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Inside the Formation of NASCAR’s Analytics and Insights Department

Using quantitative research and social media data together is an example of the new holistic approach NASCAR is taking under Norris Scott’s leadership.

Kraig Doremus

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In 2016, NASCAR took a major step in its ability to leverage data and make informed decisions within the sport through the creation of its analytics and insights group. Vice President Norris Scott worked to create an integrated team that serves not only NASCAR, but teams, tracks, and NASCAR’s official sponsors through the use of data.

“It was a big moment for NASCAR when we created this team,” said Scott. “It was a signal of our commitment to elevate the role of data in our sport.”

The Formation and Basics

Previously, there were four to five different groups of employees servicing various aspects of the sport while managing data. One group might focus on television, while another handled social media metrics and engagement, and another measured digital media.

“We integrated vital research functions, staff, and tools,” said Scott. “It’s been a great move, and one of the biggest benefits is that it gets everyone talking and engaging with each other. Today’s sports fan is following sports so differently than yesterday, and our team now reflects that. Each week we are talking about TV viewership, digital page views, fantasy game usage, streaming usage, social media engagement, race driver likeability, and fan sentiment. It all connects. It’s important that we are able to work together to understand our audience in this way.”

Performance-Based Sponsorships

In addition to looking at social and digital engagement, Scott and the analytics group serve several of NASCAR’s official sponsors. While there are a variety of ways that the group has done work for partners, one of the most unique examples is with Anheuser-Busch and the Busch Pole Award.

READ MORE: How NASCAR Stays Up to Speed in the Ever-Changing Digital Space

Anheuser-Busch moved towards a performance-based sponsorship, which creates a true partnership between the two groups and eliminates the “one-size-fits-all” sponsorship approach.

“With Anheuser-Busch, we agreed on data used to measure the sponsorship, whether it was awareness or social metrics, and we share that data with each other,” said Scott. “We have seen some NASCAR sponsors receive 4-1 and even 10-1 return on investment. The data supports it. That’s why we have more Fortune 100 brands in our sport than other sports.”

Proud Moment: The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway

For Scott, one of the proudest moments of his time as vice president of the analytics and insights department came this fall when instead of a traditional 500-mile race on the 1.5-mile oval, the Roval debuted during Charlotte Motor Speedway’s playoff race weekend.

“The Roval is a great example of a stakeholder using data to drive results, ” said Scott. “We knew that it would be a big change and the track would be different from anything we’d ever seen. One of the attributes we studied was the fact that it would be unpredictable. Fans thrive on unpredictability, and our research helped us understand that.”

Scott and his team worked with both the track and its parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc., to geo-target fans in the Charlotte, N.C. area. The group used its proprietary Fan Council community and looked at fans who attend races each year and “lapsed” fans who had not been to the track in recent years.

“We quickly found out that many lapsed fans were curious about the Roval, and we knew it could bring them back to the track,” said Scott. “We also knew that some fans were “oval purists,” so we had to figure out a way to sell them on the concept.”

Scott and crew then worked with Charlotte Motor Speedway’s customer relations management (CRM) software to be able to talk to fans. The initial goal was to validate the prior research and then begin to further flesh out some concepts with fans who had been attending races at Charlotte for several years in a row.

“A number of fans liked the concept because of the unpredictability it would bring in the playoffs,” said Scott. “Beyond that, the Roval was perceived as innovative, and fans knew that it would be memory making. We were able to identify those attributes and advise the speedway based on our findings.”

Scott’s team was also able to use historical social media data to understand fan sentiment around oval tracks versus road courses and share that with the speedway. Using qualitative, quantitative research and social media data together is an example of the new holistic approach NASCAR is taking under Scott’s leadership.

“That data really help us engage in a meaningful way with fans and get their interest piqued about the Roval – the data was actionable,” Scott noted. “We were able to deliver that to Charlotte Motor Speedway. The best part of everything was the results. We saw an increase in both new fans and lapsed fans return to the track. The biggest takeaway is that research is incredibly important. We were able to help deliver results because of our insights.”

Fan and Media Engagement Center

Through the Fan and Media Engagement Center, the analytics and insights department is able to use modern technology and track trending topics and benchmarks, in addition to a host of other data points.

