Throughout the new millennium, NASCAR has emphasized a corporate aspect that is generally unprecedented in professional sports. From various company incentives coupled with expansive and expensive suites, NASCAR has solidified itself as a sponsors dream. Often lost in the naming rights festival that is the weekend of a race, is that regular fans are discontent with not only their overall access, but how as ticket prices soar, fan experiences remain the same, or lose quality in favor of limited quantity sponsor benefits.
However, on a more positive note, as the sport recovers from the economic downturn of the late 2000’s, fans, media, and sponsors alike have all returned to the grandstands, tracks, and suites respectively. Though the sport garners exposure, race fans never truly seem to be happy. There is a preconceived notion race fans carry that due to the financial investment associated with traveling to a race, and the lack of opportunity to see NASCAR live, that the fan experience should be a cherished and unparalleled weekend.
Over the course of the past few years, however, Brian France and company have been listening, quickly becoming the premier sanctioning body with regards to fan interaction. NASCAR has garnered much publicity through their praise of driver interaction on twitter, and they are leading the charge on ensuring fans have their voices heard.
In the calendar year already NASCAR has made a statement that fan interaction and consideration will be at an all time high. Through the launch a new media driven website, and the creation of the “Fan and Media Engagement Center” in Charlotte, the sport has made it clear that no longer should fans feel like their opinions on matters both on and off the track are being ignored.
Inside the self-proclaimed “mission control”, NASCAR will be monitoring both social and traditional media trends throughout the year, and with the help of partner Hewlett-Packard, will take all the statistical data and interpret it for the benefit of the fans. Throughout the year fans will have their voices heard like never before as NASCAR plans to share their findings with tracks and sponsors alike. It is indeed early, but 2013 promises to be the year of the fan, starting early with offseason engagement.
Over the past couple of years fans had drifted away from the first race of the year. A former spectacle for the unpredictable, The Shootout before the Daytona 500 devolved from a spectacle to a pseudo all-star race. This year, the title sponsor Budweiser is gone and with it is any agenda they had planned for this race. In an unprecedented move, fans now have a say in how this race will be run.
Fans can vote from the official NASCAR mobile app and determine not only the race format, but whether a pit stop will be required, or if there will be elimination at the end of the second segment. All voting is available through Feb. 13th, with critics and fans alike already voicing their opinions on twitter. The amount of parody that is possible has genuinely excited people, and unlike previous attempts at fan interaction, there seems to be a precedent here.
The Sprint Unlimited does not seem gimmicky unlike previous attempts at fan integration. Rather, it seems that this can be considered a neat strategy that coupled with the new website design and Fan and Media Engagement Center, will continue to set NASCAR ahead of the pack in terms of how fans have their voices heard.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @mike486