Going the distance: NASCAR taps into official data as it preps its egaming launch

NASCAR’s managing director of gaming Scott Warfield discusses pushing innovation through official data use and comparisons with F1

Back in May, NASCAR entered the world of sports betting for the first time through a deal with Genius Sports that will see the data provider develop an official betting offering for legal sportsbooks.

Under the terms of the agreement, Genius Sports will utilize NASCAR’s official data feed to build a live betting product to be sold to operators around the world. The deal is the first step towards creating an advanced live betting product on NASCAR, including lap-by-lap prop bets and head-to-head match-ups between drivers.

With the product now under development ahead of a planned trial launch in September, EGR North America sat down with NASCAR’s managing director of gaming, Scott Warfield, to find out more about the sport’s plans for the sector.

EGR North America (EGR NA): What do you think the main benefit from sports betting will be for NASCAR?

Scott Warfield (SW): I’ve always looked at sports betting as a good opportunity for engagement. It’s not unlike social media eight years ago where a lot of leagues came online and were trying to figure
out what their strategy should be. At the end of the day, both things are audience engagement tools and put you in front of a younger, more diverse audience that are talking and engaging with you. There were lots of conversations around Snapchat and Twitter. Those still have a big impact but sports betting is kind of a new opportunity to put our product in front of a younger audience.

EGR NA: Having agreed an official data deal with Betgenius, is NASCAR more willing to put its head above the parapet than other leagues and shout about betting products?

SW: We’re trying to be smart about it. We’re a privately owned, family-run company and when PASPA was overturned we sat down with them, explained the opportunity and said: “How do you want to play it?” And they’ve been supportive from day one. They replied: “Be smart and protect the sanctity of the product.” So we did a deal with Sportradar as our integrity partner, we did education sessions with the industry, sat down with drivers and teams, and gave them the lay of the land.

Scott Warfield Nascar

Scott Warfield Nascar, MD of gaming at NASCAR

Once we had done that and felt comfortable about integrity, we turned to Betgenius as our data partner, and the third pillar of all this is the education of our fanbase about how betting on NASCAR works.

EGR NA: What sort of things have you been doing with fans?

SW: We’ve been fairly aggressive on that front. We’ve done a deal with the Action Network to produce more betting content. It works both ways so they produce content for our site and we’re getting them to produce more NASCAR content which is great for the casual fans. We’re running a 10-question prop game on our website where fans can play for free to try and win merchandise. That’s been very popular and gets fans thinking about different bet types. We’re going to continue to do more things like this to help drive interest for when the betting product is up and running.

EGR NA: F1 is running a similar free-to-play predictor game but it has always struggled to take off as a betting medium due to the relative lack of overtaking. Might NASCAR face a similar problem?

SW: Formula One is a fantastic product and we look at what they do in a lot of different areas as leaders in the space, but they are a different product. For 70 years our sport has been about packed racing. We have 40 cars, inches apart, passing all throughout the race with lead changes all the time. It’s a different motorsport product and we think it lends itself nicely to betting because of the parity throughout the field.

EGR NA: What sort of new and innovative betting products can you offer with the official data?

SW: We’re looking at things like stage winners, most laps led, lead changes, driver matchups and group matchups. The list is almost limitless. What we want to do with Genius is roll this out in a way that’s smart and efficient and isn’t overly complex out the gate. We might start with five, seven, nine in-play markets out the gate, test appetite and then continue to grow. That’s the plan over the next 12 to 18 months.

EGR NA: When can we expect to see these products being rolled out?

SW: We’re looking at a phased approach. We have a 10-week playoff that starts in Las Vegas in September, conveniently enough. So we see that as phase one where we’ll have a handful of in-play markets. And after that in 2020, we start our season with the Daytona 500 every February, which is our marquee event and that’s the line in the sand we’re focusing on. Everyone is paying attention to NASCAR so we want to be ready with something pretty unique. It won’t be the full NASCAR/Genius offering, but that should be a substantial opportunity for all of us.

EGR NA: Are you confident you can differentiate the product from products using ‘unofficial’ data?

SW: I know it’s a hot topic but we’re in a unique position because we’re pretty much the only sport, except maybe golf, where all the teams are on the field at the same time. And with the speed at which the sport happens, there’s a unique opportunity for us to differentiate and it will be very difficult to replicate.

