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Entertainment Brand Purpose Future of TV

Nascar CMO on why the league is racing to win over younger, more diverse fans


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

July 10, 2024 | 16 min read

The motorsports organization wants to break down old perceptions and develop long-term relationships with new kinds of fans. We catch up with the league’s chief marketing officer, Peter Jung, as part of The Drum’s Sports & Fitness Focus.

Nascar fans

Nascar is on a mission to win back lost eyeballs – and build out a stronger, more diverse fanbase / Nascar

Nascar is the second-most popular motorsports series on earth, second only to Formula One, and is among the more popular spectator sports in the US. Founded in 1948 in Daytona, Florida, the sport began gaining more traction outside the Southeast in the 80s and 90s and has since become a global phenomenon, sanctioning more than 1,500 races across the world.

Despite pockets of diehard fandom and a relatively young fan base (Nascar fans, according to YouGov data, are, on average, younger than NFL and MLB fans, with 18-29 year-olds making up 26% of the fan base), the sport’s viewership has dropped in recent years. Last year, live Nascar races garnered an average of about 2.9 million viewers across all TV networks – representing a dip of 9.4% from 2018 numbers, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Now, Nascar is making a concerted effort to win back eyeballs. Recognizing consumers’ increasing shift away from traditional broadcast and cable TV and toward streaming, the league signed a seven-year streaming rights deal in November 2023 with Warner Bros Discovery’s TNT, Amazon and Fox reported to be worth $7.7bn. The agreement with Amazon Prime Video marks an especially significant milestone for the sport, as it represents the first instance of a Nascar Cup Series event being exclusively available through a streaming service.

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Leading with authenticity to build a diverse fanbase

Another key priority for Nascar is expanding and developing the sport’s fanbase. Leading the charge on this front is Peter Jung, who’s served as the league’s chief marketing officer for a decade. Before joining Nascar, Jung was vice-president of global consumer marketing at Mastercard and did stints at Fortune and Time.

Jung knows that, historically, Nascar has been associated with a certain kind of consumer. “There are a lot of perceptions of Nascar, and those perceptions are changing, but there are still perceptions that it’s maybe a little bit more of a regional [sport] and maybe less diverse than the US population,” he tells The Drum.

Earlier this year, Jung told The Wall Street Journal that “somewhere like 26%, 27% of Nascar fans are multicultural … I think when I started [in 2014] it was at 20%.”

Today, Black and Hispanic audiences are among the sport’s fastest-growing demographics. Jung has spearheaded a variety of marketing initiatives to help drive engagement and viewership among diverse populations.

In 2019, for example, Jung helped launch Daniel’s Amigos, a community experience designed to boost access and engagement among the Hispanic population, hosted by Trackhouse Racing driver Daniel Suárez, the first Mexican-born driver to ever win a Nascar Cup Series. Daniel’s Amigos events are now hosted at Nascar tracks across the country and occasionally as standalone activations within local communities.

Then, last fall, a collab with J Balvin saw the Colombian rapper’s Air Jordan 3 Medellin Sunset shoe splashed across racer Tyler Reddick’s Toyota.

J Balvin for Nascar

Nascar also partners with New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who fell in love with the sport in the early days of the pandemic when most live sports in the US were suspended, but Nascar was still racing. Since June of 2021, the NFL star has served as a strategic advisor to the series.

For the brand, these kinds of organic collaborations help to move the needle on fanbase growth. “People in [Kamara’s] community, or NFL fans or Saints fans, are like, ‘Wow, like I can kind of see myself [in this partnership], you know, I’m relating to Nascar,” Jung says.

The brand’s approach to partnerships “has very much been [about] the long term – it’s not on a seasonal or annual or campaign basis,” Jung says. “A lot of brands are maybe a little bit guilty of checking the box, like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ve got a multicultural partner and a campaign,’ or whatever. We’ve tried to do it very thoughtfully, slowly and steadily, with the long-term opportunity in mind. [We’ve] sort of transformed the way that people experience and are introduced to Nascar.”

Another element of Nascar’s efforts to woo younger and more diverse audiences is growing investment in gaming, e-sports and emerging tech. Alongside high-profile partnerships, standard digital and social campaigns and race-centric activations in various markets, Nascar is looking for potential new fans in the spaces where they’re already spending time – in the gaming and metaverse ecosystem and on TikTok.

