The Frontstretch: A Social Standstill: Why Twitter Isn't Sustaining NASCAR Like It Should by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday February 6, 2013

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For those living on a non-Frontstretch planet this NASCAR offseason, of which there are many should stop and read Amy Henderson’s column on how social media is changing the sport before going any further. It’s a fantastic piece of work, one that spurred the following response from me…

Dear Amy,

Your column on social media made total sense in the wake of a Media Tour that struggled to gain traction. I mean, when the biggest story entering February is still Kasey Kahne’s haircut, either we’re all doing a very bad job of reporting, TMZ has taken over SportsCenter, or there were no earth-shattering pieces of news to run with. NASCAR and social media appears to be a double-edged sword these days, where you have all the information you can want and more at your fingertips, but that means it’s harder to make one announcement stand out. I’m thinking of that old Disney line from The Incredibles where the superhero kid says to his mother, “If everyone’s special… isn’t that another way of saying no one is?”

For every Denny Hamlin tweet on his phone, seemingly pulling more NASCAR followers in is it giving fans a case of overload?

Twitter, which this sport has embraced like no other, is also this ever-changing wildebeest no one seems to have tamed yet. You can ask people whom I think are the best social media moguls in this sport, from USA Today’s Jeff Gluck to driver Kevin Harvick, and there’s no clear, defined answer on how to gain followers – at least one we’re all willing to believe. One of the most frustrating things for me, when I was working for SI’s online side, is when I would post breaking news that would push a story forward and lose 4-5 followers over the next 24 hours. Then, a day later I post a picture of my cat chasing a shadow and all of a sudden I’m trending in Qatar. Let’s say it all together, kids: “What… The… (OK, I’ll leave the last word out.)

I think one of the other things people aren’t realizing with Twitter is that it reemphasizes just how small this sport is when compared to, say, Major League Baseball or the NFL. I’m not just talking the ratings, folks; I’m talking sheer numbers of people involved. At this point, we’ve got about 35 full-time drivers whom fans follow in the Cup Series, maybe 100 overall (and that’s being generous) across the sport’s top three divisions. Compare that to MLB, where the majority of a team’s 25 players have a Twitter account. Add in the public relations representatives, play-by-play announcer, janitor and mascot to total hundreds, even thousands of people to follow if you’re an MLB fan. So, I think what happens, over the course of a long season, is such a small sample size of people to follow allows for NASCAR news to get older, quicker. When there’s ten Orange Cones telling jokes, for example (you Twitterites know what I’m talking about), it’s easier to keep material fresh. You can only be entertained so many times by the mystery debris joke on Week 37.

That theory, to me, also expands into the concept of NASCAR news in general. We just went through one of the most stable Silly Seasons in years; my 87-year-old grandma (God bless her) rearranged her basement more than people changed teams the past 12 months. And when these announcements do happen, since they’re so planned by sponsors and everyone involved, it can sometimes take weeks for it to become “official” in the wake of a reporter’s tip blowing cover. Take Matt Kenseth to Joe Gibbs Racing, for example. Wasn’t it about three months, from the beginning of the first JGR “source report” to the actual press conference where he’s being introduced by the team? In between, we have about 3,000 Tweets of everything from inside information to making fun of Kenseth in a Home Depot uniform until it happens. It’s almost like a contradiction of terms within the NASCAR world: Tweet as much as possible but act slower than a telegram when an announcement gets leaked. You know what, Mr. Corporate guy in a suit? I know that messes up your calendar to fly to Charlotte two months early. But when the cat’s out of the bag, it doesn’t stick around that long for people to still care.

How does the sport fix these problems? One thing I’ve said many times—until I’m blue in the face—and will keep saying is more team owners. When the casual fan believes there’s only six ownership groups to follow each year with a realistic chance of winning the championship, it dilutes the opportunities for new blood and new, exciting driver/team/sponsor combinations to follow. I also think the sport needs to take a long, hard look at what people are really excited about. For example, there’s been a lot of work in TV production the last few seasons and stories generated that focus on individual members of the over-the-wall crew. Unfortunately, as much as that’s been well done, I don’t see NASCAR’s fan base gravitating to it. But what I do see is this weird love for spotters, inside and out both on Twitter and during the broadcast. Many of them are former drivers themselves, a great way for fans to keep in touch with, say a minor league guy they liked who never made it to the big time. Can NASCAR find a way to make them more involved, say a “Spotter’s Stand” broadcast report during a caution to get their viewpoint on the race?

