NASCAR Drops Checkered Flag on Ambitious Year of Social Video

Season finale is highlighted by Facebook Live stream of Tony Stewart in-car camera feed

The 2016 NASCAR season brought plenty of dramatics, with one of stock-car racing’s most popular figures, Tony Stewart, taking his final lap and Jimmie Johnson winning yet another Sprint Cup title — his seventh — making his case for legendary status alongside the likes of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. It also saw the sport improve by leaps and bounds in its digital-video and social-media strategy.

NASCAR produced a live feed of the on-board cameras from Tony Stewart's car during the final race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season earlier this month that aired on Facebook Live and NASCAR's digital platform NASCAR Drive.

NASCAR produced a live feed of the on-board cameras from Tony Stewart’s car during the final race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season earlier this month that aired on Facebook Live and NASCAR’s digital platform NASCAR Drive.

Whether via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or SnapChat, NASCAR did a significant amount of experimenting with live Q&As and press conferences, 360-degree and virtual-reality videos, behind-the-scenes access with a live series called “Garage Cam,” and a digital friendly mini-documentary series “Behind the Wall: Martin Truex Jr. and the 78 Team” — all content that helped the league excel in the digital and social-media world.

“It’s that extension the young fans were looking for, the new fans that may not be as familiar with NASCAR,” says Steve Stum, VP, operations and technical production, NASCAR Productions. “It’s looking towards the future of where broadcast rights go. In the future, how do we [build] viewership, and is there a way in the future to monetize this stuff? [It has] grown leaps and bounds, and there’s a lot of focus from NASCAR in that area for the newer, younger fans. We’re always looking to expand where we can go and new markets and new ideas and new technology, and certainly streaming on the social platforms is a big thing that’s coming in the future.”

NASCAR capped its season in social in a big way, using Facebook Live to stream the entirety of the final race of the season — the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Miami — from the on-board, in-car cameras from Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet.

In-car cameras are certainly nothing new for NASCAR: the league typically partners with Broadcast Sports Inc. (BSI) to outfit six to eight cars per race with a package of wireless cameras to provide unique angles for the linear-television production. This did, however, mark the first time that fans could exclusively watch one car through those angles for the entirety of a race through a social-media platform.

To produce the Facebook Live show, NASCAR Productions worked with the feeds typically pulled in from the car and into the production truck. It siphoned them off for direct transport over IP to NASCAR’s home facility in Charlotte, NC; married the feeds up with the audio feeds; and pushed that out to Facebook Live, as well as to NASCAR’s own digital product, NASCAR Drive.

The on-board feed was produced using multiple cameras, including inside the car looking at the driver, on the roof pointed ahead, and on the back bumper shooting behind. According to Stum, NASCAR Productions has contemplated adding more cameras, including a pan-and-tilt (to capture more of the surroundings). He adds that the league dreams of a day when every car in the race will have on-board cameras but those are bigger-picture plans for another day.

As for the use of Facebook Live, it was a no-brainer for Scott Warfield, Managing Director, Social Media at NASCAR, who saw the advantages of growing the NASCAR race-day audience.

Facebook Live first arrived on the scene early in 2016, and one of NASCAR’s first forays into the platform was a tour of the newly renovated Daytona Speedway during Daytona 500 weekend. Since then, Warfield’s goal has been to strike a balance between social-media initiatives and continuing to build the sport’s other digital platforms, including its own NASCAR Drive.

“I think we’ve struck a pretty good balance,” says Warfield, who has been a part of the NASCAR social-media team for more than six years. “The power and the scope of Facebook Live is hard to argue with, and our industry has really embraced it, our drivers understand it, and it’s a powerful tool for us to get our message out to a really broad audience.”

With so many social-media and digital platforms to service on any given day, not to mention race days, Warfield acknowledges how challenging staffing can be. On a race weekend, he says, a member of the social-media team and a member of the video team is at the track acquiring as much content as possible from around the track, garage, and surrounding areas. That content is fed to members of the team in Charlotte, who help program Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and Twitter. When the race is appropriate,  a staffer sometimes is dedicated to a specific platform: building a SnapChat story, for example, or producing a Facebook Live program.

As for acquiring content, members of the NASCAR Productions video team shoot with high-end professional-grade cameras, the team in Charlotte pulls in feeds from the linear-television production (including using SnappyTV to clip real-time highlights), and virtually every member of the social-media team onsite can use cameras on their phones to acquire content on the spot. It’s very much a hybrid approach with a multiplatform vision.

Warfield says he will look back on 2016 as a year of tremendous growth for his team but also one when a lot of new tools were integrated into the plans on the fly. Such platforms as Facebook Live and Instagram Stories are still new to the scene and a work in progress, and SnapChat continues to be an evolving distribution method with strong opportunities for engaging younger fans. But he goes into the offseason happy that the strong finish to the season the final race in Miami gave them.

“We brought the sport and maybe one of the greatest races I’ve ever seen to a multiplatform audience,” he says. “It was just kind of one of those — it’s a little cliché, but — magical weekends where the power of social and why we’ve invested so heavily in this area all came to life. We did a massive television audience, but, at the same time, what’s probably underreported is the massive numbers that we’re pulling in these social platforms. It’s probably more focused on a younger or a more casual fan, which, for the long term, is really how we focused our social-media efforts and is how we help grow this pie and grow this great sport.”

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