On the heels of the rumors that Major League Baseball could be back soon, another major professional sport already has a date circled on the calendar. NASCAR has announced it will resume this season beginning May 17 at Darlington in South Carolina. Three more races will quickly follow.
In making this announcement, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said, “NASCAR and its teams are eager and excited to return to racing, and (we) have great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition … (we) will ensure the safety of our competitors, officials, and all those in the local community …”
The media hasn’t yet reported how NASCAR plans to “ensure safety” but it’s likely that information will be coming out in the next few weeks. In the meantime, promoters and industry people are using the opportunity to promote this as a major positive step for the fans.
Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, said: “This has been a proactive effort to put our motorsports industry back to work and boost the morale of sports fans around the world, while at the same time keeping the health and safety of all who will be on site the top priority… Sports fans around the world need this, a return to some sense of normalcy with live sports on TV … NASCAR is uniquely positioned to deliver it …”
It’s certainly true that solo drivers racing in individual cars have a relatively slim chance of contracting any virus when compared to competitors in close contact sports such as basketball, where “social distancing” is all but impossible. That said, there’s a lot being communicated in these comments.
Spokespeople said fans want live sports back, and that’s certainly true. They also want to know they’re going to be safe, which is a subject NASCAR officials need to spend a bit more time clarifying. Again, that’s probably a message NASCAR has ready to go. The clear goal here was to get people excited about the imminent renewal of the racing season. To “boost morale” of the people stuck in a world that is anything but “back to normal.”
The idea of a return to some semblance of normalcy is appealing to lots of folks, but until what that looks like and how safe it will be are communicated in more detail, it might be tough to get people to fully buy in to the excitement NASCAR is hoping to spread.
This is just the beginning, and NASCAR has time, so it needs to take advantage of this opportunity. How will NASCAR set expectations, calm fears and stoke excitement in the days leading up to the comeback?
Ronn Torossian is CEO of leading PR firm 5WPR.