“The FMEC is a great example of NASCAR using technology,” said Scott. “We use it on a daily basis and will track nearly 2.6  billion impressions per year. We are ingesting more third-party data into the center and can look at minute-by-minute data on race consumption.”

One of the best ways that the department stays up to date on trending topics and what’s hot on social and digital media is through a live look at what’s happening on the track. Whether it’s a big wreck or a photo finish, the department can plot what happened on the track at a certain point and look for a spike in engagement on social media and increased television viewership based on what happened.

WATCH: Inside Toyota’s Massive Daytona Activation

Conviva Social Insights, run by Nick Cicero, is one of the partners that helps NASCAR ingest data. For example, if it’s a video of reigning NASCAR champion Joey Logano, the platform Conviva provides can analyze further and show how many viewers were from Logano’s home state of Connecticut.

“The tools and data partnerships we have are vital to our success,” said Scott. “We have a great relationship with Conviva Social Insights. They deliver a great resource for us. Whether it be engagement rates or other metrics, they play an important role in what we do.”

Scott knows that it’s a process to continually improve and strive for the best. While the department has had a great start in its youth, he refuses to be complacent.

“Research departments get stereotyped as passive and just reporting on what happened,” said Scott. “We want to redefine how data is used at NASCAR and elevate it to the forefront of every decision. With the right data and a smart insights team, we unlock the power of the fans — 80 million NASCAR fans — that are the lifeblood of our sport.”

Kraig Doremus is a content writer for Front Office Sports with a focus on NASCAR. He holds a B.S. in Sport Studies from Reinhardt University and is currently pursuing his M.A in Sport Education from Gardner-Webb University. He can be reached at kraig@frntofficesport.com

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Meet the WNBA’s New Boss

Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert will become the first commissioner of the WNBA and the first woman to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

Front Office Sports

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

For the first time ever, the WNBA will have a commissioner. Before now, all of the league’s previous leaders like Val Ackerman and Lisa Borders were given the title of president. 

Cathy Engelbert, the current CEO of Deloitte, will take control of the role on July 17th and will report directly to Adam Silver. 

What should you know?

1. By the time she is done at Deloitte, Engelbert will have spent more time at the company (33 years) than the WNBA has been a league (23 years)

2. Engelbert is the first female to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

3. She is the fifth person to lead the league after Val Ackerman (1997-2005), Donna Orender (2005-10), Laurel Richie (2011-15) and Lisa Borders (2016-2018)

4. Engelbert has spent the past four years in charge of Deloitte’s U.S. operation.

Basketball is in her blood…

Although she might be an accountant by trade, Engelbert is no stranger to the game of basketball. 

According to Bob Hille of Sporting News, she played at Lehigh for Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw and was a team captain as a senior. Her father Kurt also played and was drafted in 1957 by the Pistons.

What are they saying?

“Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth. The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.” – Adam Silver on the hiring of Engelbert

“I think that’s probably one of the reasons I was selected for this role, to come in and bring a business plan to build the WNBA into a real business and a thriving business, quite frankly.” – Engelbert to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel

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Adam Silver Wants More Gender Diversity

The NBA commissioner states his desire to get more women into the sports industry. The NBA currently has a 31.6 percent ratio of women in team management.

Front Office Sports

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Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

If Adam Silver has his way, 50 percent of the new incoming NBA officials will be women.

That number applies to coaches too, Silver said speaking at the Economic Club of Washington.

How do the leagues stack up?

The following numbers, outside of MLB, come from 2018 reports put together by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. MLB is the first league to have a report done on it this year.

1. NBA – 31.6% of team management are women / 37.2% of team professional admins are women

2. NFL – 22.1% of team senior admins are women / 35% of team professional admins are women

3. MLB – 28.6% of team senior admins are women / 26% of team professional admins are women

4. MLS – 26.5% of team senior admins are women / 31.6% of team professional admins are women

5. WNBA – 48.6% of team VPs and above are women / 58% of team managers to senior directors are women

6. NHL – No report done

Quotes from Silver… 

“It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing.”

