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NASCAR Puts Racing Fans in the Driver's Seat—at 190 MPH
Thanks to a collaboration between NASCAR and Twitter, fans were able to stream live video from behind the wheel with their favorite drivers. That's only the latest example of how NASCAR is using social networks to boost engagement.

While drivers didn’t talk to or interact with the cameras, viewers could hear them talking with their pit crew chiefs about when to pull in or hear them getting advice from spotters. Mostly, viewers hear the roar of the car. For those who want more in-car audio, NASCAR offers a product called Drive and an in-venue service called FanVision. But be warned, the language can get a little salty.

“As someone that has taken their nephew to a race and gotten him a FanVision, you need to pick your driver smartly,” Warfield says, “and then depending on where you are in the event and what’s on the line and what’s happening, sometimes the verbal content is going to be probably for a mature audience.”

By turning to social platforms, NASCAR is trying to appeal to a new generation of fans, hoping to attract younger viewers who will become lifelong devotees. Having a social media strategy that includes video is critical.

“We look at social media, digital media, really in two powerful ways, right?” Warfield says. “One, how do you further engage your core fan? A lot of the platform is systematically set up to promote video and so our fans are looking for that and we want to make sure that they are being served exactly what they need. And then, in addition, we want to use video to help grow the sport and find new fans. We have one of the more visually appealing sports, thankfully, that is raw and authentic and fast and at times dangerous. That video translates well into the digital and social world.”

NASCAR’s partnership with Twitter goes beyond live video into one of Twitter’s most popular engagement tools: emojis. TV show and movie marketers often work with Twitter to create custom emojis that display when users include a certain hashtag in their posts. For this series, NASCAR took the idea even further: Rather than creating one special emoji for the series, it created one for each driver. The drivers themselves were invited to design their emojis, which were then created by NASCAR’s in-house creative design team.

While NASCAR could have simply created the icons on its own or based emojis on each driver’s number, getting the drivers involved let their characters come through, and that’s a big goal for NASCAR.

“When you get in a car that’s covered and you put on a helmet that covers your head, and then you put a visor down that covers your eyes, and you race for 3 hours, you don’t get that visual that a lot of the other sports leagues have the luxury of,” Warfield says. “We spend a ton of time trying to get these guys outside their helmet, outside of their car, doing initiatives like the emoji program that really allows them to show their personality.”

NASCAR started the discussion early, telling drivers they could design their own emoji or NASCAR would do it for them. Most drivers jumped at the chance to do it themselves and promote their personal brands. Young superstar Ryan Blaney showed a silhouette of his face in sunglasses, Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth showed a wedge of cheese, and Kyle Busch memorialized the bow with the checkered flag he performs after a win. Chase Elliott’s shows his beard and 24 hat, while Denny Hamlin, who is sponsored by FedEx, showed a delivery truck with his number on it. He wasn’t the only driver to celebrate a sponsor: Brad Keselowski, sponsored by Miller Lite, showed two beers toasting, while Ryan Newman, sponsored by Caterpillar, showed a bulldozer.

These were elimination playoffs, and that carried over to the emojis: When drivers were eliminated from competition, their emojis were retired. The icons did their job, though, as NASCAR saw an uptick in fan use of driver hashtags during the playoffs.

NASCAR drivers created their own emojis to reflect their personalities or brands—Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth picked a wedge of cheese, while Kyle Busch captured his trademark post-victory bow.

Compared to other sports leagues, NASCAR has been especially forward-thinking in its use of online video. It reaches fans on a variety of platforms, including NASCAR.com, two mobile apps, and Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter accounts. And that doesn’t include all of the individual driver accounts, team accounts, and broadcast partners. No matter what channel fans prefer, they’re sure to find some video.

“This has been a great partnership with Twitter and one that we think the fans are enjoying as we come down the home stretch in one of the biggest portions of our season,” Warfield says.

[This article appears in the January/February 2018 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "NASCAR Puts Fans in the Driver’s Seat—at 190 MPH."]

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