Sponsorships are a big business in the sports entertainment world. One industry study estimates that sponsorships will reach $16.37 billion this year in North America alone.
With that much money going into sponsorships, how can brands ensure that their investments are paying off?
NASCAR, one of the most popular sports in the U.S., is doing more with its data, including helping companies measure the effectiveness of sponsorships. We recently sat down with Norris Scott, vice president of analytics and insights at NASCAR, to learn about the company’s approach and how it helps to retain sponsors, study fan behaviors, monitor consumption and much more. In our chat, he also shared how he got to his current role and his advice to young professionals in media.
Your position at NASCAR is new—just over a year in existence. What prompted NASCAR to create this new role?
There were a number of factors that led to the creation of my role and our team. The biggest one was the growing need for data-driven decision making as a core tenet of our engagement strategy across channels. Additionally, the rapid changing pace of technology to extract and use data with a more integrated strategy was a factor in creating our new team. In real time or near real time, we are now able to pull relevant data across all of our channels and use a consistent analytical approach to harness actionable insights that we relay throughout our organization. In that respect, we are no different than many Fortune 100 or 500 companies that are bringing data more to the forefront.
"Having the new analytics and insights group allows us to be more data-driven and put the voice of the fan at the center of everything we do."
Having the new analytics and insights group allows us to be more data-driven and put the voice of the fan at the center of everything we do. We can now sell and talk about fans’ behaviors as much as their demos. We help NASCAR leadership, teams, tracks, sponsors and broadcast partners with our insights.
Prior to the formation of this group, NASCAR had several data functions—social media, digital, television, fan research and our sponsorship measurement practice—working in separate silos. It made sense to break down those walls and unite them under one insights team, to have a more holistic and integrative approach around data and insights. We are one of the few rights holders to have all of these functions under one umbrella.
Interestingly, your team reports to the CMO. Why is that?
Jill Gregory, who is my boss and the CMO, firmly believes in an insight-driven decision-making team. Our organization has always had strong opinions and perspectives; now, we are able to support them with proven insights.
We have also changed a few minds and unearthed new opportunities through unexpected insights. This means we're more aligned with some critical parts of the business, like marketing, tracks, driver services, and our sponsorship teams. Our data is becoming more relevant with those groups in their planning and implementation.
You would never build an expansion on your house without hiring an architect. This is no different. You need reliable data to guide your business.
I noticed that your previous role at NASCAR was a sales position. What inspired you to move over to analytics and insights?
In my prior role, I was involved in sponsorship measurement practices. I worked with partners and helped them derive value from their sponsorships, and worked with third parties or internal resources to create ROI measurements. Through that, I had opportunities to use analytics and see its benefits: 1) Using it beforehand to help craft and value asset packages; 2) Using it in the room to help reinforce the narrative and close the deal; and 3) Using it after the deal to continually analyze and present optimization suggestions to our partners in an effort maximize ROI. The opportunity to lead this critical part of the business really excited me.
Additionally, what I bring to this side of the business is a commercial lens. A lot of what I try to do is bring data more to the forefront and use impactful storytelling with our data. Using my commercial sponsorship background, I'm able to look at how we use data differently than the way we've used it in the past. I love combining the science of analytics and insights with the art of selling and maintaining client relationships. It is a nice Yin and Yang.
Based on your long experience in corporate sponsorships, could you share some thoughts on how media and entertainment companies can help sponsors measure ROI?
First off, you need to be committed to measuring ROI. Period. Many rights holders or sponsors still don’t invest in some type of measurement. That's a miss on many levels. How can you know if the program is working if you are not measuring? Better yet, how do you identify and optimize a program without knowing what worked, what didn’t and why?
At NASCAR, we're encouraging more sponsors to get involved, either by letting us do some measurement on their behalf or by doing it themselves. That's going to make their lives easier when trying to justify the spend, and help guide them on how to improve their sponsorship every step of the way. It's not a one-size-fits-all solution, but all good measurement plans should be directly tied to the goals and objectives of the partnership. Some brands want to do more on social than TV, or vice versa. By having a measurement plan in place, you can use that not only as a guide to justify the expense—but to see results!
"Imagine talking to thousands of fans while they watch a live event on their couch?! We did that!"
We try to communicate and demonstrate to partners that ROI can be simple and affordable, but it can also be very complex and expensive. Whether it's simply building a post-event survey after hosting clients, or building a methodology to track awareness around a simple program, there are some easy, affordable things you can do to measure how well your sponsorship is trending.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are much more sophisticated methods, such as digital tracking or live polling. This is something we recently did this year around the Daytona 500. We partnered with a third-party company and did some digital tracking with fans around the Daytona 500, and we were able to see what they were doing on their devices 24 hours before, the day of the Daytona 500, and the day after it. We garnered a lot of insight from that. We also partnered with a company that uses Artificial Intelligence to generate live polling results. Imagine talking to thousands of fans while they watch a live event on their couch?! We did that! So much is possible today to measure your partnerships.
What can media companies do to improve the process of measuring sponsorship ROI?
