NASCAR Turns To Free-To-Play Betting Game To Drive Casual Fan Interest

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  • Free-to-play game with $50,000 jackpot to debut before Daytona 500.
  • Partnership is Penn National’s first with a pro sports league.
NASCAR betting
Photo Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Aiming to use sports betting as a way to better engage fans on race days, NASCAR is moving things to the next gear.

NASCAR is launching, with new partner Penn National Gaming, an official free-to-play mobile game with a jackpot attached.

This may just be the first of several forms the way that NASCAR’s sports betting approach comes to life, Scott Warfield, NASCAR Managing Director of Gaming said. 

“They were the best first partner to develop something custom with,” Warfield said. “It became clear Penn was [willing to build a partnership from scratch] and have a tremendous vision of 2025 to 2030 and what steps we need to take to get there.”

The game, NASCAR Finish Line, is available as a free-to-play mobile app that has a $50,000 jackpot for every race. It will reward users who predict the winner and highest finishers among six groupings of six drivers. The app will be live ahead of the Daytona 500, which takes place Feb. 16.

The partnership represents Penn National’s first with a professional sports league.

NASCAR has aspirations to use partnerships like this to catch up to other sports in terms of betting activity, as Warfield notes it doesn’t have the same four to five decades of history as others.

The American Gaming Association’s 2019 Sports Betting Consumer Study found 17% of current and potential sports bettors would be interested in betting on auto racing. 

“We have room to grow, I believe a lot of operators see NASCAR and golf having tremendous upside,” Warfield said. “To anyone who says people don’t bet on motorsports, I say, ‘Yea, but what have we been providing them to make it interesting?’”

Like other sports leagues starting to embrace sports betting, Warfield said NASCAR’s foray into the space is less about direct revenue than increased fan engagement.

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“We have a good sense of where we are, and it’s sizable to jump off, but it’s not where we want to be,” he said. “How do we get fans to watch 30 to 45 minutes longer, and what does that do for the rest of our business? It’s an engagement tool, first and foremost.”

Warfield admitted he previously assumed NASCAR betting options – particularly the free-to-play mobile app – would be primarily for the core fanbase. Penn National helped convince him otherwise. He now believes the app’s relatively simple bet options will help better engage a curious bettor and casual fan than just the core fans. 

Likewise, the additional bet options offered by gaming operators are also opening up the market.

“The types of bets offered were race winner and series champion; those are OK, but very static and very hard,” Warfield said. “Now you can start putting in driver head-to-head, lead changes, top-finishing manufacturer, on and on. There are 400 laps; I see that as 400 distinct betting options. But we’re not getting there in 2020.”

The partnership expands the relationship between NASCAR and Penn National, which is the title sponsor for Kansas Speedway’s Hollywood Casino 400. Penn National’s recent partial ownership acquisition of Barstool Sports will help grow casual bettors, Warfield said. Barstool has its own marketing relationship with NASCAR.

It’s not the first gaming-related partnership for NASCAR, which partnered with Genius Sports in 2019 to distribute NASCAR data to sportsbooks. Likewise, the organization signed an integrity deal with Sportradar to monitor betting around the sport, along with content deals with Action Network and VSiN.

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Warfield expects more sports betting partnerships down the line, noting there have been conversations with operators large and small.

“We’ve gone about it as methodically and informed as we can,” he said. “We spent 2019 listening. 2020 is now about bringing on new partners, developing the game, and the distribution of in-play products. 

“We have a management and C-suite that see sports betting the way they look at esports; it’s a growth initiative and marketing tool, and we’re thinking about 2030, not 2020. That’s an attractive place to be.”