NASCAR expects its new Fan and Media Engagement Center, the 500-square-foot glass-enclosed room on the eighth floor of the NASCAR Plaza in Charlotte that was officially unveiled on Monday, to serve as a model not only for other sports but also for other business and marketing organizations.
"It's going to allow us to handle digital and social media on behalf of our entire industry," NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "The beauty of this… the capabilities that have been created today are going to allow our industry to interact with our fans in ways we could have never dreamed of before in real time and in almost every medium across the country."
On race days, for example, four members of NASCAR's digital team will monitor data as it streams into the FMEC. Input will include the television and radio broadcasts, reports from traditional media and opinion from reporters and fans via social media.
Powered by custom technology developed by HP in partnership with NASCAR, the FMEC isn't simply a data accumulation system. Instead, it can measure both the quantity and quality of the data, gauging not only the volume of response but also the tonality or mood. Beyond that, the FMEC organizes the data into reports that are actionable in real time.
"It was Brian France's vision to have a center like this and understand what's being talked about, what the narrative is around NASCAR," said Steve Phelps, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the sanctioning body. "Technology is an important part of our sport. What this allows us to do from a technology standpoint really moves our sport forward…
"This will allow us to get all the conversations in. We'll be able from a social standpoint to understand what's being talked about. If someone is putting something out that's digital on a blog or something that's happening during a race, we can react to it in real time.
"That's important for us, because if there's misinformation out there, or if there's information that's actually good news that we want to pass along, this allows us to do that."
One of the most talked-about incidents of the entire 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season was the November wreck at Phoenix involving Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer. A Monday demonstration of the FMEC highlighted a huge spike in social media conversation surrounding that event as well as a breakdown of the tenor of the conversation.
The FMEC also can serve as an invaluable tool for teams and their sponsors, providing data not only of the reach of a campaign, but also, for example, how a particular initiative or paint scheme is being perceived and appreciated by the fan base. That information can help guide possible changes in the approach.
Though the FMEC will provide and organize the data into useful, actionable reports, it's up to NASCAR or its stakeholders to decide what requires a reaction and how to react. Nevertheless, according to Stephen DeWitt (RIGHT), HP senior vice president of enterprise marketing, there is an element of artificial intelligent to the project.
"Actually, it does have a little bit of A.I. in it," DeWitt said. "As an industry, we've always been good at mining data that fit in little tables, a data base table – what's your name, your address, a location – things that were easily searchable and minable.
"But that leaves out the entire human experience… emotion, sentiment, thought, feelings. The power of HP Autonomy, the back-end engine that's driving this, allows us to assimilate structured data and unstructured data and present it in a manner that you can action."