NASCAR, like many of the other major sports leagues in the United States, is getting in on the content that is provided by partnerships with online betting. Joseph Solosky, Managing Director of NASCAR, recently told SBC America that: “We see sports betting as a medium to further engage our already existing loyal fanbase at NASCAR who may never have bet on auto racing before.”
Solosky is no stranger to the online gaming industry, having worked at Sportradar, the leading online sports data leveraging service, for five years. Solosky is taking that previous experience and building unique content with the betting platforms and giving NASCAR fans a different experience.
In our interview with Joseph Solosky, he explains just how NASCAR is constructing opportunities in online gaming as well as preparing to attend the SBC Digital North America conference.
“We saw it not so much as a revenue opportunity but rather a fan engagement opportunity”
Bolavip: What is NASCAR doing with their betting partners to immerse the brand in the world of online gaming?
Joseph Solosky: When sports betting was legalized in 2018, NASCAR was pretty quick to realize that through online betting’s legalization, it was something that we should embrace as a sport… We saw it not so much as a revenue opportunity but rather a fan engagement opportunity, as a way to grow the sport through the vehicle of legalized sports betting...So, sports betting to us (NASCAR), is a top of the funnel to someone watching a race on television, and the next step for that person would be to attend a race, and therefore become a fan of the sport. We want to increase fans for NASCAR and our initiatives across the league itself have shown that over the last year in terms of the steps we have taken on a broader social and cultural stance… In 2019 we signed an integrity deal with Sportradar and a data deal with BetGenius.
BV: What does the integrity deal with Sportsradar provide NASCAR?
JS: The integrity part is important for NASCAR because we want to make sure that our fans are being protected with legalized sports betting. We want to know that no one is being taken advantage of. That this vehicle of sports betting is not a dangerous vehicle, where people are having gambling problems. This also led to a partnership with the American Gaming Association, we are the first league to have a partnership with the American Gaming Association, and we take that very seriously as we do with all integrity and rules around NASCAR.
BV: With those elements in place how do you work with your partners?
JS: Well from there, we know we have our data partnership, our streaming partnership with IMG, and our integrity partnership, how do we go forward with this and get this message out to consumers who may be betting? That is when we started our relationships with our authorized gaming operators, we signed a partnership with Penn National last year, followed by BetMGM, and WinBet in late 2020, and you are seeing those activations in 2021. With WinBet in Virginia they had betting lounges and suites and activation areas at the Martinsville and Richmond raceways. You are seeing more of our authorized gaming operators activating whether it’s track signage or digital on our website. We have deep links that go from NASCAR.com in legalized betting states to the operators betting slip, so if our fans want to bet they can be redirected to one of our partners.
BV: If there is an underlying theme with sports leagues and online betting is content, correct? Get fans involved through different content.
JS: Yeah, I can’t speak strategically on how or why other leagues are doing what they are doing, we see what other leagues are doing like the NBA who have their bet cast, like a second screen for fans who want to opt in on betting coverage. That is a great example of what another league is doing and not oversaturating their broadcasts on ESPN and making it an opt in for betting. Specific to what NASCAR is doing, I think it has been a conversation starter for sure, if you watch our broadcasts on FOX or NBC, not a majority of the coverage by any means, but a good amount of coverage is spent around what the odds are, displaying the odds, and the announcers make their picks around the race. “Who do you think is undervalued?”, “Who do you think would be a good driver for this race?” Having former drivers’ chip in and say, “well because the racer performed well on this type of track and this type of track is similar, I like his odds for the race.” So, it definitely continues the conversation in a different way on broadcasts and in front of a mainstream audience, than it would have been four years ago before this was all legalized.
BV: How was the experience of working at Sportradar and how did it shape your current position?
JS: It was a relatively smooth transition, Sportradar has all of the biggest bookmakers in the world and in the U.S. as their clients. As a sales director in the U.S. I worked with all the big bookmakers, so I had that prior relationship, which I think was valuable for NASCAR in selecting me for this role. So it was pretty seamless to kind of transition over and say, “hey am now on the league side of things”, and working with them in a different perspective… Those relationships have all been helped by my prior relationships with people in those organizations, so now instead of talking with business development roles am talking more to league relationship roles and higher level employees to show these operators the value NASCAR brings to them.
BV: Do the operators provide you with information as to what kinds of bets are being placed on NASCAR events? How does the data sharing work?
JS: It is really important for me and NASCAR to have visibility on what fans are betting on, it helps me understand what fans are engaging with and what they are not engaging with. Anytime we do a deal with an operator or data supplier one of the things that we ask for is good reporting at a certain cadence where we see the types of markets people are betting on, bet counts, handles, all of those metrics that are important for an operator are also important for a league. It is very important for NASCAR to understand what our partners are doing from an activation and marketing perspective and what's working on that front, and also just generally seeing how our fans are reacting to certain races, and states where online betting is legal or not legal, how that is affecting betting partners and behavior.
Driver and Racing team individual sponsorship deals
BV: NASCAR has a league wide deal, but what about the drivers can they have their own betting sponsorship?
JS: We encourage all the drivers and racing teams to pursue this category for sponsorships. I know it is a new category… but the name of the game for operators is acquiring customers, and a way they can do that is to identify their brand with a driver or racing team and get their brand on a driver's car or social channels. There are certain guidelines and rules that the drivers and teams need to follow from NASCAR, who is the sanctioning body, in terms how they can activate and make sure there is no conflict of interest or integrity issues as they activate as a sponsor. Whether or not the betting partner is a partner of NASCAR or not, the drivers and teams are free to work with any betting partner they want as long as the betting operator is licensed and regulated in the United States.
BV: What are NASCAR’s objectives when attending digital conferences like the SBC Digital North America conference?
JS: Well first of all, we are super excited for an actual in person conference to come back, as fatigued as we might have been two or three years ago from going to conferences all the time, seeing the same people, I think at this point we all miss each other… The digital conferences have been good in terms of reach, I think it is great to have other operators, leagues, and suppliers all in one room to share what’s going on in their respective industries and companies. It’s been great for people to get awareness from the prospective that the leagues are getting involved and this is what their take on things are, that legislators are getting involved and this is what their take is. From a conferences perspective I think one of the most exciting things is also not only getting in front of the operators, leagues, and suppliers, but it’s also getting in front of the fans. I really appreciate the aspect of education in this category and educating the consumer of what is coming out in the marketplace.