This high-end live product is going to be pretty unique. We have 40 cars going 200mph, inches apart and you’re going to need data from these vehicles to really run an in-play product. If you want to, you can offer ‘who’s going to have the fastest lap’, ‘who’s going to lead two laps from now’, ‘who’s going to increase the most positions in the next 10 laps.’ If Kyle Bush starts first, then gets a penalty and goes back to 36th, we can offer a bet on how quickly he will get to first. And you can’t do that without official data.

EGR NA: Do you discuss your approach to sports betting with the other leagues?

SW: It’s a small world and regardless of its media, betting or legal, that type of conversation happens almost every day and every week. But we have a fundamentally different business model to the other leagues. We are a sanctioning body so we don’t control the teams. They are independent bodies, so we come into this with different goals [to other leagues]. For NASCAR, this is solely an engagement play. How do you get people watching more, watching longer, coming to more events? We recognize we don’t come in with 50 years of people betting on the sport. We’re trying to create a market where people are participating like that. So we’re trying to grow handle, whereas others already have a handle.

Nascar genius sports

Genius Sports will utilize NASCAR’s official data feed to build a live betting product to be sold to operators around the world

EGR NA: Are you engaging with unofficial data providers?

SW: We’re not super focused on that right now. We’re more focused on developing a product that differentiates itself and, if we do that successfully, a lot of that would take care of itself.

EGR NA: Is the sports betting play for you more focused on a US audience or building the NASCAR brand internationally?

SW: First and foremost, we’re a global brand. We are broadcast in 175 countries and 400 million households on a weekly basis, so the opportunity is not limited to the US. But out the gate that is where the biggest opportunity is and where 90% of our fans are. But we have fans in Brazil, in France and global expansion is vital for all the sports leagues. And this will be one of the tools that allows us to foray into new markets and engage more people now.
So I’m not trying to skirt the question, but we’re thinking about how this product can turn our fans into evangelists of the betting products so they go out and tell their cousins and friends overseas.

EGR NA: Have you done any consumer testing to gauge appetite for betting among your fans?

SW: We’ve had DraftKings as a daily fantasy partner since 2015, so we have a good understanding of how many fans are participating on the DFS side. And we have a fantasy live game on which we’ve made almost an in-play experience where you have a garage driver that you can swap into your team throughout the race. We’ve seen tremendous growth in that side of the business. And we have a fan council of 20,000 core fans that we’re able to hit regularly with questions about what they’re betting on.

We know our fanbase, even from third-party research we’ve had done, is interested in sports gambling. They visit casinos on vacation. There is an opportunity here. Our fanbase is as loyal as any in the world. It may not be as large as some others, but when they are watching a race, there’s no level that’s too deep for them. They have the race on TV, the iPad and up with Twitter. They’ll have our site up with lap speeds on it and they’ll be listening to the favorite driver talking to his crew chief. We know they want deeper engagement and sports betting is another level for them.

EGR NA: We’ve seen in-stadium betting included in legislation in states such as Illinois. Is this a big opportunity for you?

SW: We don’t own any of the tracks but the opportunity does exist. We have a track in Kansas City with a casino on-site. Or somewhere with mobile like Tennessee. We have a track there and you could imagine what that experience could be like. Then in-stadium would be interesting if it came up. We have a race in Dover, Delaware where there’s a casino on-site also with betting kiosks outside the race track, so we’ve seen bits and pieces where that can work and over time that’s an interesting opportunity.

EGR NA: Are there any states you’d like to see come online next?

SW: The states that are rumored to be coming on or are coming on like Iowa, Michigan and Tennessee – we have tracks in all these places. Iowa is a big opportunity. There’s no other sports league there but we have a track within 10 miles of a bunch of casinos. So I think we’re well positioned for that rollout.

In the dozen jurisdictions where betting is legal, we’re getting ready to go. If we can get fans to watch an extra 15 minutes of a race or an extra six races a year, you can only imagine what that does to the value of our media rights. And a more engaged fan is going to visit more tracks, buy more merchandise and be bigger ambassadors for the sport. We’ve seen before that our fans are willing to go out and be an evangelist for our sport.

Data | Genius Sports | Interview | NASCAR | Scott Warfield | Sports betting