This article is part of CMO.com’s March/April series about emerging technology. Click here for more.
NASCAR is on an exciting course to woo younger generations of car-racing fans.
Indeed, other sporting leagues are on a similar track as they compete for Millennial time and attention. But according to Tim Clark, vice president of digital media at NASCAR, his company has figured out the secret to appealing to youngsters: emerging technology.
“Much like other brands and certainly other sporting leagues, we’d always like to reach younger demographics,” said Clark, in an exclusive interview with CMO.com. “Emerging technology is one way for us to do that. The scale of a NASCAR race is something that you truly can’t appreciate unless you’re there. But for the first time, emerging technology is allowing fans to experience the race through a more immersive experience, so that it’s almost as if they are at the race.”
NASCAR is focusing its efforts on three categories of emerging technology: virtual reality/360-video, augmented reality, and voice. Below, we take a deep dive into each.
NASCAR has created content in both live and on-demand virtual reality and 360-degree video.
“Before emerging technology like VR and 360-degree video, getting people to a track was the single opportunity to fully appreciate a NASCAR event,” Clark told CMO.com. “I think we still agree that that’s the case, and the ultimate goal is to have NASCAR fans experience races in person. However, virtual reality and 360-degree video is probably the next best thing.”
As an example, fans were able to experience the NASCAR Championship in Miami via virtual reality. Before the race, the brand livestreamed the pre-race drivers meeting. There was also a 360-video tour of the NASCAR garage, where users could see cars up close and from different angles. This 360-degree access was made available on the NASCAR website, through its mobile app, and on Facebook and YouTube as well.
In the future, Clark said he expects the brand will place 360-degree cameras into the actual race cars to allow fans to experience the driver’s point of vision in a match.
“I think it’s fair to say that that’s where we’re headed,” Clark said. “We believe that would be a tremendous experience for fans to see. It’s one thing to see cars going 200 miles an hour, but to be able to see how close they are to the wall, to see how close they are to the driver next to them, or the car in front of them and behind them, that’s really where we’d like to be.”
NASCAR debuted the sport’s first AR experience at this year’s Daytona 500, allowing fans to position race-themed items such as driver helmets and Goodyear racing tires within their camera frames and share the images with friends on social media. The experience was deployed via NASCAR’s mobile app, which, in itself, was driven by a two-pronged strategy, according to Clark. The first was to take the size and scope of the event and put it into a more easily consumed format. The second, he said, was to get fans engaged by encouraging them to create and share great content.
“What we found was this use of augmented reality turned out to be a great vehicle for encouraging fans to download the NASCAR app,” Clark said.
The AR experience for the Daytona 500—which fans were again treated to at last month’s race—is only the beginning. In the future, Clark said, NASCAR plans to let fans use augmented reality to place a race car into their environments.
“We think being able to interact with a race car on your coffee table or your desk is just a whole different sense of the scale of what this sport is,” Clark said. “Giving fans the access to look at the inside of the race car that Austin Dillon drove to win the Daytona 500 gives us the ability to engage fans on their turf, so to speak.”
As part of the company’s desire to make the sport available anywhere that fans are, NASCAR has been experimenting with Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, as well as with Google’s Home device, Clark said.
Using Alexa, for example, fans can ask questions related to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, including gathering details on live-race information (driver position, broadcast date/time) and previous race information (winner/top five). Users can also listen to NASCAR’s “Glass Case of Emotion” weekly podcast featuring driver Ryan Blaney and co-hosts Kim Coon and Chuck Bush. Also available via Alexa is NASCAR’s Flash Briefing, which is a news update every Monday with a recap of the previous race.
“As voice assistants become more popular and people are using those with more frequency, I think we feel like it’s our responsibility to have a presence on those platforms,” Clark said. “For us it’s a future bet, so to speak. It’s an investment we are making based on where we think this platform could go. There’s a lot of discussion of voice being more available in cars and even in hotel rooms. We feel that we need to be on these platforms and evaluate the growth opportunities so that, as these platforms grow, we can grow along with them.”
Clark said he sees a future where NASCAR broadcasts race car audio to fans via voice assistant technology. For example, “As [drivers] Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are communicating with their crew chiefs and their spotters during the course of the race, we’d like to bring that to those voice platforms as well because I think that would be another unique experience you can only get from NASCAR,” Clark said.
NASCAR is constantly paying close attention to new and emerging technologies, he added. His advice for other brands trying to identify which emerging tech is right for them: “Pay attention to the size of your audience on various platforms [because] you need content natively where your fans want to consume it.”
“If we feel like the audience is growing on voice platforms, and we've got content that we feel would be valuable on those platforms, then that’s going to become a higher priority for us,” Clark explained. “And I think that’s why we are so bullish on VR, AR, 360-video, and voice. We felt like our audience is already on these platforms, and we had valuable content that would work on those platforms.”