The gaming space, in particular,”presents a significant opportunity for Nascar,” says the company’s managing director of gaming and e-sports, Nick Rend. ”With over 3 billion gamers globally and an average player age of 33, gaming platforms are pivotal in reaching and engaging a youthful, digitally native audience. Bringing our IP to the virtual environment is a way to connect with fans on their terms. We want users to engage with our brand with the goal of bridging their interest into real-world experiences.”

To promote its July 6 and 7 Chicago Street Race weekend – a Cup Series race held for the first time in 2023 and renewed for a second run this year – Nascar brought the excitement of the event into Fortnite. In partnership with Karta, which builds branded in-game experiences, the brand rolled out a digitized version of its Chicago course map in Rocket Racing, enabling Fortnite fans to get behind the wheel and feel the excitement for themselves.

The project “came with its challenges,” Karta CEO Erik Londré tells The Drum, in large part because Unreal Editor for Fortnite – the program that enables developers to build their own experiences within the Fortnite ecosystem – is still “an emerging platform.” He says the team adapted to the system’s limitations as best it could and ultimately “deliver[ed] something we … all can be proud of and that the Nascar fans and the Fortnite community will love.”

The brand has launched similarly immersive activations in other gaming environments. Last March, it debuted Nascar Speed Hub, a Roblox experience in which users can design their own cars, engage in mini-games and connect with other activations across the Roblox ecosystem. The brand operates other games and activations for Discord, Meta Quest headsets and mobile gaming.

In October of last year, digital racing simulation platform iRacing announced a partnership with the league to develop simulation-style Nascar racing games. A console game is slated for release in 2025, with versions for PC and mobile to follow.

The simulation space isn’t just engaging fans – it’s cultivating a new generation of racing drivers, too. ”More drivers than ever are being introduced to Nascar through gaming,” explains Rend.

In fact, this year’s Daytona 500 champion William Byron, as well as Spire Motorsports driver Rajah Caruth, both entered the sport by way of iRacing. ”These efforts are part of our broader vision to leverage gaming and technology to build the next generation of Nascar fans – and drivers – ensuring our sport remains vibrant and relevant in the digital age,” Rend says.

Nascar is also entering its TikTok era. The brand posted its first video to the Gen Z-beloved platform on July 3 to promote the Chicago races, and continued to post regularly throughout the weekend. It’s already amassed 2.3 million followers on the app.

In Jung’s estimation, it’s these kinds of marketing activities – whereby Nascar assimilates into environments where young, diverse consumers spend their free time – that will serve the brand well in its mission to win over new fans.

“It’s about showing up in meaningful ways and sort of surprising ways,” he says. “We’re making sure that when we do show up in other channels, we do so in a way that is making [that space] better. The Fortnite [Rocket Racing experience] … is taking that platform and enriching it through content, through [brand] association.”

It’s an ethos Jung is infusing into the brand’s IRL activations and more traditional marketing efforts, too. Ahead of the Chicago races last weekend, Nascar hosted Bubba’s Block Party in partnership with 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace – a community event held on Chicago’s west side. Much like with the brand’s latest gaming activations, the party was designed to integrate seamlessly with the environment and build authentic connections with consumers. “[We don’t want] to impose that Nascar core brand, but really integrate it in a thoughtful way, depending on the kind of the location and the [type of] event,” Jung explains.

The approach, generally, appears to be working. Last year, more than 80% of tickets for the inaugural Chicago Street Race were sold to fans who had never purchased tickets to a Nascar-owned event, a testament to the sport’s growing appeal among new fans. This year’s Chicago Street Race attracted ticket buyers from all 50 states and 23 countries. It was NBC Sports’ most-watched Nascar race since 2017.

The big race: TV and streaming rights

Beyond Nascar’s concerted approach to marketing and partnerships, which is helping to expand and diversify the sport’s fanbase, another key element is its media strategy.

At a large scale, much of the upheaval in the sports business today is linked to the rapid and ongoing transformation of the media landscape. Though live sports have remained a lynchpin of linear TV, keeping major networks’ pockets lined with ad revenue, major sports leagues are increasingly entering the streaming ecosystem, where in 2022, 80% of sports fans regularly or occasionally tuned in to watch sports, according to Nielsen.

