New youth movement is key to ratings boost

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The steady increases in both television ratings and attendance in NASCAR can be attributed the sport's core fans -- men between 18 and 34 years old.

Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 and has received a lot of credit for the spike in Sprint Cup TV ratings. Races have averaged an additional 883,737 fans during each of the first eight races.   FILE/Associated Press
FILE/Associated Press
Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 and has received a lot of credit for the spike in Sprint Cup TV ratings. Races have averaged an additional 883,737 fans during each of the first eight races.

According to figures released by ESPN and Fox, the key demographic has nearly doubled in several races this year to lend hope the sport is back on the road to recovery.

Compared to last year, the Sprint Cup Series has averaged an additional 883,737 fans during each of the first eight races. Nielsen Media Research reported the average rating for the first eight races a year ago was 4.48. This year's it is 5.24.

Trevor Bayne, 22, has been given a lot of the early season credit after he won the Daytona 500. It signaled another youth movement in the sport, and that apparently triggered a renaissance of interest among other young men.

Nielsen measured the television audience for Bayne's victory at 30.1 million -- the highest-rated NASCAR race since 2008.

NASCAR is also using Facebook, Twitter, live streaming press conferences and Podcasts to stay in touch with its younger audience.

"I think also, if you just look at that demographic, the 18-34, and what they're interested in today. They've got their iPhones and they're into apps and it's kind of a computer age, and I think we've kind of left technology behind in a way that's hurt us a little bit; to be a little bit more current and relative to what's going on with that group," Jeff Gordon said. "I think NASCAR is making some steps to capture that, so we'll see how it goes."

There was considerable frustration over ratings and attendance figures in the past two years -- a time frame that also coincided with the country's economic downturn. With ratings improving in six of the first eight Sprint Cup Series races on Fox and an overall improvement of about 231,800 fans for each of the eight Nationwide Series races.

While the Nationwide Series features younger drivers than Sprint Cup, none have been a real threat to win this year. All eight races have been won by Cup regulars, so there's been a smaller improvement in the ratings for men 18-34.

A lot of Nationwide's current success has been with women 18-34 -- many who tuned into the first five races to watch Indy-car's Danica Patrick continue her voyage into NASCAR. Last year's Nationwide race at Daytona was Patrick's debut, and it remains the highest-watched program in ESPN2 history.

Men 18-34 were very interested in the season-opening races at Daytona International Speedway. The increase for that demographic in the Nationwide Series races was eight percent; the bump for the Daytona 500 was 46 percent.

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com.


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