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

Under Tim Clark’s leadership, NASCAR Digital Media team has rolled out multiple new initiatives since the NASCAR playoffs began.

Kraig Doremus

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Tim Clark and his team at NASCAR Digital Media understand the importance of engaging fans and keeping up with the latest trends in digital media and technology.

Recently, they took advantage of new technology and made a move into using Augmented Reality and 360-degree video. The NASCAR Playoffs AR Experience was something that they experimented with during the 2017 season and pulled the trigger on for the 10-week playoffs in 2018.

“It’s been something that we have been keeping an eye on,” said Clark, vice president of NASCAR Digital Media. “We experimented with it last year, had it on the roadmap, and tossed around a few ideas for execution. We looked at the fan experience and how to involve our partners.”

The augmented reality experience isn’t just known as the NASCAR Playoffs AR Experience; the words ‘Refreshed by Coca-Cola’ play an important role, as NASCAR’s digital sales team was able to engage longstanding NASCAR partner Coca-Cola.

“It’s an ongoing conversation compared to a pitch,” Clark said. “The folks at Coca-Cola challenged us to provide unique opportunities to activate their NASCAR partnership. The AR partnership checked boxes and got things done for various stakeholders.”

What amazes Clark is how quickly the concept came together.

“We had the concept early in the summer, were able to take it to Coca-Cola during the summer months, and get things cemented right around late August, near playoff time.”

WATCH: Inside Toyota’s Massive Daytona Activation

One of the most unique things about the chance to experience AR is that anyone with a smartphone can do it. Fans simply place a 3D Coca-Cola can in their environment, which creates a superimposed portal into all the intensity surrounding the NASCAR playoffs action.

“I knew that we were on to something when we could test the demo with everyone from ages seven to 70,” Clark said. “That’s not an exaggeration. All you need is a phone and a NASCAR mobile app. We put a demo video together to show fans how to get the most out of it. It’s a great experience, and we’ve gotten great feedback. We’ve been updating content weekly as we go through the playoffs.”

Fans walk through the portal and are able to experience a number of cool moments that can’t actually be done at the track with just a typical ticket or even pit pass. They can see team celebrations, pitstops, victory lane celebrations, burnouts and more, thanks to the AR Experience.

“Around the Roval event at Charlotte, fans engaging with the NASCAR Playoffs AR Experience Refreshed by Coca-Cola were on a pit wall during a pit stop for Austin Dillon’s team,” Clark said. “The goal is to use this technology to put fans somewhere they can’t really access. You can put a camera somewhere and gather content from somewhere they can’t access.”

In addition to augmented reality, Clark and his crew also experimented with 360-degree video and succeeded beyond their expectations, allowing fans to see Ryan Blaney’s last-lap pass for the win at the inaugural Roval event at Charlotte Motor Speedway from a 360-degree perspective.

“I’m more excited about this than anything else we’ve done over the last few years,” Clark said. “We have a phenomenal team at NASCAR Productions that help us tackle a host of challenges associated with video — ranging from weight of the camera, to how it’s going to sit in the car, and the battery life. We were thrilled to get Blaney’s pass executed live.”

Blaney’s pass allowed the NDM team to launch yet another new type of activation, but Clark knows that in the digital space, patience is key.

“We have to be patient from an activation standpoint,” he said. “It’s a new and unknown commodity. We want to make sure fans are aware, but it’s new and we’re still learning and evolving. That will continue, especially as we get more comfortable and the technology gets stable.”

What’s next for Clark and his team? Only time will tell, but the ideas are neverending.

“We’re always looking for new ideas and have some cool stuff up our sleeves as the season wraps up,” Clark said. “It’s all possible thanks to the great team and partners we have. It’s been great to see the fans’ reaction to everything, and we’re going to keep creating great content.”

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

Digital Media

Inside the Huddle: Talking Paid Social with Angela Welchert

For Angela Welchert, a social media partnerships lead at IBM, paid social has become an intregral part of her job and the company’s overall strategy.

Front Office Sports

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On February 22, a handful of digital media professionals from across the industry will converge on New York City for the first in our Huddle Series. Participants will get the chance to learn from these speakers and grow their knowledge of five specific areas within digital media: paid social, content distribution, platform strategy, monetizing social media, and vertical content.

