NASCAR's Scott Warfield on "Upside" and "Innovation" in Betting as Racing Returns This Month
On the heels of NASCAR announcing it would return to action this month, we spoke with Scott Warfield, managing director, gaming, for NASCAR.
Sara Slane: Tell us about NASCAR’s thought process for coming back in May.
Scott Warfield: NASCAR and its teams are eager and excited to return to racing and have great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition. This decision was not made lightly and we’re only returning in an environment that will ensure the safety of our competitors and those in the local community.
SS: How do you envision incorporating sports betting into this unique opportunity given you are one of the first professional sports to return?
SW: NASCAR has always been at the forefront of innovation and that has been evident during the most unfortunate hiatus these last couple of months. Through its partnership with iRacing and FOX, NASCAR now holds the top five spots in terms of most viewed esports events in the history of US television and it was that Pro Invitational Series that also provided operators around the globe with a high quality betting option for its customers through March, April and the early parts of May.
With the return of real racecars on real tracks in two weeks, we fully expect another round of strong interest from operators looking for high quality sports content that fans can engage with in meaningful ways.
In particular I’ll be looking for additional market offerings around the sport geared at casual fans. In other words, bet types like driver head-to-head, group matchups, highest finishing car manufacturer, stage winners, number of lead changes, number of leaders, top three, top five, top ten, and so on. With some creativity and innovation in terms of bet type development, NASCAR can become a very popular sports betting option and I’m interested to see which operators take advantage of that when NASCAR thrusts itself into the global spotlight as the first major sport back in action.
SS: What are some of the products you hope to launch to attract bettors?
SW: Our data provider in the space, BetGenius, has built a high-quality, live, in-race product that provides fans and bettors with engagement opportunities throughout the entire event and entire field. This one-stop-shop option is super compelling and will change how bettors look at the sport as the amount of data coming off 36 cars going 200 miles-per-hour just inches apart is unlike anything else in global sport.
NASCAR’s upside in this space is significant and I believe we’ll see some tremendous innovation and creativity up and down the Strip and beyond as NASCAR returns to racing in mid-May. Side-by-side racing, bumping and banging, drama, unpredictability – those are all things NASCAR fans have come to expect from racing and I’m excited to see casual sports fans learn the same about NASCAR in the coming weeks.
SS: You had a lot of success with NASCAR iRacing. Can you describe your thinking behind launching? How will you look to carry this into the future?
SW: The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series that we launched in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 hiatus exceeded our wildest expectations. We had1.3 million viewers on national TV, were trending number one on Twitter most weeks, were broadcast in 160 countries worldwide and had a robust gaming strategy that included free-to-play, daily fantasy and real money gaming.
Our partners at Penn [National Gaming] rebuilt the NASCAR Finish Line app to leverage this virtual opportunity and our daily fantasy partner DraftKings did the same with that offering. FanDuel quickly stood up a daily fantasy game as well and operators in Nevada, New Jersey and West Virginia offered various markets around this new virtual series, all adding up to an incredible, fully-immersive experience for fans during one of the darkest times in our history. We never would have wanted those 15 minutes of fame for our esports efforts but we’re certainly proud of them and how this iRacing series helped return a sense of normalcy to sports fans all over the globe during the pandemic.
SS: What were your considerations for coming back, and how do you picture solving for some of the challenges?
SW: Following thorough collaboration with public health officials, medical experts and state and federal officials, NASCAR has implemented a comprehensive plan to ensure the health and safety of our competitors and the surrounding communities.
Our event will be strictly tailored in every way to follow specific guidelines set by the CDC. In accordance with CDC, OSHA and state and local government recommendations, NASCAR has significantly modified event procedures, including hosting one-day shows at racetracks within driving distance to North Carolina race shops to minimize travel distance and time spent in a community. NASCAR has implemented several procedural adjustments to reduce health risks, including conducting the race without fans in attendance, eliminating large gatherings/meetings, mandating the use of protective equipment, health screenings for all individuals prior to entering the facility and maintaining social distancing protocols throughout the event.
NASCAR’s intention is to reschedule all points races for all national series events and is working with the racetracks and broadcast partners to assess potential options.
SS: What specifically will look different about this return for NASCAR?
SW: NASCAR has placed strict limits on the number of individuals who are granted access into the facility. Only individuals considered essential to the competition and/or broadcasting of the race weekend per NASCAR who have completed training on CDC best practices and have been screened by their employer will be allowed to participate. Every potential participant must undergo a pre-event screening by their employer and must complete familiarization training that includes CDC best practices before their name is added to an organizational roster. All personnel will be screened prior to entering the infield area at the location designated and communicated prior to the event. In addition, there may be health screenings during the event, as well as exiting the event.
Once inside the facility, individuals must follow health protocols, such as wearing a cloth mask and practicing social distancing at all times. The entire venue will be employed for garage stalls, hauler parking, etc., with the goal to maintain social distancing guideline.