Major streaming deals, such as the NFL’s agreement with Amazon Prime Video to host Thursday Night Football and MLS’ landmark streaming contract with Apple TV, have moved the needle on sports’ transition to streaming and on-demand video.

Nascar wants in on the action, too. As the circuit dips its toes into the streaming landscape for the first time, it’s taking a strategic, distributed approach. “You can’t really put all of your eggs in one basket in terms of linear or OTT [over-the-top content] – you need to sort of try to balance your programming and content on different platforms,” Jung says.

The new $7.7bn contract it has signed for its Cup Series, worth about 40% more than its previous deal, will run from 2025 to 2031 and involves four media partners: Fox Sports, NBC Sports, Amazon’s Prime Video, and Warner Bros Discovery’s TNT. Fox Sports and NBC Sports will each broadcast 14 of the 38 annual races. Fox Sports will kick off the season, including the prestigious Daytona 500, while NBC Sports will take over the final 14 races, which encompass the Cup Series playoffs and the championship race. Meanwhile, Amazon’s Prime Video and Warner Bros Discovery’s TNT have each secured exclusive rights to five races per season.

In May, Nascar also announced a new bracket-style tournament with drivers competing for a $1m prize during the TNT portion of the Cup Series schedule this year.

Outside of this four-partner deal, TruTV and Max will each broadcast practice and qualifying sessions during the latter part of the season.

Jung is bullish on the league’s foray into streaming. “Obviously, bringing back the [linear TV] incumbents [like Fox Sports and NBC Sports] is a great sign of their commitment and confidence in the future of the sport. But to have TNT back in the sport with their streaming product and [giving] Amazon Prime a portion of the season – that’s huge.”

The circuit’s participation in the world of streaming, Jung hopes, will shoehorn nicely into his larger strategic vision for bringing more youth and diversity to Nascar’s fanbase. “One of the things that is most appealing to me is the [streaming] audience,” he says. “There’s a pretty significant difference in terms of age and demographic profile of an OTT audience versus a linear audience. So for the next seven years, I feel confident that we’ve got representation in linear, cable, OTT – I like where we’re positioned.”

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The league is also investing in its own streamed entertainment content. Following the viral success of Netflix’s Formula One series Drive to Survive – which has attracted a total of over 6.8m viewers and translated to direct success for the sport, increasing US fan growth by about 10%, according to Nielsen – Nascar saw an obvious opportunity.

“If I had a dollar for every person that said, ‘Hey, you should have a Netflix show like Drive to Survive,” Jung jokes.

But the prospect was very real. In January of this year, Nascar: Full Speed arrived on Netflix.

And it accomplished what the league has been pushing to achieve in many of its marketing and media efforts: it brought newcomers into the fold. In fact, 88% of first-week Full Speed viewers did not watch Nascar’s 2023 championship race, indicating that many viewers were not diehard Nascar fans but potential new ones. Plus, on the whole, Full Speed viewers skewed younger and more likely to be Hispanic than viewers of linear race coverage.

What’s next for Nascar?

Looking ahead, Nascar is looking to go bigger and better than ever. In fact, Jung hints that the circuit could go international in 2025. Various reports conjecture that a Cup Series may be held in either Canada or Mexico.

The brand will also up its investments in entertainment and content programming with partners like Netflix and Amazon, Jung says. Plus, Nascar is hopeful that it could soon see an influx of star power, with a new generation of racers set to join the circuit soon.

The brand will continue to seek out increased diversity among drivers, sponsors, partners and fans as it enters a more digitally-friendly era. Ultimately, although Jung acknowledges that there’s “a ton of work and opportunities yet to [come]” on this front, he’s pleased with how far the league has come in the last decade.

Today, new Nascar fans – those who have followed the sport for three years or less – are nearly twice as likely as established fans to be multicultural and under the age of 34.

“In my early days,” Jung says, “when I would talk to a journalist, a partner or any kind of stakeholder, we didn’t have much of a story to tell about what we did and what it yielded in terms of change in our fan base. And I sit here 10 years later really proud. We’ve really changed the composition of our fan base, particularly over the last four or five years. It really starts with … being genuine about building relationships with new people and doing it very thoughtfully.”

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