NASCAR innovation unit looks beyond esports
NASCAR’s new consumer innovation group rolled out its first initiative last week, a new youth-based esports series with iRacing, as it reviews how to better use technology to engage consumers and improve the fan experience.
NASCAR’s consumer innovation group was formed in February and is headed up by Blake Davidson. He said the group started with esports but is looking into other emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality.
Davidson said nearly all the opportunities being explored by the group fall under the tech umbrella, with some directed at the track and others related to deepening engagement for fans at home.
That includes the new iRacing league announced last week. iRacing is a subscription-based racing simulator and NASCAR plans to use the new league to target youth ages 13-16 worldwide, with the goal of developing future race car drivers.
NASCAR also works with Charlotte-based video game licensee 704Games and Los Angeles-based esports venue and content production company Allied Esports. The work with the latter two groups has been around bringing 704Games’ “NASCAR Heat 2” to tracks to allow fans to play the arcade-style console game.
Other gaming companies licensed by NASCAR include Microsoft’s “Forza Motorsport,” Sony’s “Gran Turismo” and EA’s “Real Racing.”
Beyond gaming, the new NASCAR division is working with companies to develop opportunities in augmented reality. Davidson said it’s too early to name the companies, but he envisions a program that could debut in the next few years that would allow fans at races to use their mobile devices to see stats coming off cars as they race by.
“Whether it’s speed, distance between cars, lap time, lines that drivers are taking — you think about all of the different data points coming off those vehicles that you can use to engage with the fan at the racetrack and tell that story,” Davidson said. “When you’re watching on TV away from the track, you can get a lot of that info, but it’s difficult to get that info — when thinking about AR specifically …” at the track.
Davidson has worked for NASCAR since 1995 and ran NASCAR’s licensing and consumer product group before being named vice president of the new division.
He said the new group now “is just a couple of people,” and works with other groups within NASCAR based on the venture that’s being vetted. He expects the group to stay small so it can be nimble.
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