The bottom line is Twitter isn’t going anywhere; for better or worse, this sport needs to find a way to make it work for them. I know they’re not a big fan of finding those unique opportunities – as in, banning in-car Tweeting from Keselowski after his late-season outburst added him hundreds of thousands of followers – but they’re going to have to adapt. After all, when your reigning champ can’t reach 400,000 followers while the NBA’s LeBron James has 7.1 million you’re in danger of reaching “niche sport” status.

Sincerely,

Your Boss

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Jeff Meyer FS Staff
02/05/2013 07:48 PM
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Well gee…might as well ruffle the feathers early!

A few things stand out to me as I read both Tom and Amy’s articles…

First off, the headline; Why Twitter isnt sustaining nascar like it should. REALLY? Since when did nascar NEED twitter (of all things) to sustain it? The France family has made it clear from the beginning of nascar…No one man is bigger than the sport! Are you seriously trying to tell me that twitter is suddenly bigger than the sport and that nascar needs twitter to live?!!!
Give me a break.

Secondly, the last sentence…”…you’re in danger of reaching ‘niche sport’ status”

Excuse me….nascar IS and ALWAYS HAS BEEN a ‘niche sport’! It’s origins stem from a particular activity in a particular geographical area!

Yes the sport has grown but it will NEVER EVER reach the status of stick and ball sports that reach much much further back into our nation’s history.

As for Amy’s article, she did parrot something I have said for many years now…too much of a good thing makes it not so special anymore.

I think back to when I was a kid (Im only 47!)…going to McDonalds was a special treat. Now its just another place to grab a gut bomb and then only if it happens to be on the same side of the street in the direction you are traveling…hell, there’s a Burger King on this side and I don’t have to cross traffic when I come out of the drive thru!!!!

Dang…I prolly should have save this tirade for one of my articles…nah…I will have forgot and not even cared a few days from now! Yay for over saturation (and saturated fats!)

Bill B
02/06/2013 08:07 AM
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“either we’re all doing a very bad job of reporting, TMZ has taken over SportsCenter,”

Yes the TMZ, tabloid, reatlity television mentality has taken over the whole society. What the majority of people pay attention to and talk about now days is usually the lowest common denominator. Sensationalism rules the airwaves and especially news. No one wants to watch, discuss or think about real news but if Honey Boo Boo farts, it’s news.

If you haven’t ever seen it watch the movie “Idiocracy”. That is the direction that the culture is heading.

GinaV24
02/06/2013 03:20 PM
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You have it backwards. Twitter does not need to sustain NASCAR, NASCAR needs to be interesting AND relevant enough to sustain itself and right now, it isn’t.

I’ve followed racing for a while and for the past several years – right about the time of the introduction of the ugly car and the chase and the plethora of 1.5 mile parades, NASCAR started bleeding fans.

Twitter isn’t going to save it. NASCAR has woken up a little bit with the change to the car but they are going to have to convince the fans that the racing will be better and actively do something to improve the TV coverage to get the fans back.

I have no interest in the Waltrip Brothers show (aka Fox Broadcasts) or scripted broadcasts such as ESPN provides. Certainly not enough that I will spend absolutely hrs inside my home watching TV. I seldom watch an entire race any more and that is a direct result of the style of coverage and the fact that all I really need to watch is the last 10 laps.

NASCAR turned the first 26 races into an exercise in “seeding” as if it is a tennis tournament instead of making each race an event. Then they have the buildup for the chase and I still have a hard time caring. You know the book “he’s just not that into you”. Well, unfortunately, NASCAR has reached that status for me.

mike
02/10/2013 12:01 AM
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I gave up twitter last year after having an account for over a year.

I found it to be more of a bother and time killing than anything. These days by the time something “newsworthy” is posted on twitter, it’s already mentioned on a “real” news tv show or website and I don’t have to scroll through endless nonsense to find it.

I’m done with twitter and I also just quit facebook. What little time I have I can spend doing other things…like, LIVING a life instead of staring at a computer screen or phone.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

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