“The goal is going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league. Same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

That’s not all Silver wants to see change…

Silver, who has been adamant about getting rid of the one-and-done rule, provided some clarity as to when that might be achieved.

According to the commissioner, the 2022 NBA Draft will likely be the first one since the 2005 NBA Draft to allow high school players to go straight into the league rather than playing a season in college first.

Citing “active discussions” with the NBPA, Silver noted that they are still “a few years away.”

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“I Thought This Was a Good Deal”: AAF Vendors Speak Out

Amidst the spring football league’s collapse, countless vendors are still waiting to get paid for services rendered.

Robert Silverman

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Ultimately, it was the little things that best told the story of how dire things had gotten for the Alliance of American Football (AAF), an ex-team social media manager said. Starting in Week Five, social media managers no longer traveled with the team for road games. Even before, they’d doubled up on hotel rooms. The final bit of penny-pinching was the most bizarre: For the eighth and final AAF game, social was told Getty’s photographers would not be in attendance. Instead they would have to rely on “generic images,” making the job vastly more difficult.

Less than a week later, on April 2, the chaotic, short-lived lifespan of the spring professional football league, launched in March 2018 by filmmaker Charlie Ebersol, the son of venerated TV producer Dick Ebersol, came to an abrupt end. A little over two weeks after that, the AAF filed for bankruptcy, as first reported by Front Office Sports.

In the aftermath, stories like the social media manager’s have become ubiquitous. A  former player was sent a medical bill for treatment received during training camp. Scores of others reportedly had to cover their own airfare or were sent four-figure bills for hotel rooms. There was the class-action lawsuit filed by two players, claiming that ownership misled them about the league’s long-term fiscal solvency. Founders pointed fingers at one another after the debt-ridden league came crashing down. All manner of now ex-employees, from team officials to players,  learned they were out of a job thanks to social media.

The league’s bankruptcy filing revealed that $48.3 million was still owed to a variety of creditors against a $11.3 million in concrete assets, a scant $536,160.68 of which remained in the league’s bank accounts. Moreover, the AAF informed the thousands of creditors that any attempts to recoup their losses would be pointless right now, because, per Sports Business Journal, its coffers are entirely bare… “If it later appears that assets are available to pay creditors, the clerk will send you another notice telling you that you may file a proof of claim and stating the deadline,” the filing states.

But like the social media manager, many of those selfsame creditors began to suspect the AAF was on rocky financial ground long before the league officially pulled the plug.

Shortly after Tom Dundon, the majority owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, who built his financial empire on the backs of subprime auto loans, bought a majority share of the financially-strapped league, he started to cut corners, looking to pare down expenses by any means necessary according to a report by Sports Illustrated. “As soon as Dundon took over, our f——— expense reports were getting approved out of Dallas,” where Dundon Capital Partners’ office is located, a former mid-level AAF employee told the magazine. (Dundon did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent via the Carolina Hurricanes. The form to contact Dundon Capital Partners on their website was removed at some point in the past few months )

With the AAF bleeding millions each and every week it remained in existence, per USA Today, Dundon deemed it necessary to scrimp and save wherever possible including on the margins. So vendors—companies that supplied locker room supplies, traveling equipment and more—were approached hat in hand and offered less than the full amount owed by the AAF.

READ MORE: AAF Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy 

While AAF officials served as the point of contact, two sources involved with the negotiations told Front Office Sports that the debt-clearing plan was conceived and ordered by Dundon’s financial team. If that meant exploiting AAF officials’ pre-existing relationships with vendors and playing on the faith placed in the league, so be it. As one former AAF official told Front Office Sports, it was “just a shit situation.”

Some of the companies did take the lowball offers, but others refused to accept less, insisting on full payment. It didn’t matter. Both paths led to vendors getting stiffed by the AAF. Dundon’s financial team kept stalling, promising the equivalent of “the check’s in the mail,” right up until the moment when the AAF closed its doors for good.

Now those vendors have been reduced to poring over the bankruptcy filings. They know all too well that, despite being out five or six figures, they’re way at the back of the line, trailing giant conglomerates like MGM and Aramark which are owed millions. And they’re not happy about it.

“I definitely feel scammed,” one vendor said.

(more…)

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