The 2021 Sports Business Awards were handed out Wednesday night, and NASCAR, which was the first sport to come back to competition and complete its “full” season after the Covid-19 pandemic started, was named “League of the Year” for 2020.
Amid NASCAR’s return to racing in 2020, the sport innovated in multiple ways that it never had before while simultaneously navigating multiple interactions with America’s social justice reckoning. The sport publicly backed driver Bubba Wallace when he wore an “I can’t breathe” shirt before a race, when he ran a Black Lives Matter paint scheme at a different race, and when he was involved with the highly publicized noose incident at Talladega Superspeedway. It also introduced several new races to the 2021 schedule.
“We’ve got momentum,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said while accepting the award. “More importantly, we’ve got relevance.” He touted NASCAR’s ability to help lead the nation in returning to live sports. “It was an important thing for us to do as a sport,” Phelps added.” He said the aftermath of George Floyd’s death allowed the league to define who it is and “created an entirely new face of NASCAR, one that is younger and more diverse.”
Below are additional 2020 NASCAR season key insights:
- Among the first leagues to complete full season: After an eight-week pause due to the pandemic, NASCAR became the only professional sport to complete the same number of events as originally scheduled in 2020.
- First sport back to competition: With the return of NASCAR Cup Series racing at Darlington Raceway on May 17, NASCAR became the first major U.S. sport to return to live competition.
- Banned the confederate flag: NASCAR publicly stated that our collective voice should be used to help promote equality and bridge the racial divide that exists in our country.
- First sport to welcome back fans: Implemented safety protocols and procedures that allowed NASCAR to welcome back a limited number of fans safely at select events, again leading and setting a path for others to follow.
- Welcomed new & diverse ownership: Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin created global news by introducing 23XI Racing. Justin Marks became one of the sports’ youngest owners with Trackhouse Racing. Pitbull is also a co-owner of the team. Matt Tifft is another young owner for Live Fast Motorsports (along with co-owner BJ McLeod).
- Historic slate of races unveiled for 2021 schedule: The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule includes the introduction of three new racetracks – and new layouts at two iconic venues. Not since 1969 has NASCAR added this many new venues to its premier series schedule.
- eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series: NASCAR was uniquely positioned to pivot quickly and fill the live event void with iRacing and the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series.
- Six of the seven eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series events on FOX and FS1 rank as the highest-rated esports TV programs of all time.
- Sports betting growth: NASCAR brokered deals with Penn National Gaming, BetMGM, WynnBET, and IMG Arena, furthering its position in the global sports betting space. NASCAR also became the first league to join responsible betting campaigns with American Gaming Association and National Center for Responsible Betting.
- Major brands honor NASCAR: NASCAR garnered significant attention during and following the 2020 season from the likes of TikTok (named among the ‘Brands & Campaigns That Inspired Us’); Sports Business Journal (ranked second among ‘leagues most effective at producing live events’; SportTechie (named NASCAR ‘League of the Year); and Morning Consult (ranked in top 10 among fastest growing brands among Gen Z).