Big Data and Social Media Help NASCAR Lap the Competition

In 2009, NASCAR was in an unenviable spot. The economic recession, a changing media landscape and several other factors crashed down simultaneously on the racing company. “Rising fuel prices hit our fans badly,” explained Sean Daugherty, the company’s Director of Digital and Social Media Engagement. “Our fans travel more than 100 miles on average to attend our races, so increases in fuel prices have a direct impact on race attendance.”

This is how Daugherty opened his portion of a recent webinar titled How NASCAR is Using Social Media to Deliver a Dynamic and Engaging Fan Experience. The presentation was held in collaboration with HP, the company’s partner for much of the hardware and software its Marketing Communications department uses today.

Fast forward to 2014, and NASCAR is in a much better position. Race viewership is at an all-time high, the largest media deal in the sport’s history is in place through 2024, and pillar partner companies are renewing to long term agreements. So what happened? According to Daugherty: unprecedented research, a large investment in technology and a dedication to using live data and social media to offer fans a more engaging experience. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how the company is doing just that.

Fan and Media Engagement Center

Fan and Media Engagement Center

NASCAR has developed a technology “headquarters” unlike anything else in sports or entertainment. Unveiled in Charlotte, the Fan and Media Engagement Center is a 500-square foot room with several 46” HD screens and three workstations. This hardware, and the HP “analytics engine” that supports it, allow the company to track and better understand the conversations trending across social, traditional and broadcast media that impact their industry. They then leverage that information to provide live updates to the team on the ground during each race and distribute detailed and customized analytic reports to key stakeholders after the checkered flag waves. These groups include its teams, tracks and partners.

Nascar Big Data

Live Interaction and Engagement

Just as important as their impressive infrastructure and software are the creative ways NASCAR uses its gained insights to drive an engaging, memorable experience for fans and viewers. During all races in NASCAR’s 3 national series, the Fan and Media Engagement Center is bustling. A team watches a live broadcast of the race and engages fans by answering questions and live tweeting from the official NASCAR social media handles. They keep an eye on live trending topics and fan sentiment during the race, dive deeper into topics that gain traction and relay insights to teams and drivers’ social media managers so they can live tweet and post on Facebook more effectively throughout and after each race.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Another impressive benefit of harnessing real-time clustered data is the ability to recognize when mistakes are made or negative comments are being shared. For example, during their most recent All-Star race, which is an exhibition race where drivers are re-ordered based upon fan voting and fan rules, a broadcast graphic was aired displaying the driver order incorrectly. “Even though the cars were in the correct running order on the track, it seemed like the wrong driver ended up winning the race,” recalled Daugherty.

Fans reacted negatively and reporters portrayed it as a big deal saying NASCAR had a firestorm on its hands. “Well we went back and analyzed the data and found that the issue was only 3 percent of the overall conversation around the race at that time,” Daugherty shared. “So, what the media portrayed as a firestorm was really just a blip on the radar and in an instance where we may have continued to issue a statement and extend that news cycle, we were able to, in this case…take no action and not extend that news cycle and let our broadcast partner handle that response.”

How Can Your Company Reap Similar Benefits?

Data collection, analytics and social media are driving value for companies across all industries and specialties, not just motorsports racing. If you’re interested in learning how the proper mix of marketing, analytics and cloud solution services can help your company win big, spend a few minutes browsing our website or contact us directly to discuss your unique business model and requirements.