In the buildup to the event, we’ll be introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise. Today, we begin with Angela Welchert, a social media partnerships lead at IBM. She will be one of the leaders of the huddle “Pay to Play: Executing Better Paid Social Campaigns”.

Welchert describes herself as a professional who does her best work focusing on the bigger picture.

“I like to focus on looking at the grander scheme and really drilling down into opportunities that are executable,” Welchert stated. “Throughout my career, I’ve heavily contributed to driving forward social presence for companies and organizations.  Now leading paid partnerships for IBM, I’m focused on identifying opportunities for us to really optimize social.”

Welchert also describes her current role with IBM as the highlight of her career. Prior to landing that job, Welchert graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she studied business administration and marketing.

Before moving to New York, Welchert jumped into the world of social marketing at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota as a social media strategy consultant. In 2011, Welchert migrated to the Big Apple to become the director of social media at Berkeley College before joining IBM in 2014 as its global social business manager. In 2018, she was promoted to the social media partnerships lead.

“In the first six months or so that I’ve been in this role,” Welchert remarked, “I’ve spent a large portion of my time reevaluating how we’re executing and strategizing when it comes to paid social, which is a very heavy investment for IBM. I pride myself on bringing a multidisciplinary attack to the way we’re approaching paid social.”

Over the course of her career to date, Welchert has become very conscious of the multi-faceted nature of social media marketing. In order for other young professionals to find success in the field and specifically in paid social, she recommends that they do the same.

“Social marketing is both an art and a science. The science side of it with targeting, reporting, and optimizing is important. However, you still need to be very cognizant of the art side of social media when it comes to content creation.”

READ MORE: Front Office Sports Digital Media Huddle Series at Bleacher Report

In her brief time at IBM, Welchert has already made a significant impact for the organization. Specifically, her changes to what platforms the company invests money are paying dividends.

“IBM is a massive company, with over 400,000 employees globally. Sometimes change can be slow moving. So I believe the most impactful thing that I’ve done so far in this role is bring together our leadership team including social, paid media, corporate advertising, and our agency of record to change the way we do paid social.”  Welchert states. “we are now in the process of deep diving into our paid social investments, to create a new process that will better position our paid media teams for success. By doing this, we will see significant cost savings for IBM, but we will also improve the return from our investments.”

Meet Welchert and hear more of her thoughts on the current digital landscape at the Front Office Sports Digital Media Huddle presented by Opendorse in New York on February 22. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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Digital Media

DC United’s Broadcast Deal Could Further Demonstrate Digital Media Potential

FloSports’ broadcast deal with D.C. United exemplifies the company’s mission to raise the profile of sports outside the Big Four leagues.

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Photo via DC United

A positive in increasing segmentation of sports media could be the corresponding rise in the popularity of sports outside the Big Four.

That’s what digital streaming service FloSports has in mind for a variety of sports, most prominently soccer in the United States. The company recently secured a multi-year agreement with MLS side D.C. United for coverage.

“We’ve always had our eyes on trying to get into soccer,” said Mike Levy, FloSports vice president of global rights acquisition. “Strategically, it really only made sense if we could do it with a really good, smart, strategic direction. We held out until we felt like we found it.”

FloSports started in 2006, largely with wrestling and track and field content.

READ MORE: How Wayne Rooney Added Millions of Additional Brand Value for D.C. United and MLS

Most of D.C. United’s home and away games will be aired on FloFC.com, the provider’s 25th sports vertical. The broadcasts will be in both English and Spanish. Also included in the deal with D.C. United is rights into original D.C. content, like behind-the-scenes programming.

“D.C. United is committed to providing fans with an innovative and high-quality viewing experience for all of their regionally broadcast matches,” said Sam Porter, D.C. United senior vice president. “Our deal with FloSports presents a new and unique opportunity for fans to get behind-the-scenes access to the D.C. United first team … while also providing a world-class broadcast production for viewers.”

Levy said the reason major professional sports have captured the American mindset is because of the previous media efforts and marketing. He said the future of other sports is up to the marketing and media opportunities presented to them — and soccer is in an ideal spot with its global popularity and U.S. youth participation.

Traditional media properties like NBC and FOX provide excellent live soccer coverage, Levy said, but there’s a deeper opportunity with the off-hour programming to explore and become a content destination.

