With NASCAR consistently drawing some of the biggest audiences in U.S. sports, Tim Clark III has a job that keeps him busy. As NASCAR’s managing director of digital media, Clark oversees the organization’s entire digital platform, which includes NASCAR.com, the mobile apps, and its subscription products. Here, the digital space veteran sits down with Direct Interface Founder Kevin Jordan to discuss NASCAR’s dynamic digital strategy and how he manages life in the fast lane.
DIRECT INTERFACE: Talk a little bit about your experience.
I’ve had 15-plus years of experience specifically in the digital space, and that’s been on the brand and the agency side. Before taking the job at NASCAR, I worked for a company called GSI, which was founded by Michael Rubin. This was prior to him launching the Fanatics Brand. The role I had at GSI was to manage the e-commerce efforts for lead partnerships. So, NFL, NBA, major league baseball, NHL, and NASCAR were part of that as well. I got to know the NASCAR guys and understood they were in the process of relaunching the digital platforms, as they took those rights back in-house from Turner, and then I came onboard in 2012 and started the journey from there.
I’m sure you must have a sizeable team, specifically, what helps shape your leadership behavior?
There are very few roles in the digital business that I have not done myself, and I think that gives you an interesting leadership perspective. Mine is born out of experience and understanding, and I am a huge believer in simplification. I think when you talk about motivation, it’s considerably easier to motivate someone if you make it clear the goals that they’re chasing. So for me, my goal was to make sure that people understand what can motivate them and what is motivating them to come in every day, and perhaps equally importantly, how they can see their progress when they go home every night.
I’m also a big fan of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech. Got a framed copy of that in my office, and it talks a lot about the people that are willing to take risks and dare greatly, and maybe they come up short and make some mistakes, but they also learn and get better, and keep, maybe trying to improve. So I think that’s kind of what motivates me and what has shaped me from a leadership perspective.
With 15 years in the digital space, you practically were there from the advent of it. What is the single thing you believe has changed sports and the fan experience?
I think I have to put it solely on social media. Social media has single-handedly created a content creation mechanism, a content distribution network, a live scoreboard, a tune-in reminder, instant messaging system, trash talk board, fan club, commerce platform, one-to-one communication to your favorite teams and your favorite athletes. To me, social media is instant gratification for sports fans.
You said you have oversight over the website, the app, and the subscription units. How is NASCAR working through some of those challenges you’re seeing in those areas, that can actually dovetail into live-streaming video to your fan base?
It’s no longer acceptable to just have a live broadcast. We’ve got great broadcast partners and we’re putting out products on linear television and Fox and NBC. But for us, on the website and the mobile apps, and in some cases on social media networks, we’re live streaming content every single weekend. We’ve got live in-car camera gears, which if I’m a NASCAR fan, and specifically if I’m a Ryan Blaney fan, I can ride along with him for any race on my phone in real time and listen to the communication that he has with his team throughout any given race. I think that’s a pretty incredible experience for a NASCAR fan, and something that’s unique to our sport.
Now, it doesn’t come without its set of opportunities, right? You’ve got the amount of infrastructure that’s required to put down that much live streaming video and to broadcast that through mobile apps, it is a considerable undertaking and requires a significant investment. But I think we feel it’s really important, again, to match those expectations that sports fans have and NASCAR fans have. As far as our fan base in particular, I think we stay pretty consistent with average U.S. trends, probably a little younger and maybe a little bit more diverse than you might think.
That said, I believe our responsibility on the digital side is, we have to create experiences that satisfy the core fans, and then we also have to be user-friendly and accessible enough that new fans will have a positive experience and will want to come back after they have that first experience with us.
How do you go about segmenting the audience to identify what their passion points are? Being able to personalize that message and/or experience, is like the holy grail, right? Is that something that you’re currently working on?
I would say that’s probably, for this year and next year, that’s probably near or at the top of the list for us on the digital side is being able to do exactly what you said, to segment that audience based on their behavior. I think the great thing about the way the digital space has evolved is that there is so much data available to you to tell you what fans want and how they want it and where they want it. I think for us, we’re able to consistently serve up a different experience for someone who visits the digital platform four times a day as opposed to one that visits maybe once a week or once a month.
Then certainly, if you have a favorite driver and you’re more inclined to want content specific to that driver, we can hopefully provide that experience to you. So I think you’re exactly right, our ability to identify those particular segments and make sure that they’re getting the right experience … The experience for a newer fan that maybe isn’t as familiar with the sport relative to one who has been a lifelong fan of NASCAR and understands the tracks and the competition and the drivers, it’s certainly incumbent on us to make sure that we’re differentiating those experiences.
Tell me what are three trends that you’re following, and why?
I think AR and VR are on everyone’s radar and certainly on mine. I think that the two big questions for everyone, and they’re somewhat connected, is can that technology scale and can it be monetized? I think that monetization could be directly or indirectly. Is there sponsor value? Is the content valuable enough that it can become something that fans will want to pay for to get? I think in sports and entertainment, that’s really interesting to think of. The point was made that for any game, you can sell only one ticket for the best seat in the house, whether that is a concert or a sporting event. But with the technology of virtual reality and alternate reality, you can make that seat available to millions of people at the same time.
I think that’s a really, really fascinating technology, but it’s got to be able to reach scale, it’s got to be able to reach your broad audience, and it’s got to be cost effective or it’s going to be tough for that to move forward. No. 2 is eSports. I think it’s obviously hugely popular and its growth and demographic make it obviously desirable for a lot of people. If it can serve as a way to get kids and youth interested in sports, whether that be as a participant or as a fan or a follower, I think that’s a really interesting trend to keep an eye on.
I would tell you the third one is, the unnamed emergence of trends. Similar to what we talked about with Amazon and Facebook, if the speed at which this industry is evolving and continues to evolve, I think you’ve got to keep it top of mind that there is a technology that you or I wouldn’t even think to bring up today that will be top of mind within three years if not sooner. So, I think it’s important for us to keep an eye on those trends that you don’t go in too early, so that you’re maybe not being cost effective or smart with your investment. But also not too late, where you’ve kind of missed the point whereby you’re not part of that growth wave. So I think the third one is, just kind of more of a generic awareness of where the trends are headed.