How NASCAR Is Engaging With Younger And More Diverse Racing Aficionados

On the eve of last weekend’s Daytona 500, NASCAR CMO Jill Gregory spoke to CMO by Adobe about how the brand is finding creative ways to let fans immerse themselves into the race experience.

How NASCAR Is Engaging With Younger And More Diverse Racing Aficionados

by Giselle Abramovich

Posted on 02-07-2020

This Sunday, February 16, will mark the beginning of auto racing season for NASCAR enthusiasts, when 40 drivers get into their cars at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, for a 500-mile-long NASCAR Cup Series called The Daytona 500.

While The Daytona 500 is the first competition of 36 races for the season, it is undoubtedly the most important and prestigious race on the NASCAR schedule, and that’s precisely why the association launched a new campaign to drive viewership of the event.

In this exclusive interview with CMO by Adobe, NASCAR CMO Jill Gregory talks about the new campaign (video below) and how NASCAR is trying to engage with a younger and much more diverse fanbase.

No doubt NASCAR fans are passionate about stock car racing. Can you tell me more about them?

One of our points of differentiation has always been the passion and loyalty of our fans. Almost 70% of them consciously support NASCAR sponsors. We also have an increasingly diverse set of fans, with the biggest growth coming from a younger audience. About 40% of our fanbase is women, and we’ve got the highest amount of female TV viewers per event of any U.S. sport other than the NFL. Our percentage of multicultural fans is growing, too, and that’s an effort we’ve been very deliberate about.

The biggest benefit that we have is that our fans are highly engaged, and they are very vocal about things we should or should not be doing. We embrace that because it means they care. They’re weighing in on competition changes, partnerships, driver relationships, and more. They’re watching us on television, but they are highly engaged in our digital and social channels as well.

How are you meeting them in digital channels?

We are focused on finding creative ways to let our fans immerse themselves into the race experience and feel like they are a part of it. For example, we are pushing NASCAR content into multiple channels and platforms including, the mobile app, YouTube, Instagram, and the list goes on. We just recently launched on TikTok and already NASCAR has surpassed 100,000 followers and more than a million likes.

Obviously we’ve got a great race product that is televised and consumed by millions of fans every Sunday, but we have been laser focused on how to break that up and deliver bite-sized content throughout the week leading up to race weekends. We built a social media studio in Charlotte where we produce weekly shows that break down the races afterward with highlights and preview upcoming events—all exclusive content for our social channels. We are also committed to building the personal brands of our drivers, which we find gives fans a reason to watch.

We’re also trying to put NASCAR into unexpected places. So we’ve got an entertainment group out in Los Angeles that places drivers or NASCAR content into different entertainment venues. For example, Netflix is filming a new NASCAR-themed comedy series called “The Crew,” which stars Kevin James and will feature cameos by a number of drivers.

You mentioned immersing fans into your content. What emerging technologies are you looking at or experimenting with at the moment to do that?

There are several things we are doing. We’ve placed live, 360-degree cameras into cars, which fans can manipulate on the NASCAR Mobile app, to show viewers what drivers see when they are in a race. It has been a great way to showcase the scale and speed of what we do.

We have sponsorable activities that our partners like Coca-Cola and Goodyear have participated in, helping us create augmented reality experiences to help fans more closely experience the NASCAR brand as well as interact with the sponsors themselves, right on our digital platform.

Finally, sports betting and gaming is an important, new engagement tool for us as well. We know that if fans are engaged with our product through sports betting, they are more likely to align with us and follow the action more closely. So we have a number of ways for fans to participate and experience NASCAR through gaming experiences. Penn National Gaming was recently announced as NASCAR’s first gaming operator and launched a new, free-to-play game where one fan will win a $50,000 jackpot every NASCAR Cup Series race.

We’re fully invested in alternative ways to consume the sport. We obviously have our core race experience that happens each and every week, but if you can’t make it out to the track, we’ve got many ways for you to put yourself into the action of NASCAR, either from the comfort of your own home or from the convenience of your smartphone.

The Daytona 500 is this weekend. What can fans expect?

It’s our biggest event and kicks off the season. To celebrate that, we launched a new creative campaign last week, and if you watched the Super Bowl, you probably saw a ton of NASCAR promotional activity there. The ad campaign is called “I Am NASCAR” and includes really exciting, high-energy television creative, and also lives on our digital and social channels. So far the content has been pushing audiences toward this big date that’s circled on the calendar, February 16, Daytona 500 race day.

We wanted to create a campaign that celebrates everything and everyone that makes NASCAR unique, while leaning heavily into the great racing that fans have come to expect. It’s all there—the soul, the grit, and the aspiration and emotion that is NASCAR.

What are your team’s big bets over the course of the next 12 to 18 months?

In 2020 and beyond, we will continue to focus on finding new platforms and new ways to engage with our fanbase. Our philosophy is to always be peering into the future and ready to embrace new technologies, digital innovations, and social platforms if they can help us enhance the fan experience. We’ve found that our drivers are really great vehicles for delivering NASCAR content. They have larger-than-life personalities, and they’re competing at 200 miles per hour each and every week. Fans want to know what makes them tick, why they race, what’s their back story, and that storytelling component will be prominent in our marketing efforts this year. It’s what makes NASCAR unique, and it’s why we put our drivers front and center.

Talk to me about where you are in your digital transformation journey and what’s next.

Our transformation started several years ago when we took our digital rights in house, relaunched, and built out an entire suite of digital products and experiences. Today we’re at the point where we can use all of the data associated with NASCAR’s digital platform and everything we know about fan behavior to deliver personalized NASCAR messaging and experiences to those fans.

We are trying to make the right decisions—not emotional decisions—but decisions based on what the data shows us will resonate and leverage that understanding and those insights to bring fans closer to the sport they love.

What was your proudest moment or initiative from 2019, and what would you say you and your team learned from it?

The 2019 race season was a great year for NASCAR. What was gratifying was that we revamped the marketing strategy, using data and insights to drive decisions in a more robust and strategic way than ever before. As I’ve mentioned, research and insights are so important to so many areas of our sport. We’re also using data to drive decision-making around our core product on the racetrack, when we make competition changes, or schedule changes.

From a marketing and fan engagement standpoint, the entire 2019 plan was very data-driven and informed by new fan segmentation research as well as insights derived from NASCAR’s 20,000-member fan council. And the fact that we saw the results that we wanted, we had the success that we thought we would have, that really made us all very proud. We set out to generate momentum as a sport and stabilize some important metrics, and we did that.

Looking back on your career, what advice would you give your younger self?

Be more confident and ask more questions. Be curious and set out to learn as much as you can along the way. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to have and share a point of view.

And if you weren’t a marketer, what would you be doing?

As a California native I’d go be a winemaker in the Napa Valley.

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