IndyCar has it all…almost. The racing is incredibly competitive—the title fight has come down to the final race for fifteen consecutive years—and there is abundant on-track action, thanks to the lower downforce aero kit introduced in 2018. IndyCar also has a varied calendar: traditional road courses like Road America provide high-speed corners and thrilling undulations, narrow street tracks like St. Petersburg punish drivers for the smallest mistakes, and ovals like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway create the unique spectacle of pack-racing at 230 mph. IndyCar also features a diverse driver lineup—some, like Colton Herta, rose through IndyCar’s junior categories, while others have migrated from series like F1, Formula E, NASCAR, and even Australian Supercars.

Despite these ingredients, IndyCar’s fanbase remains stubbornly small. Back when IndyCar was sanctioned by CART, it was America’s favorite motorsport—the 1992 Indy 500 pulled 14.1 million viewers, over three million more than NASCAR’s Daytona 500 and not far off World Series viewership. But the subsequent rift between CART and the rival Indy Racing League ravaged the sport, and current viewership is a long way down from those 1990s heights. Last year’s Indy 500 set a new low with just 3.67 million viewers, even though Americans were stuck at home during a lockdown. Overall television viewership is more fragmented than ever but this drop off outstrips the declines in other sports.

Alex Palou at the 2021 Grand Prix of Alabama, Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR

If the on-track product is so good then blame for the disappointing audience numbers resides elsewhere—much of IndyCar’s stagnation can be ascribed to its lackluster online and social media presence, which prevents it from gaining and retaining new, young fans.

IndyCar shouldn’t expect to have the same reach as Formula 1, which has 12 million Instagram followers and 4.88 million YouTube subscribers. Still, IndyCar’s online following lags behind NASCAR and it can’t even match the nascent Formula E series. While IndyCar has 303,000 Instagram followers and 280,000 YouTube subscribers, Formula E is at 801,000 and 610,000 and NASCAR has 1.4 million and 620,000, respectively. IndyCar has the right racing elements to be popular, it just needs to reach more people.

IndyCar is finally steering in the right direction. They hired Dave Furst, an Emmy-award winning sports reporter and director, as vice president of communications in August, and since the new year began, the series has been posting online far more frequently.

Still, the quality and presentation has room for improvement. To start, IndyCar should look where they are already strongest: Twitter. With 381,000 followers, IndyCar outpaces Formula E, which has only 238,700 followers. IndyCar’s Twitter popularity is likely because it’s the sole platform where they post live updates during race weekends. Doing the same on Instagram and YouTube would be a simple way to rev up engagement. Trackside videos and live updates on practice, qualifying and the race could go on their Instagram story, while thorough highlight compilations from each session could be uploaded to YouTube.

Currently, IndyCar only posts about the pole sitter and race winner on Instagram, leaving fans in the dark about the rest of the field. Posting about the top ten in qualifying, the race, and the championship after each round would keep fans up to date. Race weekends will inherently have more fan engagement, so IndyCar should take advantage of this by posting more, instead of leaving Instagram and YouTube devoid of content as they have previously. If fans see interesting content on a race weekend, they might think to check back on an off-week too.

The YouTube content should also be diversified. The drivers are the face of the series, and turning the drivers into recognizable superstars is crucial for IndyCar’s growth. One step towards this would be uploading highlights of the top drivers—for example, a highlight reel of Scott Dixon’s greatest moments could educate new fans on why he’s been so good for so long. Showcasing future stars is also key, so when a highly anticipated driver graduates from the feeder series into IndyCar, a compilation of his Indy Lights and USF2000 highlights could show fans why he is so highly touted.

History and tradition are also important aspects of IndyCar and are an advantage IndyCar has over Formula E. While it’s great that IndyCar posts old races in full to YouTube, this attempt at educating fans on IndyCar history is misguided. Few young viewers are inclined to watch old multi-hour races, so 20-minute highlight versions could teach fans about the sport’s past in a more concise and entertaining manner.

Equally important is the possibility that these full races may hurt IndyCar’s performance in YouTube’s algorithm. While the races typically get a high number of views for IndyCar’s channel, a user only has to watch 30 seconds of a video to qualify as a “view.” YouTube also factors in overall watch time when promoting videos and channels, so if people only check out a small portion of a full race, YouTube’s algorithm might think IndyCar’s videos aren’t retaining their audience. A separate channel, called “IndyCar Race Archive,” could cater to diehard fans who want to watch full races, freeing up the main channel for shorter highlight compilations which might attract more casual fans and perform better in metrics like watch time.

A screenshot of the thumbnails used by IndyCar on YouTube.

IndyCar should also enhance the presentation of their content. Many IndyCar Instagram posts obstruct all or most of the image with a blue or black-and-white filter. Motorsports comes with inherently exciting imagery: dynamic-looking race cars, astronaut-esque suits and helmets, motion blur when photographing high-speed driving, and more. Instead of diluting this with filters and stylized branding, IndyCar should utilize the intrinsic visual thrill of racing: keep it simple and let the photos and videos speak for themselves.

On YouTube, IndyCar has the opposite problem. Their onboard camera highlight videos are just a string of clips edited together with no title cards or context. A simple text box with the drivers involved and the lap it happened on would help fans follow the action and more easily remember crazy moments from current races for years to come. IndyCar should also make the onboard videos longer than two minutes—fans are definitely missing out on more content.

Dave Furst and his team finally seem to be on the right track, but IndyCar still needs a major rehaul of its online presence before it can attract the wave of young fans who will make up its future.

One thought on “IndyCar’s Missing Ingredient

  1. This is pretty much accurate, but Indycar also definitely needs to add a lot more oval races as well as fix the cars. Most races have been boring since the 2018 updates to the car, and the aeroscreen has hurt the racing even more.

    Like

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