Although NASCAR Sprint Car Series attendance has been in decline for years, according to CEO Lesa France Kennedy the decline has leveled off. And sure, TV ratings are slightly down, but the average Sprint Cup Series race still pulls in over 6 million viewers. Then there’s the recent 10-year, $4.4 billion broadcast deal with NBC and an 8-year, $2.4 billion deal with FOX. It’s safe to say that things are looking up for drivers and fans alike.
While the economic downturn was bad, there were two things that didn’t waver: The NASCAR drivers’ popularity and the size of their bank accounts. In 2008, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. each earned over $30 million, and the remaining drivers in the top ten earned over $10 million. Although the total payout dropped by 6% in 2009, the top ten drivers still made at least $11 million each, and those numbers held steady all the way through the economic recovery.
The cost of a NASCAR Sprint Car Series sponsorship
This money doesn’t come from nowhere, though. A major cog in the NASCAR financial engine is sponsorships, and corporations are willing to pay lucrative deals to align their brands with the most popular drivers. A primary sponsorship can cost upwards of $35 million for 38 races and an associate sponsorship (as in little sticker on the right front fender) can cost up to $2 million.
Why NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers need to be mobile-friendly and socially integrated
One way to measure the popularity of a driver is by the size of his or her social media community. Since we have a number of gear heads on staff, we decided to investigate whether or not Sprint Cup Series drivers are maximizing the potential of their social media communities in order to maximize the potential of their sponsorship dollars. After all, a large and active social media community is an attractive selling feature to any sponsor.
According to Pew Research Center, 63% of cell phone owners use their phones to go online and 21% of adult cell phone owners do most of their browsing on a mobile phone. Those numbers will only increase in the coming years, which means that a strong mobile user experience is critical to the success of any digital content strategy. Therefore, we wanted to evaluate: (1) do the drivers allow fans to socially share content; and (2) is the content mobile-friendly (meaning, is it built to display on a smartphone screen)?
When it came to grading the drivers, we awarded ten points for each of the following categories:
▪ Aesthetic: Is the driver’s website both attractive and easy to use?
▪ Mobile-Friendly: Does the driver’s website look good on a tablet or smartphone?
▪ Freshness of Content: Is the driver’s website populated with up-to-date information?
▪ Facebook Link: Can you link to the driver’s Facebook Page from his/her website?
▪ Twitter Link: Can you link to the driver’s Twitter Page from his/her website?
▪ Facebook Sharing: Can fans share web content from the driver’s website with a Facebook Like button?
▪ Twitter Sharing: Can fans share web content from the driver’s website with a Twitter button?
▪ Interaction: Is there a forum or a comments area where fans can interact with the driver?
▪ Facebook Fan Count*
▪ Twitter Follower Count*
Since auto racing is a highly visual sport, we decided to award five bonus points for drivers who linked to their YouTube channel and up to another five points to drivers based on the Total Lifetime Views of the videos on their YouTube channels.**
What we found
There’s no doubt that the drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series understand how important digital marketing is to their brand. For the most part, their websites are attractive and the content is updated regularly. Most of them even try to get you to Like their Facebook Page or follow them on Twitter. What more do you need, right?
Not long ago, that would have been a solid content strategy, but digital media is in a constant state of change and there are more opportunities than ever to not only engage fans, but to activate them as brand evangelists. And let’s be honest: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhart Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Tony Stewart aren’t just your average Joes. They’re multi-million dollar brands.
Mobile’s a big deal. 56% of American adults own a smart phone, and 34% own a tablet computer; however, only 4 out of the 26 drivers reviewed have a mobile-friendly website. That might not seem like a big problem until you open the browser on your smartphone and pull up a site that isn’t mobile-friendly. It’s nearly impossible to read the minuscule text and when you zoom to make it legible you can only read a few words before you have to scroll.
Poor mobile usability makes for a miserable experience, and people who have miserable experiences don’t typically stick around very long. In the digital marketing world, it’s called a bounce rate, which means that getting people to your site is only part of the equation. The real value to a sponsor is in getting them to stick around.
Immobilizing an army
Only half of the drivers’ websites have buttons that allow fans to socially share content on Facebook and Twitter, which is a massive lost opportunity. Jeff Gordon is one of the most popular drivers in the history of NASCAR. He has over 500,000+ Facebook fans, 400,000 Twitter followers and nearly 400,000 video views on his YouTube channel to prove it. And those fans are active, too.
It’s not uncommon for Jeff to earn close to 20,000 Like, Comments and Shares. Imagine how much more engagement he would earn if he allowed his fans to socially share the photos, race results and other content on his website. Without seeing his web analytics to determine how much traffic he gets to his website, we can safely say he’s conservatively missing out on millions of impressions, let alone the deeper fan engagement.
And the winner is…
Not everything is doom and gloom, particularly for four-time Driver of the Year Jimmie Johnson. He scored a 98 on our scale, which was the highest rating out of all 26 NASCAR Sprint Car Series drivers. His site is attractive, it’s updated regularly, and he makes it easy for people to share his content on Twitter and Facebook. He even earned all ten of our YouTube bonus points. The only weakness in his digital marketing strategy is that his site isn’t mobile-friendly.
The other drivers who finished in the top five of our social media audit were Juan Pablo Montoya (94), Brad Keslowski (91), Tony Stewart (84) and Kyle Busch (82).
Few of the driver sites we reviewed were unmitigated disasters. In fact, most of them looked solid at first blush. Unfortunately, small details such as social sharing buttons and mobile-friendliness are often the difference between content marketing success and failure. Or, in this case, the difference between thousands of impressions and points of engagement, and millions of them.
By making their content easy to use on mobile devices and easy to share socially, all of the drivers have the potential to increase their critical metrics such as engagement, reach, and impressions. And, when those metrics increase, so will the size of their sponsorship details. Digital marketing is about making connections with an audience. For these drivers, all it takes is a little fine-tuning and committed content strategy.
* For both the Facebook Fan Count and Twitter Follower Count, we awarded ten points to the driver with the most followers, nine points for drivers 2-5, eight points for drivers 6-10, seven points for drivers 11-15, six points for drivers 16-20, five points for drivers 21-25 and five points for driver 26.
** The bonus point structure for total lifetime views on a YouTube was based on the following: 1-99,999 views earned one point; 100,000-249,999 views earned three points; anything over 250,000 views earned the full five bonus points.