“We believe you have to figure out how to create an emotional connection,” Levy said. “You have to do a lot more than just broadcast live sports. Any given Saturday night, there’s a thousand sporting events to choose from in the linear and digital stratosphere. And that’s just sports; there’s general entertainment and news too.

“All these types steal attention spans. So, we look for opportunities where fans aren’t getting that deep level of attention these sports deserve.”

Levy said FloSports will continue to seek other soccer rights deals to further prove soccer deserves the attention level the other major professional leagues receive from traditional media.

Other sports, along with wrestling and track and field verticals, FloSports has zeroed in on include Brazilian jiu-jitsu, fast-pitch softball, and rugby.

FloSports also has rights in basketball with the Euro League and Australian and German professional leagues and is a large platform for high school hoops.

READ MORE: Immersive Media’s Infancy Creates Industry Opportunities

“We’re looking to expand the international pro game in the U.S.,” Levy said. “Basketball is something we’re excited about.”

Football provides a large challenge as it is dominated by traditional media, but Levy said FloSports is seeking deeper penetration in high school sports, as well as some collegiate opportunities. Levy also said he sees tremendous opportunities in baseball at every level outside of Major League Baseball and currently broadcasts a variety collegiate games.

The proliferation of the internet and streaming services has provided the ability for platforms like FloSports to grab serious viewership in sports that previously saw almost zero coverage, even ESPN’s famous off-hour programming, in the past. Sports fanatics will devour content in their preferred sport if it’s available.

“There’s never been this level of fragmentation with this movement to digital,” Levy said. “Through that, we believe all sorts of sports have the opportunity to rapidly grow them as they get passionate viewers, and we can do our part to feed into it.”

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Digital Media

A Pivot Back From Video Feels Unlikely for Sports Media in 2019

The pivot-to-video experiment produced mix results for some, but don’t bank on sports publishers turning a hopeful gaze toward long-form written content in 2019 and beyond.

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For the better part of the last few years, sports media outlets shifted a lot of resources from written content to video.

FOX Sports was arguably the most notable example of pivoting to video — and still to this day only publishes video content on its website. Initially, the result of the drastic alteration in content strategy was an 88 percent drop in web traffic.

To further complicate things, it has since come to light that Facebook’s video metrics may not have been completely accurate. Long story short, the trend of the pivot to video was not a successful one for the industry.

This being said, a full transition back to focusing on true long-form written content is not something that many industry professionals see in the cards for the near future.

LISTEN: Addressing the Challenges of Working in Social Media 

“Personally, I remain skeptical that long-form written content will really take off as the primary offering for most major sports publications,” said Jared Kalmus, assistant manager of SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty. “The fact remains that web publications depend on clicks to drive their revenue streams, and the effort and writing talent required to publish long-form content is prohibitive when compared to quick-hit ‘click-bait’ posts.

“The ideal approach is likely to have some type of matrix between long-form features and quick news updates, but this requires a staff expansion for most publications. That’s a big ask as most publications are struggling to even pay their existing talent a living wage.”  

The ease of publishing what are essentially small stories in a series of tweets or other social media posts further complicates things. At least this is how Joe Serpico, a reporter for Fox Sports Radio 1340 AM in the DMV area, sees it.

“It pains me to say this, but I don’t see written publications being any better even with video not taking off as planned,” Serpico said. “That’s mainly because of social media. When breaking news happens, we rush to Twitter and Facebook to get the information. A lot of beat writers give most of the information they’re putting into their story in tweets or Facebook posts. These days, we see writers incorporate tweets into their articles too.

“The video experiment did seem to backfire, but I don’t think it will help written publications be the primary focus again. It is social media that has changed journalism most.”

READ MORE: 3 Predictions for Sports Digital Media in 2019

In talking with other writers throughout the sports space, you’ll find many who share a similar opinion. Creatives with a writing background continue to be unoptimistic about the state of the space, especially with stories like that of former Sports Illustrated writer Austin Murphy, who published an account last month of his transition to a full-time job delivering packages for Amazon, becoming more and more common.

This is not to say that other types of creatives are doing anything wrong.

The social media space has given rise to a massive number of talented videographers, graphic designers, animators, and so on. It does spark interest about the time we live in as media consumers, however. The space shifted to a massive focus on something, it was a statistical failure, but it doesn’t seem like it’s really going to change things all that much.

Could 2019 prove that feeling wrong? We’ll have to wait and see. 

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