NASCAR Drives Digital Transformation: From Gears And Grease To Millennials and eSports
Digital transformation – taking a traditional business to a modern digital business, is a core challenge of most non-technology, non-startup companies. I recent talked to Box CEO Aaron Levie about how his company is helping other companies transform. And I had the chance to chat with State Farm’s chief digital officer and CTO about 15 keys to successful digital transformation that they’ve learned throughout their journey.
“[Esports] is this really unique mix of sports culture and pop culture,” Cole said. “The difference in 2020 versus 1980 is that now it’s cool…I really think we’re at an exciting time where going forward you’ll see more unique activations.”
Last week I had the chance to do the same with Tim Clark, chief digital officer of NASCAR, and John Martin, who leads digital ops at one of America’s oldest and most-loved brands. They’re using data and AI via Adobe’s Experience Cloud to unify their customer data, customize experiences, and personalize messaging.
As a result, they’re bridging the physical and digital world, increasing fan engagement, and entering new markets like eSports and augmented reality.
Here’s what they shared:
John Koetsier: Let’s start at the beginning: what does NASCAR really sell?
Clark: It’s experiences. We are an entertainment product, and we are constantly looking for ways to create a great experience for our fans. At the top of the list is attending a race in person, but also with fantastic broadcast partners we can deliver that on broadcast media.
And we fill the rest in with digital media experiences.
John Koetsier: Why does NASCAR need to reinvent itself? And how are you doing it?
Clark: Prior to 2012 we outsourced the management of our digital platforms to Turner Sports. We brought those back in house and got up and running in 2013.
Since then, digital-based insights have permeated the company. We initially saw launching digital in NASCAR as one piece of the pie, but actually it touches everything.
We try to reinvent ourselves every year. We’re constantly trying to improve based on data and learning. We now have access to so much data and insights so we can pretty quickly tell what’s working and what’s not.
It’s an ongoing reinvention … there’s no finish line. And we’ll continue to evolve.
One of the most important parts of the transformation journey we’ve been going on for the last few years is that we’re getting smarter every year.
John Koetsier: Talk to me about the NASCAR demographic. From the outside, it would seem to be older. How are you reaching new fans while keeping existing fans?
Clark: It very much mirrors the demographics of the United States, actually. We’re really well in line with that.
But, we’re creating opportunities to reach younger audiences and newer audiences via augmented reality and esports … we’re looking for ways to reach fans where they are.
We don’t want to get too caught up in different tech platforms and whether they’ll scale, but it’s important for us to be where the fans are.
We have no illusions that augmented reality will reach a ton of people, but if there are fans that are completely new to the sport … we should be where they are and it’s incumbent on us to reach as broad an audience as possible. We certainly want to continue to serve our existing fans while also reaching new fans.
And we’re able to do that through data.
John Koetsier: Let’s talk about eSports. It’s super-hot right now, and you have major-league sports owners investing in eSports as well as gaming companies. What is NASCAR doing here?
Clark: We’re very, very excited about where we are with esports.
We have two primary eSports platforms: iRacing, which is a simulated racing product on PC, and console games. In terms of iRacing, there are drivers that are racing at the top level of the sport today and part of their journey has included iRacing.
Essentially, this game that is driving the next generation of NASCAR stars. NBC Sports Network broadcasts it live, and 17-year-old just won the championship. Funny story: there were media opportunities
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, but he was busy attending high school!
And we have a partnership with 704 Games to produce the Nascar console game. On the console side it’s more of a mass-market play.
Bow we’re able to reach fans where they are. We have team involvement. This is the first year of this league, but eSports will continue to be a bigger and bigger piece of our future.
John Koetsier: With all these changes, how is monetization changing for NASCAR?
Clark: We are obviously a sport that I would argue that is equipped to super-serve our advertising partners.
No other sport has as much visible sponsor involvement as ours, and brand loyalty among fans – based on their favorite drivers – is an incredible advantage. Our digital platforms are a great way to activate those sponsorships, and our partners want these more authentic brand experiences.
It’s not about a banner or clickable ad … it’s about authentic integration into the fan experience.
And the way we’ve managed through data to optimize that has been a huge benefit.
John Koetsier: You told me previously you were using AI. Where? What for?
Clark: One example that is top of mind is in our fantasy game that allows you to make in-race line-up changes. So we’re able to use AI to make real-time recommendations based on the data that the cars are generating in a live race to give fantasy users predictive data that says you might be better off moving a particular driver into your starting line-up.
John Koetsier: Nice ... I don’t think that’s possible in NFL
Fantasy Football. Talk to me about time to implement. How long it take to reach this point?
Martin (John Martin, who leads digital ops at NASCAR): The transformation has been more about our capabilities internally. When we first started this journey … the common mentality was that only big tech companies can do this stuff ... and you’ll never be able to it yourself.
That’s changed in the last decade. We do so much more internally, and we have so much more capability. Things that we would have been afraid to do before, we’re able to do now … with the help of technology partners.
John Koetsier: Talk to me about challenges? Surely this has not all been smooth sailing ...
Martin: The core failure is that we followed what other people were doing.
It wasn’t until we sat down with Adobe and talked about our sport and how it’s different that we were able to NASCAR-ize the technology.
John Koetsier: Talk to me about the business results your digital transformation is achieving.
Clark: Our marching orders are really clear: we focus on engagement.
Whether we’re serving 100 or 100 million users, we’re focused on improving the experience and deepening the engagement. One of the results is that of all of the US-based sports league websites (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) we have a consumption rate that is higher, exceeding four pages per visit.
We can create engaging experiences to keep fans and users coming back, and that’s great for us and great for our partners.
What’s happening now is that we’re reaching the right audience with the right message at the right time ... we’ve really stepped on the gas in the last year with that.
We can certainly fall in love with big numbers and sending one consistent message to tens of millions of people, but where we find more effectiveness is targeting specific messages to specific people.
To do that, we have to be hyper-focused on using our data.
John Koetsier: Thank you both for your time!