Racer’s Stateside View | How Covid-19 is affecting motorsport fans, drivers and teams

Racer Media & Marketing outlines the key findings of two surveys gauging how fans and participants feel about motorsports returning to action amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Racer has been conducting two parallel surveys that gauge sentiment among the general motorsport audience, and motorsports participants that include race team members, drivers, trainers, sanctioning body and event organisers, suppliers, media and volunteers.

In the initial findings among a sample of 3,750 audience members conducted from 21st to 22nd April, the study revealed that overall engagement remained high despite the pause in live racing. 56 per cent said they were as engaged as before and eight per cent responded that they were even more engaged. Moreover, 56 per cent also said that they were finding esports simulation racing to be entertaining.

When it came to the more ponderous questions, the results were sobering. However, given that this survey came just as the depths of the pandemic were coming into sharp focus, there was more optimism than might have been expected.

When asked about when it was appropriate for major races to get back on track, 61 per cent said only when health officials say it is safe to do so and only 12 per cent responded that it would not be appropriate this season. 54 per cent of those surveyed also agreed that racing is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic normal this year. A large majority also felt that racing without fans present would be better than no racing at all.

Looking further ahead, 53 per cent of respondents said they will definitely attend a racing event after the pandemic while another 40 per cent said they would with an abundance of caution, leaving only seven per cent to say they would not.

The same survey was reissued 15 days later on 7th to 10th May, this time with 1,639 responding. The period saw some easing of stay-at-home orders in a number of states as well as announcements from both Nascar and IndyCar that some modified resumption of racing would begin by the second half of May. However, that uplifting news was tempered by an announcement during the same period that some events around Monterey Car Week in August were cancelled.

Overall audience engagement held steady with the results of the initial survey, with more than half saying they remained as engaged as before. Enthusiasm for esports simulation racing, however, did take a tumble, falling by six points to only 50 per cent.

The big change came when respondents were asked for their views on when it would be appropriate. 47 per cent, a jump of 20 points, said that now, with proper social distancing, it would be appropriate for racing to return. Only seven per cent replied not this season, a decline of four points. Even with the gain in those who feel it is appropriate to begin racing now, there was virtually no change in the belief that racing is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic normal this season.

Most still feel that racing without a live audience is better than none at all and the likelihood that they will return to attending racing events in the future held firm with virtually the same numbers as in the initial survey.

Motorsports participants were surveyed with a slightly different version of the audience sentiment survey. The first survey was issued from 29th April to 1st May, with 360 respondents. Of those surveyed, only 26 per cent were still working full-time with full salary and benefits. The rest were either working full-time on reduced salary or on both reduced hours and salary. 32 per cent classified as either furloughed or laid-off.

81 per cent said their business or place of work had been negatively affected by the pandemic.

As with the general audience, nearly a majority felt that racing should only resume when health officials give the green light, but by a smaller amount, with 49 per cent saying so and 43 per cent saying it would be okay to do so now with social distancing.

When it came to their belief that racing would return to pre-pandemic normal, the response was very similar to the general audience, with 53 per cent of those working in the industry believing that it is unlikely. Those who work in the sport also felt that racing without fans would be better by a larger margin than the general audience, with 73 per cent saying so, while an additional 21 per cent thought it would be ideal.

Those who work in motorsports were asked about their principal concerns once racing does resume. Ensuring that proper health and safety checks are carried out led the way with 48.3 per cent, which was followed by fear of bringing the virus home at 47.8 per cent, being in close proximity to other people at 44.2 per cent and travel at 43.9 per cent.

A follow-up survey was conducted between 29th April and 1st May. Given that the survey period coincided with the first live race of the Covid-19 era with Nascar restarting at Darlington Speedway on 17th May, there is evidence of an increasing shift toward returning to action. For example, 55 per cent of respondents now said it would be appropriate for racing to get going with appropriate social distancing – a 13 point increase from the last survey.

While a small majority are ready to go racing now with social distancing, the rest are more conflicted – a sign that we may be experiencing the shift from a passive wait-and-see mode to a more active grappling of how best to move forward.

As with the last survey, 53 per cent believe it’s unlikely for racing to return to pre-pandemic normal this year; however, 28 per cent (up three points) feel like it is 'somewhat likely'. Likewise, 71 per cent continue to accept that racing without fans is better than no racing at all, but that is tempered by a two-point increase in those who feel that events without fans is the ideal scenario. There were also increases with concerns over travel (50.5 per cent, up 5.8 points) and over bringing the virus home to family (50.4 per cent, up 2.3 points). And yet, the number of those concerned about being in close proximity to other people dipped by a point to 43 per cent.

Only 18 per cent of those surveyed report having 'no concerns', so a clear majority of motorsports participants believe that some level of caution is warranted. Exactly how much is less clear.

Racer will continue with the surveys over the coming weeks to monitor potential further changes in sentiment among both audience and participants as the pandemic continues to unfold.

This content is supported by Racer Media & Marketing.