generated an average of $520,000, a 39% decrease.
“People have a number of hours to watch NASCAR on weekends and engage with it,” Breum said. “We did the day before the race, the day of, as well as the day after. It gives people more time to engage with the teams.
“Many people are still working from home. But people aren’t taking the time to focus on what’s happening. It clearly shows the engagement is much lower for those races.”
Additionally, weekday races have seen less promotion of brand partners, down 21% compared to weekend races. That comes with 47% of social media posts featuring some type of brand promotion, whether it’s a team sponsor, a NASCAR partner or a driver’s personal sponsor. This data does not include the value sponsors generate from television coverage, which FOX Sports’ Michael Mulvihill said has seen an increase said the sport’s return.
Overall, NASCAR, teams and drivers have generated $12.4 million for brand partners through June this season during the first 14 races.
“Beyond the race name, I would imagine your typical brands that sponsor teams and drivers are seeing a scaled-back value for the weekday races because the engagement is so much less and they get so much more exposure on the weekends,” Breum said.
The GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was postponed to a Monday afternoon following rain throughout Sunday. Overnight, a noose was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall. Ultimately, NASCAR contacted the FBI, which then investigated the noose. Fortunately, the noose did not specifically target Wallace, according to the investigation.
But when NASCAR, drivers and teams firmly believed it was a hate crime, the sport came together to support Wallace. The 40 drivers entered in the 500-miler walked Wallace’s No. 43 Chevrolet down pit road, where he was greeted by team owner and seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty. The scene was remarkable, showing that NASCAR is indeed serious about denouncing hate.
Throughout the Talladega race weekend, though, Wallace’s outstanding efforts to stand up against racism created a massive increase in value for his partners. Besides Wallace, the additional attention NASCAR received throughout the country contributed to a $1,980,549 total value for brands on social media, more than $1,394,218 during the Daytona 500.
“Bubba Wallace had more engagement than NASCAR’s league account, which usually blows away every other account,” Breum said.
Since the COVID-19 shutdown, NASCAR has seen an increase in the average number of posts for races. The sport averaged 2,152 posts per race prior to the shutdown, with an increase to 2,519 in the races since. Public relations employees, outside of the ones who work directly for NASCAR, have not been allowed to be at the racetrack.
“When I was looking at the data, it’s a lot of difference in the number of teams and drivers active on social,” Breum said. “They can post a little more to match what they post on weekends. From a brand’s perspective, though, they’re seeing a 20% drop in branded posts.”
Weekday races have seen a 9.7 percent decrease in social media posts, descending from 2,486 to 2,244 on average.
Throughout the year, both pre-COVID and post-COVID, Toyota tops the list of brands promoted by the NASCAR, teams and drivers in terms of social media value. Coca-Cola and Ford trail just behind the Japanese auto maker in second and third, respectively. And speaking of Toyota, the Toyota 500 at Darlington in May actually outperformed multiple races in terms of social media engagement.
Going forward, the weekday races experiment does offer NASCAR significant data it wouldn’t have seen otherwise. If promoted thoroughly with only a handful of such contests, weekday races can see a significant boost in brand value on social media.
“The social needs to be there during the weekdays,” Breum said. “From NASCAR, driver and the team perspective, they can control how much they’re posting.”
NASCAR’s next weekday event is the All-Star Race on Wednesday, July 15, which will air on FOX Sports 1. The event moved from Charlotte to the fan-favorite Bristol Motor Speedway due to North Carolina’s increasing amount of COVID-19 cases. The facility will host 30,000 fans at the event, marking one of America’s largest crowds since the pandemic caused a nationwide shutdown.
“If you’re shifting from a weekend to a weekday, you’re losing out on partner value,” Breum said. “For this season, they had to move races originally scheduled from weekends to weekdays. Looking to next season, if they’re looking to add Wednesday races, it’s not a bad thing. They aren’t terrible and they’re performing well. This is an opportunity to build more value for their partners.”