SBD/Issue 56/Sports Industrialists

Catching Up With NASCAR VP & CIO/CTO Andrew Schwalb

Schwalb Comes To NASCAR
After 14 Years With Disney

NASCAR earlier this year hired ANDREW SCHWALB to become its VP & CIO/CTO, putting him in charge of the organization's entire technology function and tasking him with carrying out technological initiatives. Schwalb comes to NASCAR after 14 years with Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, with prior stops at Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Labs and a 12-year stint at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, where he led labs that created new technology for the space shuttle program. Schwalb at the recent SBJ/SBD FSA Sports Media & Technology conference in N.Y. took time to sit down with Assistant Managing Editor Austin Karp to discuss his new role within NASCAR, as well as technological challenges and innovations in the league's future.

Must-have tech gadget: A great mobile device. Sprint Epic and an Android. I have both and use both. Plus an iPad.
Favorite smartphone apps: On the iPad, I use GoodReader. On my mobile device, anything Google related. ESPN ScoreCenter. And NASCAR apps to help learn the sport as I go.
Favorite ride at Disney World: Mission: Space, which is at Epcot.
Best track to watch a race: Well my first race was at Bristol, and that was a special experience.

Q: As CIO of NASCAR, are you at the table making major technology decisions with BRIAN FRANCE and MIKE HELTON?

Schwalb: I think I will be. Today, I still have a lot to learn. While at Disney, I felt I had a very clear business model: improve the guest experience, make sure that operations were efficient. Those were two goals I had. Coming to NASCAR, it's a lot more complex. There are a lot more moving parts. But a main part of my position now from a NASCAR governing body perspective is to help drive the relationship with the fan. But I am still learning. Brian and Mike are very patient.

Q: Is new technology, such as the new LED videoboard going up at Charlotte Motor Speedway, going to help bring fans back to the tracks and improve the race experience?

Schwalb: There is a general premise that I have, and that is getting more data to the fan to either understand the basics of the race, or for a more experienced fan, to be able to drill down and get more detail. Looking at Charlotte, the new board is going to give fans visibility that they wouldn't have otherwise had. I think that's a great add-on. At home, we also want viewers to be able to leverage mobile devices such as an iPad while watching a race. Things are happening around the track at 200 mph, so the more data we can get to the fan, the better experience they'll have.

Q: Being somewhat of a newcomer to sports, are there any other technology execs within sports you're looking to as an example?

Schwalb: I'm just starting to build those kinds of relationships. But I think that there is a lot to learn from other leagues' CIOs as far as connecting to the fan, operational experiences, etc.

Schwalb Believes Race Broadcasts Need
Equivalent Of NFL's Yellow Line

Q: Is there something that NASCAR's broadcast partners can do, from a technological standpoint, to make race telecasts more appealing to viewers?

Schwalb: I think in general that the fans want to be more engaged. They want a more interactive experience. If a viewer watching on TV can't tell what's going on or can't pick up on some of the subtle things that are happening, that's hard. An avid fan will know all the mechanics of a race, and that's one thing. But if I'm a viewer trying to get into the sport, I think we need to give more data to the broadcasters so they can leverage that to further augment the telecast. I'll think about when the yellow first-down marker for the NFL was introduced and find myself asking, "What is the yellow line for NASCAR? What is that thing that we can put on a broadcast to help the casual fan or even the avid fan understand more of the dynamics and subtleties of the race?"

Q: What's a trend in sports technology that you'll be following in 2011?

Schwalb: Mobile devices and access to information. But also leveraging high definition and different camera angles on TV broadcasts.

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