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Social wall helps fan engagement climb

August 02, 2014, George Winkler, NASCAR.com

Social wall helps fan engagement climb
NASCAR partners with HP to give fans unique experience

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Editor's note: Photo via CJ Gibbs

NEWTON, Iowa -- As walls go, the NASCAR Social Wall Powered by HP is like no other seen by fans of the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Imagine if your computer screen was 6.5 feet by 28 feet and was visible to fans on the concourse of Iowa Speedway. Then imagine if your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram post could show up immediately for everyone to see -- alongside other fan posts and graphics pertaining to the race.

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When you break it down, it's the ultimate tool in fan engagement, because fans are talking to other fans who are at the track enjoying their sport. It's what NASCAR and Hewlett-Packard envisioned when they embarked on the project months ago.

Friday marked the first time such a wall had been deployed at a NASCAR track, but the organizers planned to bring the technology out for a second appearance at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the finale of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Although the wall was not more than a few hours old, it was making an impact with NASCAR fans and drivers, who already were discussing the posts sent to official hashtag #NASCARIowa.

"They just think it's a really cool thing to see, something they haven't seen at a NASCAR race before," said Jeff Wohlschlaeger, NASCAR's managing director, event marketing services. "And I think the perception is NASCAR is doing more and more to enhance the experience and make it more valuable for our fans to attend the race.

"The drivers have really been embracing it as well. I've heard a couple of the drivers say they're going to put together some videos and post them to the board, so it's really encouraging."

Working with HP, as well as social media vendor Wayin for the creative graphics, the NASCAR Social Wall Powered by HP is part of NASCAR's Industry Action Plan and an extension of the partnership between the sport and HP that first showed up on a major scale with the unveiling of the Fan & Media Engagement Center in January of 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"As part of the partnership between HP and NASCAR, innovation is always on top of mind," said Tim Reardon, project manager with HP enterprise services. "As an extension of the concepts of the FMEC, NASCAR wanted to bring the fan and media engagement experience to the track."

So NASCAR and HP met and made the social wall a shared goal. And after months of planning and creating, the goal became a reality before Saturday's running of the U.S. Cellular 250 Presented by New Holland (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

However, as Reardon said, this wall had to be better than the one NASCAR executives saw at a recent PGA event.

"Social walls like this have been around for a long time, but this is a brand-new wall," Reardon said. "This is what is called seven-millimeter technology, which is very high resolution. The older technology is nine-, 10- and 20-millimeter, which doesn't give you the good resolution for pictures and graphics."

The picture looked sharp: Nationwide stats were displayed on the left side of the giant screen with Chase Elliott's image toward the middle. On the right side, a constant flow of social posts was working its way through the software and posting for the whole world -- as well as the fans at Iowa -- to see.

Pretty cool stuff indeed, and NASCAR hopes projects like the social wall can help attract younger viewers to the sport.

"Social media is, of course, more prevalent in that young audience, and we're trying to capitalize on that and provide people that direct interaction, where it's visible, it's almost tangible for them," Wohlschlaeger said. "Our big thing is how can we turn our fans from spectators into participants, and this is a good way of doing that." 

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