Auto racing powerhouse NASCAR has engineered a way to learn more about its many fans—and their likes and dislikes—using big-data analysis. The result is they can rapidly adjust services and responses to best keep connected to those fans across all media and social networks.
It's a story of getting at all the information and data that's generated constantly from social media, news media, broadcast media—and then making the analysis instantly available as easy-to-consume and related visualizations.
BriefingsDirect had an opportunity to learn first-hand how NASCAR newly engages with its audiences using big data and the latest analysis platforms when we interviewed Steve Worling, Senior Director of IT at NASCAR, based in Daytona Beach, Fla. at the recent HP Discover 2013 Conference in Barcelona. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Tell us about the context of what you're trying to do with your fan base, and then how technology comes to bear on that.
Worling: NASCAR has been around for 65 years, and we have probably one of the most loyal fan bases out there. NASCAR really wants to understand what our fan base is saying about our sport. How do we engage with them, how are we really bringing our sport to their entertainment, and what's the value of that?
So NASCAR partnered with HP to build a first-of-its kind of Fan and Media Engagement Center. That’s a new platform for us that allows us to listen to the social media outlets—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all of those social media outlets—to understand what the fans are talking about.
Something unique about this platform is that it also allows us to bring in the traditional media news sites. What is the media saying about our sport, and then how do you tie those conversations together to get a really nice single pane of glass on the overall conversation? What are our fans saying, what are the news media saying, and how does that help and benefit our industry as a whole?
Gardner: It sounds like you don’t want get some of the data—but all of the data.
Worling: We absolutely want to know everything that’s being said across all of those platforms. We saw about 18 million impressions in our first year of the platform. That’s impressions across the social side and the news-media side. It was big, and this was our first year at it.
On the news media side, we're only collecting from a small sample right now. Next year, we're going to really enhance that and grow that from a few different news sites to hundreds of sites, as well as start to bring more of awareness to our fans around social interaction.
So we're expecting to see that number grow significantly. This year, as I said, a solid 18 million tweets overall translates to about 110,000 tweets during a race day, even up to about 15,000 tweets per minute.
NASCAR is a predominantly US-based sport, but we are growing internationally. Today, we have a series in Mexico. We have a series in Canada as well, and we just expanded into Europe with our Whelen Euro Series.
This platform will also help us engage and understand how the sport is performing in those markets. What's the sentiment of the fans? It's really a great platform to allow us to right anything that we might be doing wrong. So if we need to enhance the marketing or enhance the engagement of those tracks, we're able to do that through this platform.
Our sport is unique, because there is a vast community that makes up our sport. You have a NASCAR governing body and that's what I represent. Then, there is a large race track ownership. We call those promoters, and those are the folks who are selling tickets and getting you out to the race track.
Then, we have our teams and our drivers, and those are independent contractors. So you have those that are involved in the sport, and then our sponsors and our partners that help bring all of that together and make this ecosystem. That is NASCAR.
We're able to collect data on all of those different constituents, and then share that value. I’ll give you a great example. This year, HP became a great partner with us around our Fan and Media Engagement Center.
Our goal over the next couple years, as we work with HP, is to be able to sit down with them and share the value and what their sponsorship and their partnership brings to NASCAR. We want to develop and grow the relationship for a longer period of term. We give them real data on their activation and involvement in the NASCAR industry.
Gardner: We now know that customer information is being shared in whole new ways. How do you then take the technology and get a handle on it so that you can perform what you want?
Worling: We partner with HP, as I said, to build this platform. We’re leveraging products like their IDOL engine. The Explore capability from their Autonomy platform allows us to ingest all of this different data, put it together, and then really start building that single pane of glass to understand what these conversations are—whether there is a breaking story around activation within our sport, or something else.
As it's collecting this data, the platform starts to stitch it together so that we can understand what the conversation is. So it’s taking that news outlet information, taking the social sentiment, and putting it together to make sense of it. It’s taking all of that unstructured data, structuring it, and then giving us the analytics that allow us to understand the conversation—and react appropriately.
It could be a story that makes sense and is telling the right story, or it could be a story that needs a little bit of direction from NASCAR to make sure that we're getting the right story out there.
