Scott Warfield, Managing Director of Gaming at Nascar, speaks exclusively to Gambling Insider about how core fans will "evangelise" its betting market and expand Nascar's audience.
You’ve been at Nascar for nearly a decade, but this is a relatively new role to you and the company. How has it been so far?
Interesting would probably be the best word. I moved over full-time back in September but was doing a dual role, still running a lot of our digital and social content. But when PASPA was struck down last year – we’re a private, family-owned company at Nascar – the owners quickly realised what an engagement opportunity sports betting was and put a handful of folk on it in the summer of last year.
It’s been a learning curve, but it’s been fantastic. I think both the internal support at Nascar and support throughout the entire garage with the teams and the tracks has been fantastic.
Can you describe some of the bet types in Nascar and what are the more popular trends you have noticed?
The good and the bad news is, so far, I think it’s been pretty limited in terms of the offering. Obviously there is race winner and series champion. There’s a little bit more with grouping, depending on which sportsbook you’re at. There’s driver grouping and head-to-head match ups. But the innovation around product offering on bet types, I would say, has been limited.
What we see with Genius Sports, the product we are building together is really relying on in-play betting – or as we call it, in-race – and the opportunities that 40 cars going 200mph inches apart represent for an in-play product. Our sport has been built on close, side-by-side racing where there is a lot of passing in every single lap.
So as you can imagine, when you have that type of back and forth, the opportunities for in-race are going to be tremendous. But it’s about how we roll that out in a simplistic format and grow that offering over time. As opposed to trying to drop a whole new experience that’s overly complex to a casual fan. So we’re thinking of a phased approach.
As more states begin to legalise sports betting, is there a particular betting channel you would like to see more of? For example, would online or in-stadium be better for Nascar?
That’s a good question. I think mobile is a great opportunity for everyone. At some of our facilities we have one race a year and some have two races a year at the top Cup series. So the ability to have mobile betting is interesting for us. I think it presents a unique opportunity to get our fans engaged while they’re at the facilities, the restaurants and bars, and at home. We have a huge TV audience every single Sunday.
If you look at the states at least rumoured to be close to coming online, we’re really well positioned. We have tracks in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and so on. If you look at what New Jersey has done with mobile, we think that’s a good opportunity for the sport of Nascar.
As with any sport, whenever sports betting comes into play, there will be questions of match fixing, or race fixing in this instance. This is obviously something you will have to keep your eye on.
One hundred per cent; I’ve talked a little bit about the support and appetite the company and family has had for sports betting. That all came after ensuring we did everything in our power to make sure the sanctity of the racing events were protected.
We did an integrity deal with Sportradar back in October. They came in and did a lot of our fraud detection monitoring and education sessions with our teams, tracks and a lot of the garage, just to make sure everyone understands where there are cracks in the system. That’s been a vital piece of the entire strategy because at the end of the day, our core product is race cars and really competitive racing from some of the best drivers in the world. That will always be our bread and butter. Sports betting only works if the integrity is not compromised.
Nascar announced a deal with the Action Network in May. How important is it to educate fans on sports betting?
It’s vital; we don’t come in with 40-50 years of comprehensive sports betting across the globe around Nascar. A lot of how we’ve approached this, both with the Action Network deal and our own platforms, is education.
We’re running odds every single week off Nascar.com and we have a 10-question free-to-play game on the website that educates fans on what different bet types could look like. The content partnership with the Action Network has been fantastic because they appeal to the casual sports bettor, and now they are producing a lot of Nascar content for that site. We’re also running a lot of the Action Network content on our website.
That education awareness is vital. Of all Nascar information viewed online, 70% of it comes from our website. We have a tremendous reach with our digital platform. So we are utilising all of those in the right places; we want to serve that content to people who are looking for it. Others that want to come and just get the schedule and driver information, we’ll still serve them as well. But finding the right places with our partners and platforms is a big strategy of ours.
Do you think Nascar betting can help expand the audience of the sport?
I do and that’s why we are taking a long-term view on this. I’m not naive enough to think sports betting will double audience sizes overnight. A lot of other initiatives within the company, whether that’s esports, driver and star power development or the live experience, all of those key fundamental disciplines that my colleagues are working on are going to help grow the pie as well.
But sports betting, over time, is going to do that. The way we’ve thought about it with Genius Sports in particular is we have three to five million people every single Sunday watching our product in the US, and many more globally. How do you turn that core fandom into ambassadors of the sports betting product? They are going to evangelise it to a neighbour, friend or relative.
That’s why we are right now utilising, in this first phase, our Nascar.com website and our core fan platforms. Then, in time, we’ll roll out bet types that are going to attract an NFL fan, an English Premier League fan, an F1 fan or even a horseracing fan. Those are the casual sports bettors who are going to understand enough about Nascar to bet on a race winner or who will win stage one.
Is there a risk of alienating current fans?
I think that’s fair and that’s why I say, with our education elements, we’re trying to serve this content to people who are looking for it. If you’re a core fan who doesn’t participate in sports betting, we don’t want to hit you over the head with sports betting content.
That’s tricky but, with today’s technologies and platforms, there’s efficient ways to do that. We’re certainly cognisant of the fact not everyone will be into this, so it’s about making this product and experience available to the ones that are.
I think we will learn along the way and might have a situation where we go too far, or have some push back on it, and I think we’ll react. We evolve our strategies and approach every single day.
What is Nascar’s stance on integrity fees?
Due to the size of our handle, we’ve been focused on using sports as an engagement tool. So how do you make this product available to as many people as possible who are looking for it? That’s what I’m more interested in when we talk to sports operators in the Strip and beyond. How do you get more people playing? As opposed to the short-term monetary benefit, we’re taking a long view that asks what sports betting can do for Nascar and the size of its fan base.
When you look at it through that lens, you end up taking a different approach. That doesn’t mean we’re right and others are wrong, it’s how Nascar views it.
We’ve seen reports of the NBA and MLB using their position with data suppliers to try and force the issue with integrity frees. Does this need to be dealt with on a legislative level?
Some of that is probably better for those particular leagues to answer. Again for us, the conversations we’ve had with Genius Sports and operators have been: we have a very unique sport, a ton of fans that are fans of other sports and betting on those. How do we create a product that is interesting to the operators? What would make them inclined to take our solution and offer it to customers?
So we’ve been on listening tour, frankly, and bringing that information in as part of the developmental process with Genius Sports. It’s a different way to go about it; but again, we don’t have a 40 to 50-year-old handle that is as mature as some of the others.
Over time do I hope we can get there? Absolutely. Do I think we can if we develop the right product and offer the right bet types? I do. But right now it’s been about bringing information in to help us develop the product.
Looking ahead to the rest of the year, what do you see as pivotal moments for sports betting in Nascar?
We talked a bit about the sports betting roll-out coming for some of the states where Nascar has facilities. We start our play-offs in September at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, so I see that as a milestone and an iconic time when the whole industry embarks on the epicentre of sports betting in the US.
I know it’s not in the calendar this year, but I look at the 2020 Daytona 500. We start our season with our marquee event. It’s similar to the NBA Finals or the Kentucky Derby. We’ve been talking to the Genius Sports folk and laying out this product map, really making sure we are ready with this unique offering at the kick-off.