Data Driving ‘Next-Gen NASCAR’ (the strategy, not the car)
The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season begins Sunday (February 16) with the 62nd running of the DAYTONA 500 (2:30p EST on FOX). The upcoming season will be the first since NASCAR closed on the purchase of International Speedway Corporation (ISC) in October of 2019. While much of the discussion surrounding the motorsports roll-up has focused on expected changes to the 2021 schedule, NASCAR President Steve Phelps stated that the acquisition has already begun paying dividends in the form of consumer insights gained. Prior to the sale, the two companies had the ability to “look at each other’s data” through a 3rd party platform (NASCAR & SMI have a similar arrangement), but NASCAR was limited in what it could derive from their analysis of the fan base with critical information warehoused in multiple locations. Now, with “the two databases having merged into a singular source” the organization is able to mine deep insights and convert those findings into actionable strategies to “smartly engage [each individual] fan." Phelps said "next-gen NASCAR is about making smart strategic decisions to promote and grow the sport.”
Howie Long-Short: NASCAR is using data to target prospective fans “more than [it] ever has - and not just with offers to buy things.” Phelps explained that there is a sophisticated content strategy behind the sport’s “one-to-one marketing approach.” Ultimately, the goal is to grow the fan’s interest in the sport; whether that means “buying tickets, watching on television or engaging with NASCAR digitally or socially.”
Having the opportunity to leverage data insights - like a fan’s favorite driver - at the track level is expected to help NASCAR drive more people to racing venues. It should also help to improve upon an already strong race-day fan experience (the just announced Verizon Wi-Fi service coming to 12 tracks won’t hurt either). Phelps cited some of the ticketing promotions for the Daytona 500 - which included driver meet and greets - as ways the sport can use data to enhance a trip to the track. “The opportunity [for a fan] to take a photo with and listen to [their favorite driver] speak is a very meaningful and something that fans don’t get at other sporting events.” It’s worth mentioning that reserved tickets to Sunday's race are sold out (for a 5th consecutive year).
Of course, the 2020 season won't be the first time NASCAR is leveraging the data it's collected. Identifying where fans reside and the best channels to reach them helped the sport to curb declining television viewership last season. Phelps said the information enabled the sport to narrow its focus to priority markets, where they dramatically increased advertising spend. The organization also took the initiative to push custom content to network affiliates in those markets (think: quick driver lead-ins and lead-outs, live talk-backs). “When you think about the current media environment, a lot of these outlets [that carry races] lack the manpower to produce [ads] that are unique and meaningful. NASCAR is sending them content that is plug and play and [the atypical approach is] bearing fruit [in the form of eyeballs. While] TV ratings across all sports were down -7% last year, [NASCAR] was up +6%. That’s a win for [the sport] and [its] media partners.”
Fan Marino: NASCAR is going to make changes to the schedule in 2021, but they’re going to come in the form of new venues or formats (i.e. more short tracks, road courses), not a shortening of the season. Phelps said “we have 36 points paying races and 2 exhibition races [this year] and [the schedule] will be exactly the same next year.”
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