So HP building that with Autonomy has been very valuable. We're getting ready to deploy HP Vertica on top of that now to allow us to take this large amount of data we’re getting and putting it into the Vertica data infrastructure. Then we can start making even more connection points and more rationalization, and then being able to layer other tools on top of it—things like Tableau Software—to help us with visualization.
One of the new things that I'm excited about is in telling our story about our great command center. It’s a showcase piece that you can come and see what we’re actually reporting on the analytics. We’re going to build a map of the U.S. that allows us to give us the hotspots of information.
So as people are tweeting, maybe good or bad, in California, you might get a big red spot. We can drive down into that, understand what that data is, and then engage through our dot-com platforms and other media outlets to make sure that we're saying the right story or addressing the concerns that are out there.
Gardner: I saw on the stage at HP Discover in Barcelona that Facebook put up a very impressive map that was built using Vertica. It shows their actual installed base and the connections between them. Of course, it looks very much like a map of the world, but it's a map of Facebook.
Worling: That was an amazing visualization, and I can't wait to be able to do the same thing. I thought that was really neat and I’d love to be able to get the resolution of the world like they have, but I will be happy to get a great, rich US look. That was totally a cool thing, and I hope that we can do the same thing as well.
Gardner: So one of the great things about what you have been doing is getting all the data. One of the bad things you've been doing is getting all the data. How do you move beyond this being a fire hose and make it actionable?
Worling: As I mentioned, we’re storing everything in IDOL today. We'll be migrating to Vertica shortly to help us with the consumption. For us, this year, it's been a little bit of we just didn’t know what we didn’t know. We weren't really sure what kind of data we were going to see and how we were going to react to it. Our sport is a great sport, but like any sport or any business, there's always a little controversy with it, and we experienced some of that this year. So it was more of a great platform to help us do crisis management.
As we dealt with the situations that came up, we were able to get data from this and react to it appropriately. But we've also started to learn some proactive things to think about.
As we launch a new car this year, our Gen-6 Car, what is the engagement or sentiment from our fans? We’ve been able to do some deep analytic research on what that is and get valuable information to be able to hand GM, who launched this car with us this year and say, “This is the results of the news" instantly—a lot of big data.
As I said, we have 18 million impressions this year, which was phenomenal, and I don’t think we had a bar to set. Now, we’ve have set the bar for next year and I think with Vertica and IDOL [part of HP HAVEn], we’re positioning ourselves or have the right platform that allow us to grow extensively as we look to the future.
Gardner: Once you start getting big data capabilities and driving more data into it, you get hungry for more data. You’ll start thinking about places to acquire it, doing joins, and then finding even better analysis. Any thoughts as to where you might go next, now that you’ve tapped the social media environment?
Worling: There are two ways to answer that. One, we’re going to continue to grow the social media side. I mentioned the things that we’re doing today with Facebook and Twitter. Instagram really is the next big piece of integration for us.
For NASCAR, it’s important for us to engage younger people in that Gen Y, Millennial Generations. Instagram is a key component to do that. So that’s going to be a big focus for us in getting that integrated and then just keeping an eye out for the new social solutions or offerings that are coming out and how we keep them integrated.
Then, we’re going to start working on the traditional news media as well. As I mentioned, it’s going to be key for us to understand the press impacts. That’s very relevant for our CEO and Chairman. I didn’t mention, but we’ll also be bringing in video from our broadcast partners. We broadcast nationally in the US, as well as in 198 countries worldwide. That story is very important to us.
We’ll be growing a lot of that next year. The second side of that is our business becomes more aware of this tool. We’ve been getting just inundated with requests, some from the sales guys, as they’re trying to develop new sales, how we should value what it means to be part of our sport. There are renewals in the sales process as well, the value of the partners that are already existing and then taking it to our drivers.
A great story I love to tell is about a young and upcoming driver that started in our Camping World Truck Series. This year has to build his brand. He has a brand that he needs to develop and get out there.
We brought him into the Fan and Engagement Center and spent about three or four hours taking him through different analytics, different use cases of information around his brand, and helped him understand what it meant to be good. We showed him the things he needs to develop, and the things that he wasn’t so good at, so he could take that away and work better on those. We’re definitely seeing a lot of requests from the industry: How does this platform benefit them and how do they get rich data out of it?