Technology is such a critical part of it. The real challenge is connecting the dots between social, digital and TV around the live event experience and the fan behavior. A few insight partners we work with are getting closer to mastering that, but it's still hard to connect all those dots. We’re getting closer every day.
That said, measuring ROI is still in its infancy. Eight to 10 years ago, best-in-class sponsorship meant hanging up some signs and hosting some clients. Then counting impressions or eyeballs of who may have seen it. It's still early, but it’s also moving quickly. Now you can learn so much more about fan interactions, preferences, behaviors, likes and dislikes. It can be overwhelming to some. We work with partners like Vision Critical, Nielsen, comScore and Simmons to stay with the pace because they all have products and tools to help us manage that side of the business.
In the last year, we have helped some partners prove their ROI. By partnering with NASCAR, many big brands have been able to prove a two- or four-to-one ROI from their sponsorship. We’ve helped them prove the value of their sponsorships. It can be achieved.
"By partnering with NASCAR, many big brands have been able to prove a two- or four-to-one ROI from their sponsorship."
One recent example is a study we did around Daytona 500, where we were able to show that fans who follow the Daytona 500 were 60 percent more likely to rate official partners more positively than those who did not follow the race. That's an extraordinary data point that our partners like to see, particularly because this can justify to partners that investing in and around NASCAR’s biggest event of the year is worth it. In addition to some of the data we saw, we also noticed great brand ratings from fans and a higher likelihood of purchase to those that watched the race.
The data proved that the more integrated a partner was in their activity around the race, the more all those numbers went up. Don't just buy a TV spot. Buy a TV spot, run a social campaign, and run some digital inventory. That's a bigger undertaking, but it will yield you a higher likelihood for getting positive results. In fact, the study proved that the fans who followed the Daytona 500 on more than one platform ranked the highest in many of the categories that these brands want.
In a recent article for Henry Stewart Publications, you talked about the importance of authenticity in creating an omni-channel and partnership strategy. How do you use analytics and insight to create authentic campaigns?
When it comes to using insights to get authentic campaigns, we have two tools that we use daily and both are proprietary. One is the NASCAR Official Fan Council, our insight community on the Vision Critical platform. It’s a 25,000-strong fan community that enables us understand fan behaviors, likes and dislikes, and attitudes—insight that helps us improve our content strategy and sometimes the product on the track.
We can rank our most favorite drivers in the minds of fans and identify that five of our top 10 favorite drivers are 25 years old or younger. We know that Kyle Larson is a top 5 favorite driver among avid fans, notably for performing well, taking risks, and being exciting to watch. We have thousands of data points like this. We can even identify Jeff Gordon fans and track their consumption before and after his retirement. It’s a fascinating tool.
The other tool is NASCAR's Fan and Media Engagement Center (FMEC), our social listening tool that measures social media conversation and tonality around NASCAR-related topics, events and promotions. We measure fan sentiment in real-time 24/7 for all of our national series race events, and we also use the platform to deliver custom-tailored insights to our entire ecosystem–teams, tracks, and NASCAR Official Partners. A sophisticated platform built in-house, the FMEC has allowed us to use the right data— 100 million data points and counting—to create content and campaigns that our fan base will find compelling and will want to engage with.
"In a campaign planning environment, we can take the several years’ worth of fan conversation about a brand in the sport and use that information to help our partners maximize their activation."
In a real-time race environment, the team in the FMEC can detect a topic of interest—a wreck, close lead changes, or a race to a stage finish, for instance—that is trending with fans and immediately alert NASCAR’s social content production team, who can then amplify in social media what’s happening on the track. In a campaign planning environment, we can take the several years’ worth of fan conversation about a brand in the sport and use that information to help our partners maximize their activation, through the use of content tactics like Facebook Live or Instagram Stories, or through compelling calls to action designed to drive digital conversions.
We use the Fan Council and FMEC to learn about fan engagement and let that guide our omnichannel strategy. These tools help us understand fan affinities and other attitudinal and behavioral characteristics that help us craft campaigns that resonate. The same tools help us develop an optimal distribution strategy that puts the right content on the right platform at the right time.
What advice do you have for young professionals who want to enter the sports entertainment or media business?
Work on forging relationships. As Vision Critical CEO Scott Miller said during the Customer Intelligence Summit, relationships are everything. You can't underestimate the value of networking and building relationships.
A big part of my career was when I did an informational interview with a gentleman at ABC Sports. I was connected with him through our alumni network. He agreed to an informational interview and, years later, there was a job opening. We had stayed in touch, he remembered me for that position and I ended up getting hired at ABC Sports as a result. That informational interview opened the door. You just never know.
Which books or other resources (podcasts, conferences, etc.) have had the most impact in your career, and why?
The ANA Masters of Marketing conference is by far the best conference. The speakers, messaging, set-up and content is very good. They have over 2,500 brand leaders attend annually. I might be a little selfish though. This year we received the Genius Award at this conference in the Analytics Adoption Category. This prestigious award recognized us for outstanding achievement in championing broad organizational adoption for analytics and accountability. It was a special moment for my team.
Thanks to Norris for sharing his time with us and answering our questions. Check out our Q&A series for more insight from executives from the world's most customer-centric brands.