Being a fan of motorsport is one of the most nuanced and complex pursuits in all of sports.
After all, most major professional sports are significantly less varied. Baseball, basketball, football and ice hockey are each made up of one professional league in the US, whereas motorsport finds itself with at least seven distinct professional sanctioning bodies that have their own set of car classifications and race formats. To the untrained eye, several will have significant crossover, but to the educated devotee, the fruit basket that is motorsport is made up of apples, oranges, pears, bananas and more.
Further complicating matters is the fact that drivers, teams, manufacturers, suppliers, sponsors and venues often participate simultaneously in more than one series, and that fans follow both domestic and international series with near equal devotion, all of which makes painting a portrait of the typical motorsport fan a real challenge.
Between 4th and 7th August 2020, we conducted a survey of 2,586 respondents from a Racer database of 31,585 email addresses (8.2 per cent participation rate) to discover what makes our audience fans of motorsport.
The results compared those between the ages of 18 and 44 (11.5 per cent of the total sample) with the overall sample in an attempt to better understand how younger audience members may differ. In fact, younger respondents don't differ greatly from the whole, but there are some indications that certain factors carry more weight in what draws them to motorsport.
Overall, the survey serves more to affirm what is intuitively thought of as the attractors to the sport than it does reveal any glaring new truths that dispel the preconceived notions. Yet, there are several insights that would be useful to those in and around the sport who are crafting strategies and programs that seek to leverage fan interest in the sport to their benefit.
What makes a motorsport fan appears to principally be an attraction to a racecar, a driver and venue in that order, all the more so when the competition is close and the drivers exhibit a high degree of skill. But to reduce it simply to those factors is to miss out on the many complex nuances that create motorsport's gravity. And while we know that the younger segment of fans is on balance not much different from the fanbase as a whole, there are key clues in how their responses deviated, albeit by the finest of margins in some cases. To continue cultivating a pipeline of lifelong fans, the sport cannot forget that it exists primarily to entertain and to thrill. Engineering innovation and commercial elements are critical, but when they are done to the exclusion of fan interest, then they will be in the end for nothing.
The results also point to a bigger question and the subject of further inquiry: across the board, the racecar consistently ranked at the top, or near the top, of the factors that generate interest. But what is meant by the racecar? Is it the racecar itself, e.g. the aesthetics, engineering and performance? Or, is the racecar more of a catchall that represents a particular culture, type or style of racing?
Understanding the potential difference is a key to understanding how the sport evolves to attract future generations of fans. If the racecar itself is the ultimate attractor, should more effort be made to create examples that push boundaries and capture the imagination; therefore, moving away from the model of using spec cars or racecars strictly confined by a tight set of technical regulations? If both could be achieved, would that set the sport on course to a continued bright and expanding future?
These questions will be the subject of another survey in the near future.
To receive a full copy of the survey, please email: email@example.com.