Two months ago, the sporting world ground to a halt all at once as the spread of the coronavirus forced leagues to shut down. Now, sports are finally starting to come back. First was South Korean baseball. Then Germany’s Bundesliga made a return. In the U.S., Nascar was the first major sport to fire the engines back up.
While games have returned, the fans have not. Screening players, coaches and broadcast crews for Covid-19 is possible, but fans pose a much more complicated safety issue. For brand-heavy Nascar, the lack of fans in the stands has opened up another revenue stream.
According to a report from GumGum Sports, in Nascar’s first race back, the new whitespace created in bleachers typically obscured by fans was worth about $3.4 million. Add in another $220,000 for the whitespace created by now mandatory masks, and the total added value is $3.62 million per race.
While the masks provide a lot more human value, the brand value is in the bleachers. The cumulative potential sponsorship exposure of the added whitespace would be close to $140 million—with $132 million coming from the stands alone—when extended over an entire season if Nascar maintains strong viewership.
The first race back racked up 6.3 million viewers, but expecting those numbers throughout the season is unlikely: The race represented a 38% increase in viewership compared to the final race before the shutdown. But with sports fans starved for live events and Nascar the first sport back, viewership will stay high for at least a little while.
Nascar is synonymous with brands, and it’s done well with esports events to keep the series top of mind during quarantine. The cars are almost comically decked out in logos, as are the fire-resistant suits that drivers wear. Typical stadium signage circles every track as well. Ads are even put directly on the surface to target the fans in the stands.
GumGum Sports highlighted the pure value of the grandstand whitespace by comparing it to on-track ads during race broadcasts. In the first race, grandstands saw 510 exposures for a total of over 53 minutes of screen time. For comparison, the on-track logos had 84 exposures for just over 3 minutes of screen time. According to GumGum Sports, the grandstands offered a value nearly 30 times that of on-track brand marks.
Putting brands in the stands isn’t new to Nascar. With attendance declining drastically since its height in 2005 (Nascar stopped reporting attendance figures after the 2012 season), some tracks have filled the empty space with giant brand banners. Average TV viewership per Nascar Cup race in 2019 was just under 3 million, according to Statista.
Now, Nascar could turn declining attendance numbers into a lucrative branding opportunity. While the giant ads could feel out of place in some arenas in other sports, Nascar doesn’t have that same problem given the billboards on wheels that are the focal point of every race.