The Education Of The IndyCar Fan
Did you see this little nugget from this weekend? ESPN.com ran an article on a rather scientific poll that examines the changing tastes of American sports fans. There was nothing remarkable to report in the main findings and premise of the article – the NFL is king and is growing in popularity. While most people say pro-football is their favorite sport (35%), baseball has lost the most people that boast that it is their favorite (14%). No huge surprise there. I don’t follow baseball near as closely as I did before the strike in 1994 that canceled the World Series.
The only real surprise in the whole poll was that auto racing (7%) outpolled the NHL (5%), which was almost twice as popular as college basketball (3%).
But then, for some reason, the article had to end with this little jab; “…while those with a high education or less tend to gravitate to auto racing”. Talk about creating a stereotype. I’m not sure if the data showed this or if it was just an editorial comment or opinion inserted just for kicks.
My question is – so what? I know that marketers like to know the demographics of their audience, but other than that – what does it matter? Some of the most passionate IndyCar fans I have met at races may not have graduated high school. Does that somehow make them count less? Hardly. These people are the backbone of our sport and the ones that marketers should be going after.
My degree is in marketing, yet I am a career counselor to help people navigate their career path, which is a scary thought. I no longer use my degree. My day-to-day duties require me to fall back on my experience and to utilize common sense, rather than anything a professor taught me from a book thirty-five years ago. I know a lot of over-educated buffoons, while some of the wisest people I know lack a high school diploma. I can’t help but think that the last line of that article was meant to scoff at those of us that like motorsports.
The MBA snobs that tend to look down their noses at us and label us uneducated and not important, are about as out of touch as a politician. I have long said and thought that potential sponsors are missing the boat by overlooking IndyCar in favor of NASCAR. The vast majority of racing fans here in the south are NASCAR fans exclusively. I know many of them quite well, yet not a single one of them exudes the passion for their preferred form of auto racing as IndyCar fans do for theirs.
Sure, you’ll see some Dale, Jr. decals on trucks and every now and then you might see a Tony Stewart t-shirt on a fan. But other than showing their pride for a driver, they don’t seem to be that enthusiastic for their sport as a whole. If their driver goes out of a race early, a NASCAR fan is likely to turn off the television and go do something else. I may be wrong, but I think an IndyCar fan is a lot more likely to stay with a race to the finish, regardless of which driver has fallen out.
Maybe it’s because we want to keep following and make sure all drivers make it through without injury. Perhaps it’s simply because we love the sport and appreciate good driving when we see it no matter if it is “our driver” or not. It doesn’t require a framed sheepskin on a wall to appreciate good driving or to be passionate about a sport that requires so much skill.
Maybe that’s the real rub. As I wrote about a few weeks ago – non-race fans don’t understand the intricacies of this sport. They view it as mindless and shirtless rednecks sitting in stands, chugging beers while cheering on a demolition derby. They think we only watch to see the crashes. They also perceive the skill level and athleticism to be that required to navigate the normal morning commute.
After riding the two-seater at Fontana last fall, I can assure you – these drivers must be athletes to sustain the almost constant lateral g-forces involved on every lap. I was hardly able to move my hand, much less be able tomake the calculated movements on the steering wheel in each corner. Any pro athlete that doesn’t consider race car drivers to be athletes needs to take a few laps in the two-seater. They will come away with a whole new appreciation for what these men and women do – that is if they’re not too busy throwing up.
As far as marketers and potential sponsors go, there are two traits that I think are most important about IndyCar fans and neither of them has anything to with how educated a fan is. Those two traits are passion and loyalty.
Although we IndyCar fans can be a cynical bunch about our series at times, that cynicism stems from passion. The fact that we stay through the ups and downs that this sport has given us over the past few decades speaks to how passionate we are. Throughout all the turmoil and drama, we stay. All is forgotten on opening weekend at the beginning of the season. When the month of May rolls around, we don’t dwell on the politics of the sport. Instead, we focus on the history and tradition that makes our sport so unique.
We are also a very loyal bunch. We may gripe about some of the things in our sport we don’t care for, but when someone outside of IndyCar says something demeaning, we all take offense and rush to the defense of our sport. And it has been well-documented how the hard-core fans support the products of the sponsors that keep the sport going. I drive a Honda. My closet is filled with clothes from IZOD – and not just racing related apparel either. For the past few years, my refrigerator was stocked with RC Cola and Sun-Drop. When they were a sponsor of Team Penske, Mobil-1 was my motor oil of choice.
You get the idea. I also know I’m not the only one. Most IndyCar fans I know go out of their way to support the sponsors that support IndyCar. The problem right now is that there just aren’t enough of us.
Maybe the IndyCar fans I know do not give an accurate representation of the typical IndyCar demographic. But as I said earlier – does it really matter? The fans I see at races are what I call real fans. Unlike college or pro football games where people go to see and be seen, the race fans I see are there out of pure love and passion for auto racing. I don’t look at them and wonder how far their education went and I don’t think they do it to me either.
On a race weekend, we are all there because we share one thing – the love of IndyCar racing. No agendas. No social-climbing. No back-stabbing. Just the common bond of motorsports and the joy of bench racing is all that’s important to share. At a race track, what else really matters? Certainly not a college degree.