NASCAR brings ad sales in-house in 2017; engages fans with digital strategy

NASCAR is curating the digital conversation around racing / Courtesy of NASCAR

NASCAR will take it ad sales in-house in January, ending a relationship with Turner Sports that started in the early 2000s. Coupled with NASCAR heading to Las Vegas for the Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week, where the best drivers and thousands of fans will head for some heady racing action, the professional league is in for some excitement over the next few months. As the sales team works to hit the ground running and build up NASCAR’s partnerships and branded content creation in 2017, the digital media team, which was created in 2012, looks to continue to push a social first mentality around racing content that is engaging and exciting.

A cohesive NASCAR sales strategy

With sales now in-house, NASCAR is working on the sales processes headed by Jon Tuck, formerly at the Sports Illustrated Media Group, to lead the NASCAR-driven sales initiatives as the chief revenue officer starting in 2017.

“The digital front end sales, the relationships with the buying community will come over into our court. As well as the ad revenue operations to support that,” said Colin Smith, vice president, NASCAR Digital Media. “By bringing these rights back in-house, not only are we a part of the conversation, but we are actually originating the conversation with the buyers and working to promote things we want to promote.”

Smith noted that there are a lot of conversations happening now around gaming, virtual reality and VOD but noting the broadcast rights makes some of these potential relationships more difficult.

NASCAR Digital Media's sprint to building a team

On the digital side, what started as a relationship that began with Turner Sports running both their sales and digital content operations, evolved to NASCAR taking over their digital rights and the responsibility for content in 2012. Building a team of 50 from scratch in a little less than four months, NASCAR Digital Media inched its way to creating content around the races, the drivers, the teams and more.

“[Turner] was a fantastic partner. Obviously a very capable, knowledgeable, viable, strong digital player in the marketplace,” Smith said. “They brought everything back [in-house] except the digital ad sales component. Turner kept that for four more years through 2016. [When] we were launching in January 2013, it was a pretty accelerated build out and timetable. We had to launch for the 'Super Bowl' of our sport, at the Daytona 500, in the third weekend of February. We got everything up and running but it was a long week. On the day of the Daytona 500, we had about five million come through the platform that weekend alone.”

That team has drastically built out the digital NASCAR offerings ranging from a mobile experience that has live leaderboards, live in-car cameras and a 3D virtualized race experience in raceview, to a windows option that includes real time news and video, exclusive driver data and social media feeds.

“First and foremost, is fan experience. We have to make sure we have a good user experience and a great fan engagement strategy built around our live race day products because that’s where we get most of our traffic. Once we put cars on the track Friday through Sunday, that’s where our traffic spikes,” Smith said. “The second thing is our industry support — whether it was the tracks, teams, drivers, fan, you name it — making sure we were doing things like helping promote ticket sales and getting exposure across digital platforms for [new] drivers, for example.”

NASCAR Digital makes up about two-thirds of all NASCAR-related views online, with the remaining split among FOXSports.com, NBCSports.com, Yahoo! Sports, ESPN.com and others

“We have about two-thirds market share of the digital conversation that is happening online around racing,” Smith said. “If you’re not part of NASCAR Digital and activating there, you are not talking to a big part of that audience.”

Social first mentality around racing

In September, as a part of NASCAR’s broader strategy that involves different digital and social platforms, the league announced that NASCAR drivers competing in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will display their personal Twitter handles on their respective car windshields during the first three-race round of #TheChase, NASCAR and Twitter The league also unveiled a racing-themed emoji for Twitter available with #TheChase tweets for the 10 weeks of the postseason.

According to Jill Gregory, senior vice president and CMO of NASCAR, social media is at the forefront of the league’s strategy. She noted that it’s all about driving consumption on different platforms, from NASCAR.com to Snapchat Discover, during the most exciting moments during the year.

“We made the decision … that we have to start curating [the social media] environment a little bit better. We started publishing some content natively, onto Facebook and Twitter, we created a new relationship with Snapchat, all of these different things," Smith said.

Over the past few years, NASCAR has shifted its thinking to be digital and social first instead of focusing only on big TV spots to promote events. A prime example is with the NASCAR Goes West campaign where they created digital content that brought social influencers together with NASCAR drivers around the three races in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana, California. NASCAR chose to bring in Whistle Sports, a sports network that is engaging millennials via social media, to help create the content that partnered social influencers such as soccer freestyler Indi Cowie and billiards wizard Venom Trickshots with NASCAR drivers to create digital content around the three stops.

“We have this really great opportunity with three races happening together on the West Coast, a lot of momentum coming out of Atlanta and Daytona in the first part of the season,” Smith said. “[We thought] 'Let’s go ahead and create a brand platform around NASCAR Goes West.' NASCAR Goes West, especially with the Whistle Sports partnership. Whistle Sports automatically checked off social platforms and a younger demographic that we were going to reach through their audience network. We were able to integrate a lot of our young drivers. We were able to do some really cool activations with all of those groups at the tracks to help them have conversations around the races.”

Expanding racing partnerships

In its effort to continue to grow the sport digitally, NASCAR Digital Media has its sights set on the individual teams as well. Starting with Richard Childress Racing (RCR), NASCAR Digital Media helped design and create the organization’s new website, rcrracing.com, which will be officially rolled out in early 2017.

"Our digital efforts have become a major focus for RCR and many of our partners over the past few years," said Ben Schlosser, CMO of RCR, in a statement. "We needed a contemporary website which allows us to fully showcase engaging content for our fans and partners. RCR looked at a number of qualified digital providers and chose NDM because of their proven approach and the compelling opportunities to collaborate on content. We understand that NDM is discussing similar projects with other race teams and we’re proud to be the leader in the effort."

In addition to Richard Childress Racing to build out its digital, NASCAR Digital Media will also create a new website for Iowa Speedway, as well as a few others to be announced in 2017.

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