IndyCar picking up speed

Author Alena Kleinbrodt, University of San Francisco

Posted: October 16, 2015

One of the most difficult customer jobs for any sport organization is fan acquisition. Building a fan base and seeing an increase in numbers across attendance and ratings is difficult and resource consuming. As the IndyCar 2015 season came to a close two weeks ago it saw its second straight year of ratings growth and set attendance records at multiple events (Stern, 2015). Its successful season can be attributed to many factors including cross promotion, increased focus on fan engagement, and a unifying tragedy.

As outlined by Daniel Funk and Daniel Lock (2014), there are four different patterns of media consumption; light consumption, media dominant consumption, sport event dominant consumption, and heavy consumption. However the pattern of consumption does not change the fundamental role that the media has in shaping “public attitudes, impressions, and opinions” (Funk & Lock, 2014, p. 38). Mark Miles, a veteran leader in the industry and CEO of Hulman & Co believes that the cross promotion by NBC of IndyCar during NASCAR and Formula One programming greatly contributed to the increased ratings. NBC was targeting fans that participated in media dominant consumption. For many people watching NASCAR and Formula One they strictly follow the sport by watching on television and tracking online. This was an easy group to target because showing the appeal of IndyCar vs NASCAR was not a big jump. The sports are similar to watch. Fans of NASCAR and Formula One were exposed to IndyCar while watching their initial sport of choice, and many participated in laddering and created a chain of associations between the two sports.

Another factor contributing to the increased success of IndyCar was the push to use social media to build fan engagement. Anytime a fan is prompted to engage they are building their social identity, the “self categories selected as self-representative reference groups” (Funk & Lock, 2014, p. 46). Individuals are unlikely to post about a sport or team on their own social media sites unless they believe being associated with a sport or organization will “reflect positively on his or her self-concept” (Funk & Lock, 2014, p. 46). Utilizing social media not only reinforces the sport as part of somebody’s personal brand, but it also spreads the reach and promotes the sport to potentially previously untapped markets.

A third factor that contributed to the success of the past IndyCar season was the tragedy the community faced through the death of driver Justin Wilson. Tragedy has the effect of bringing people together. IndyCar is different than many sports in the sense that team ties are not as strong. This allows for the sport as a whole to create one community. Unfortunately misfortune and grief can have the same effect on building a community as purchasing a jersey. Fans purchase products to “show to others what they are, what they represent, and [that they] want to be part of this special community” (Pons, F., Giroux, M., & Mourali, M., 2014). Losing a member of the community, especially from a sport related accident, drives people to do the same.

IndyCar has seen great success in growing their fan base this past season. Zak Brown a leader in the motorsports marketing business believes that the momentum the industry gained this season will continue to grow (Stern, 2015).



Funk, D., & Lock, D. (2014). Sport Consumer Attitudes: Formation, Function, and Effects on Information Processing. In M. P. Pirtchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sports business (pp. 37-50). New York, NY: Routledge

Pons, F., Giroux, M., & Mourali, M., (2014). Consumer Behavior and Motivation: Why Are Sport Event Consumers So Special? In M. P Pirtchard, & J. L. Stinson (Eds.), Leveraging brands in sports business (pp. 21-36). New York, NY: Routledge

Stern, A. (2015, July 7). IndyCar shows growth amid emotional finale. SportsBusiness Journal, 18(21). Retrieved from

About Alena Kleinbrodt, University of San Francisco

Alena is a graduate student at the University of San Francisco, earning her Masters in Sport Management. Before enrolling in the program in July 2015, she graduated from Santa Clara University located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Alena studied Marketing and Communications and graduated in June of 2015 with honors. This article is an edited version of a paper Alena prepared for Dr. Michael M. Goldman’s Sport Marketing class at the University of San Francisco.

IImage by Moto "Club4AG" Miwa "Grand Prix of Long Beach 2015 (Sunday INDYCAR)", Accessed via Creative Commons license.