SBJ/October 29-November 4, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NASCAR lining up digital launches for 2013

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NASCAR has begun testing a new website, developed two apps for mobile and tablet devices, and made a series of editorial hires that put it in position to deliver a slate of new digital platforms to fans early next year.

The sanctioning body last January bought back its digital rights from Turner Sports and created a NASCAR Digital Media division charged with developing a new website and digital platforms. The division has swelled from eight employees to more than 45 and moved into its own floor in NASCAR’s Charlotte office. It is following in the footsteps of the NFL, NHL and MLS to become one of the last professional sports organizations to bring its digital operations in house. (The NBA’s site is run by Turner Sports.)

“We’re in the final stages of building out a team and getting our operation up and running,” said Marc Jenkins, NASCAR vice president of digital media. “We’re in a good space.”

The new NASCAR.com will launch Jan. 3. Two weeks ago, Jenkins shared a snapshot of the new homepage with 125 team executives in Concord, N.C. He said the site, which is undergoing beta testing, is designed more for tablets than for desktop and laptop computers. It emphasizes large photos and the “emotion” of the sport.

NASCAR Digital Media worked with SapientNitro, a digital marketing agency, to develop an algorithm that will classify visitors to NASCAR.com and customize the website based on that classification. Jenkins said they developed five different genres of users based on frequency of use. The more a user fits the site, the more customized their experience will become.

“They’ll be able to get anything (on the site), but we want to try and predict it,” Jenkins said. “It’s kind of like an eye chart. You go in and they ask, ‘Which one is better: left or right?’ And you start to narrow it down. It starts with one size fits all and as more data is gleaned, we get closer and closer to what is relevant for a user.”

Jenkins said the site will emphasize driver content and that driver pages will have more information than they currently have on NASCAR.com. All of that driver content, whether it’s about competition or lifestyle, will be designed to complement the upcoming race.

NASCAR Digital Media last week announced its first four editorial hires: Kenny Bruce, reporter, content; Holly Cain, reporter; David Caraviello, video reporter and writer; and Alan Cavanna, video reporter and host. They will report to Colin Smith, the managing director of NASCAR Digital Media’s digital platform division. The other divisions are: digital operations, run by John Martin; advertising services, run by David Murnick; digital services, led by Philippe Dore; and administration.

In addition to the new site, the team has developed two apps that will run on Android and Apple operating systems. One of the apps is designed for more casual fans. The other offers a more data-rich experience for avid fans. The apps are carrier agnostic and can be bought by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile subscribers. Sprint, which is the title sponsor of NASCAR’s premier series, will offer the apps free to its customers.

NASCAR worked with Omnigon, an app developer, Sportvision and SapientNitro to develop the apps. Jenkins said NASCAR is working on final pricing for the apps and plans to launch them before the Daytona 500.

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