Are Millenials Killing NASCAR?
For a decade, NASCAR lovers have worried about the age of the racing sport’s fan base. When Netflix’s Drive to Survive documentary ignited a viral fascination with Formula 1, some even said millennials leaving to watch F1 were killing NASCAR. But the truth is that on social media, millennials follow NASCAR more than almost any sport.
While Formula 1’s ratings are now declining, NASCAR remains a steady winner because it has done such a solid job evolving to attract young fans. If anything, millennials are saving NASCAR.
- The average NASCAR fan is 58 years old.
- NASCAR has changed its cars, race timing, and tracks.
- It is one of the most successful sports at attracting Millennials on social media.
Who are the fans of NASCAR?
In total, 68% of NASCAR fans are men. Their average age is 58; 60% are married, and 40% have kids. NASCAR is interesting because 23% of fans watch the races on TV only, while others engage online. And 33% of NASCAR fans are dedicated enough that they have made the pilgrimage to watch a race in person.
In total, 159.9 million people in the U.S. tune into live sports events. What’s the online/TV split? Coming up on 50/50, actually: 74.6 million of these folks are digital live sports viewers. So it’s not especially shocking that “TV ratings” for many sports appear to be dropping.
NASCAR has evolved to attract these digital live viewers and fans on social media. As a result, it has remained one of millennials’ favorite sports.
What age group watches NASCAR?
Less than a third (31%) of NASCAR fans are older than 55. But the average age of a NASCAR fan is 58 years old. How does that work out? NASCAR likely has a “balloon” of fans much older than 55, driving the average up. But the Association is working hard to replace its oldest fans with a millennial base.
In 2020 alone, NASCAR enjoyed a 3% increase in 18-49 year olds watching entire races. This is while most sports are losing young people watching entire events. But this number doesn’t tell the entire story.
NASCAR discovered that online viewers or social media fans wanted to check in during a race instead of watching the whole thing, so it went to “staged” racing. In this new structure, drivers “sprint” for points at multiple intervals during a race. Instead of watching a two- or three-hour race for a single final-lap sprint, you get to see similar sprints throughout.
Commentators also recognized the sport needed greater variety concerning event types. In 2020, Jeff Gordon told Forbes, “We have too many mile-and-a-half races … The road courses are the new short track.” And the sport listened.
The Next Gen NASCAR cars are optimized for road courses while producing enough downforce to race the superspeedways. NASCAR is not only leaning into road courses; it has brought back dirt track racing.
Is NASCAR rising in popularity?
Yes, NASCAR’s ratings have been climbing slightly since 2020, though they are not equal to 2017 numbers. In a given weekend, NASCAR ratings are holding steady, above 2 million views. While many other sports’ views plummet, this is a major victory.
Remember, an increasing number of fans are engaging with sports in ways besides television — and in ways besides streaming entire events. On social media, NASCAR is flourishing with millennial fans. The social media audience of NASCAR-owned accounts is about 50% millennials. And NASCAR is huge on social media.
NASCAR is reaching five times as many millennial fans as major league soccer. In fact, it is better at reaching millennials online than every major sport besides the NFL. Historically, NASCAR has been forced to take a backseat to baseball, basketball, and hockey (which, alongside football, are considered the “Big Four” U.S. sports). But NASCAR is translating to social media better than most sports, so it is obviously doing something right.
“NASCAR is the biggest for auto racing in America…Even if the ratings are down a bit, there’s a whole new generation of kids taking in the sport, largely through being connected to social media.”Hailie Deegan
Before you say these kids should be flipping on the tube to watch races, start to finish, remember that NASCAR lives and dies on its sponsorships. Exposure (even on social media) brings in sponsorship money. Money builds strong teams and exciting racing. More than 28% of Fortune 500 companies currently invest in NASCAR. That number is up 29% since 2008.
NASCAR fans vs. Formula 1 fans
So, the elephant in the room: Formula 1. This international racing league enjoyed 445 million viewers in 2021, though it was only able to grow 3% year-over-year. For a minute in 2021, it felt like F1 was on track to overtake NASCAR in the U.S. But NASCAR had one more trick up its sleeve.
The NASCAR Next Gen cars are engineered to make racing more exciting — and it shows. During the 2022 season, the NASCAR Cup’s 34 races had 15 different winners. Meanwhile, one Formula 1 driver (Max Verstappen) won 15 of the 22 races. The result, predictably, was that fewer fans tuned into each F1 race.
Want a head-to-head? Check out how many fans in the U.S. tuned in to both NASCAR and Formula 1 while F1 was here at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. The numbers show that while F1’s popularity is petering out, NASCAR remains as strong as ever:
|Year||NASCAR Viewership||F1 Viewership|
|2021||2.11 million||1.2 million|
|2022||2.31 million||1.11 million|
Next, find out whether NASCAR or Formula 1 has a higher top speed record, or see some more ways NASCAR fans are changing in the video below: