Improving The Popularity Of Motorsports
I may be biased but I believe the age of the average viewer of motorsport getting older is a very serious problem for motorsports. Sports in general are under threat in terms of viewership and sportscar racing does have some big issues that go against everything the younger viewers look for: short content time, emotional connection to a story or person, and experienced based viewing. Our races are very long, and that is the core of our sport, so we must figure out a way to keep our history of endurance racing and keep our viewers engaged for a very long time. That mountain is very steep but we can make serious progress by focusing on more experiential based events around race weekends and allowing fans to get to know the drivers better. We can also focus on consistent story telling, allowing our viewers to know when races are going to happen easily.
Every sport has put a lot of their focus on ways to incorporate technology to bring the fans closer to the action; motorsports as a whole is massively behind this trend. The first concept I would love to see is more use of VR technology. The way we all connect with a sport is by playing it when we are young and dreaming what it would be like to be a professional on the field. Most of us grew up playing football with our friends in the backyard pretending the Super Bowl was on the line and we had to make the throw to win it. In racing this is very difficult to do, the only connection many people have is driving their streetcars. There is absolutely nothing similar about driving on the streets to racing on track though, you don’t feel the load of G-forces, the feel of controlling a car on the edge, the heat of the car inside the cockpit and competition of 50 cars all fighting for hundredths of a second to win. It is truly a violent environment. So how do we get people to feel this experience as close as possible? VR technology to allow fans to get “inside” the car with drivers during the action and create as similar of an environment to that of a racecar as possible. I would love to see a series have a fan section where they have rooms that are heated, utilizing some of the latest sim racing moving seats in conjunction with a VR experience filmed from inside a race car during intense moments of racing. Allow friends to go in and see the view of racing battles from different cars, what its like for the crew guys during pit stops everything from beyond the pit wall needs to be brought closer to the fans! A simple addition as well would be more use of large TV screens for fans attending the races to see. It is no doubt that our sport is difficult to follow, especially for those attending the race, but that is a whole separate issue. I don't know what type of price range these TV's cost to put up around a track, but I do know it adds massive value to all fans.
On top of this is the sim racing and Eleagues side. We have seen some pro sports teams start to engage with this community very effectively. In motorsports for example we saw Mclaren F1 team host a competition to have one of these drivers win a chance to test in their official Formula 1 simulator. I would love to see every sportscar series creating an official sim racing league of their series and having the teams work with sim drivers and create an online version of their team to go and compete in these online leagues. I see this adding to the experience of our younger audience and giving them additional ways to emotionally connect with teams in a very effective way.
One of the greatest programs sportscar racing has is its hot lap program. During every race weekend manufactures have streetcars available with pro drivers and drive fans or special guests around the racetrack. In Japan we have even seen them do “on track safari tours” where they take a big bus out with fans in it in the middle of a session to get up and close with cars around a racetrack. I am not a fan of the last one in terms of safety, but it is a really innovative concept and that is the spirit we need to more of in our sport. I would like to focus on the hot lap program and how we can drive even more interest out of it. A series should have an online social program rewarding fans driving the conversation on all social media platforms. The fans who are attending a race weekend and driving the online conversation would be rewarded with these laps. These programs are just amazing, one of the coolest programs in all of sports and we don’t leverage them enough.
Engaging fans during a race weekend is only one part of this however, we must also focus on how to get more viewers on TV. As with any story, consistency is so important, one of our biggest issues as a sport is the lack of consistency in terms of in season schedules. In IMSA our first race is end of January, the next race is beginning of March, and then another month gap, and then all of a sudden over the summer we have some back-to-back races and then larger gaps again. See a problem with this? I certainly do, so how do we fix it? The biggest challenge is scheduling tracks so that they are available; the right time of year and limiting conflicts with other series is very difficult. That being said we need to look at scheduling consistent races as our highest priority. Right now the IMSA season lasts from the beginning of January through to October averaging 12 races over 9 months. I would like to see the season cut down 3 months so we can average 2 race weekends a month. Have the season start one month later, and then end two months earlier. I chose taking 2 months off the end of the season so it ends in August and we don’t compete with the NFL or college football for eyeballs on our TV time. Why fight a behemoth like that when you can fit in their offseason and find better TV slots with less competition. I would love for us to average 2 races a month, which helps the story flow from one race to the next and it’s easy for people to remember. Especially those new fans that may not be hooked to live and breathe our sport everyday and wont remember the complicated schedule. I do want to acknowledge the downside to this is having teams and crew guys out of work potentially for a longer amount of time during the offseason. This is very serious and we need to find a way to support the guys that make our sport happen. Potentially have some type of a winter league would be a fun addition and help this. Ultimately they would be making the same amount of money, just in a more condensed time period during the regular season.
One idea I have played with that I am still not sure if the pros outweight the cons would be to schedule races during unique time slots. Some racetracks we visit struggle to get more fans out to them simply because of how far away they are from major cities, so why not focus on TV time during these races. This would look something like having a Tuesday night race and find a major network to show the race. This would get us even more major network televised races. It is great to have those Sunday afternoon time slots but if they are on channels that the majority of us can't get, and the online stream is geoblocked within the U.S. the races become much to difficult for even the most diehard fan to watch. Along with this I would love to have more nighttime races, because simply night racing is awesome. Glowing rotors, battling for position and headlights create a majestic show that captures the imagination of all gear heads!
Overall these are just a few ideas, but we need to start somewhere. I am confident that the most important initial steps that we need to take is building a much more immersive environment for fans that rewards them for engaging with us on social media, combined with consistent story telling. I would love to hear your thoughts on how experiential based marketing could make attending a race even more fun! Do you think a more consistent schedule would work well? I can’t wait to hear everyone’s thoughts! Also, as my weekly blog comes out I would love to answer questions from fans! If you have any motorsport related questions please comment below and on next weeks blog I will have my answer for you!
See you guys on track soon!
Dion von Moltke