SBJ/January 8 - 14, 2007/This Weeks News

Turner giving NASCAR.com social networking boost

In an attempt to increase NASCAR ratings next season, ESPN and Turner separately are planning to surround NASCAR programming with a multiplatform approach popularized during ESPN’s coverage of “Monday Night Football” this season.

The relaunched site will appeal to
the sport’s sense of community.

But Turner’s plans also include a complete relaunch of NASCAR.com, and starting Feb. 2, Turner will roll out a revamped Web site and launch several new features, including a social networking area that will allow the sport’s fans to interact with each other.

The social networking area will look similar to MySpace, allowing fans to post profiles of themselves and list their likes and dislikes. The area also will allow fans to upload video and graphics, and it will allow blogging and fan posting.

“The DNA of the NASCAR fan is to be part of a community,” said Scott Bailey, Turner Sports New Media’s vice president and general manager of business operations, who has worked on the site since Turner started producing it in 2001. “This is something NASCAR fans want to be a part of.”

Turner will monitor postings and videos, making sure they conform to a set of guidelines and prevent postings that are not considered family friendly. Turner executives said they would not unilaterally delete postings that hold NASCAR in a bad light.

The site’s relaunch also will include several interactive elements, including race replays and highlights from races on ESPN, Fox, ABC and Turner, polls and text messaging.

Turner, which holds NASCAR’s digital content rights through 2010 as part of a 10-year deal, is looking into creating highlights for portable devices including cell phones, iPods and PlayStations. The amount of video downloads available will increase as the season moves forward, particularly during the six races for which Turner holds rights.

Turner is finalizing sponsorships for several elements of the site, including a postrace show that has been sponsored by Jack Daniel’s in the past. It also hit the market with sponsorships around in-car audio features that will be featured on the site.

Turner executives do not believe NASCAR.com’s in-car audio feature competes with Sprint Nextel’s FanScan, which also offers in-car audio, because fans increasingly are using two screens — a TV and a PC — to watch races. The Sprint Nextel offering through the wireless handset is tailored for displaced fans who are looking for updates. Sprint Nextel, which has held title rights to NASCAR’s Cup series since 2004, continues to work with Turner and NASCAR to create its own unique downloadable content, as do other carriers.

After premiering it last year, Turner also is planning to expand a Daytona 500 ad showcase that ranks commercials from the television race coverage. Users can vote for their favorite spots from the broadcast race coverage, which will be on NASCAR.com after the race.

Based on the success of the TNT-operated NBA broadband channel, TNT Overtime, Turner plans to roll out a similar offering of behind-the-scenes programming for NASCAR, though it does not have a timetable for such a launch.

“NASCAR coverage on TV is pretty good the way it is right now. There’s not much more we can do with that. So we have to try and engage viewers with content on other platforms,” said Lenny Daniels, Turner’s senior vice president of sports production and new media.

ESPN has been public about its plans to use its “surround” strategy when it returns to airing NASCAR. The strategy will see ESPN produce NASCAR-themed shoulder programming on all of its platforms — television, radio, broadband, wireless and print. It also plans to offer podcasts of two racing shows, “RaceDay” and “Jayski,” and plans to offer at least two fantasy games.

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