Since taking the wheel of NASCAR’s sports betting initiatives in March, Joe Solosky has overseen the expansion of one of the racing organization’s sportsbook sponsorships, helped bring another partner aboard, worked with broadcasters to integrate betting content, strived to educate fans, and guided the sport into states where sports betting is close to being legalized.
Solosky came to NASCAR from Sportradar, a multinational corporation that provides data to leagues, media companies and bookmakers, relocating to Charlotte for his new gig as Managing Director of Sports Betting.
As the 2021 season nears its conclusion, we caught up with Joe to reflect on his first year on the job and to look forward to what lies ahead in 2022.
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NASCAR.com: How’s life in Charlotte? How is the new addition to your family?
Solosky: I tell people that we are “planted” in Charlotte, and I really mean it. We’ve adapted well to southern life, and I can’t see ever leaving. Having our first baby, a son named Calvin, born here only further solidifies that.
NASCAR.com: How has year one in your new role been?
Solosky: While Sportradar was a great company to work for, and my five-and-a-half years there got me to where I am, I have not looked back once since joining NASCAR. It truly is a family organization, and I’ve felt that since day one. Going from the data to league side has been a learning curve, but one that has been a bit easier to manage than previous position changes have been in the past.
NASCAR.com: What have been the biggest challenges?
Solosky: Definitely learning the sport. My biggest anxiety in applying for this role was my lack of exposure to, and awareness of, NASCAR growing up. While I have gained a great appreciation for the sport, its fans, and have become a fan myself, there is still a lot of learning to do on my side.
NASCAR.com: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Solosky: I would say playing a role in getting NASCAR involved in the market access conversation in Ohio. When I joined, it seemed all of the teams and leagues were involved in that conversation except for us. I saw it as a good opportunity to display the type of aggression and leadership this role requires to bring awareness and recognition to our sport. Through amazing collaboration with our government affairs team and guidance with the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, motorsports betting will be more prevalent in the Buckeye State than it would have been otherwise.
NASCAR.com: You told me earlier this year you were not necessarily a huge NASCAR fan coming into this job, but you have since gained a new appreciation for the sport.
Solosky: Absolutely. The first race I went to was Pocono in June, and since I have been to Daytona and Charlotte, with plans to attend the championship in Phoenix. I was told the level of access employees and guests of employees get is unparalleled, but it pales in comparison to experiencing it. Having been converted to a fan of NASCAR through my initial experiences of attending races, it gives me full confidence in selling the sport to potential partners of ours in the sports betting space.
NASCAR.com: What’s been your favorite track?
Solosky: I would have to say Pocono because it was my first experience. I took the opportunity to watch each stage from a different vantage point — from pit road, from a suite and from the grandstands. The experience of watching an exciting finish in the grandstands while being able to connect with fans in a legal sports betting state to understand what we can do better has proven to be invaluable.
NASCAR.com: Did you bet on the Pocono races, since it’s in a legal state? How did you fare?
Solosky: At NASCAR, employees, drivers, and anyone involved in competition can’t bet on NASCAR. However, in Pennsylvania I did download a few apps to see what the user experience looked like and how NASCAR was presented differently across the apps. What was most helpful was anecdotal market research I did in asking fans if they bet on NASCAR, and what they liked and didn’t like.
NASCAR.com: What track were you not able to visit this season that you’re most looking forward to?
Solosky: I am really excited for our exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to kick off the season in 2022. I am anticipating new partners, new sports betting features and a race format that will be betting-friendly and different from our typical races.
NASCAR.com: There’s concern about the amount of gambling ads sports fans are seeing these days? What are your feelings about that? How much is too much, and how are you working with partners to find the right balance?
Solosky: I feel the same concern, and it’s something I’ve been cognizant about since day one at this job. The last thing I want is for fans who are not sports bettors to be alienated from the sport by the prevalence of sports betting advertising. I know our broadcasters do a great job of that, and I think we at NASCAR with our partnership team also does a good job in toeing that line. From our email, social, digital, signage and hospitality assets, we make sure we provide deliverables that target the right audience, don’t overload, and provide second-screen type options for those who want to engage in sports betting. Finally, none of those avenues in which we promote sports betting doesn’t come without activations from our partner in the American Gaming Association to educate fans on how to participate responsibly.
NASCAR.com: With the recent Fubo deal, NASCAR now has four sportsbook sponsors. How do you keep them all happy?
Solosky: My philosophy in taking on more partners is to work with those operators who want to work with us. From the first call, there must be some synergy between what NASCAR can do for their brand and what their platform can do for us as a sport. From there, we find clear delineations of what makes most sense for a specific sportsbook sponsor to “own” on our platform. I believe this helps in displaying to our partners we are not diluting their brand or giving preference to one operator over another.
NASCAR.com: What new and exciting things should NASCAR bettors look forward to next season?
Solosky: I think fans and bettors can look forward to a betting experience that looks and feels more like how stick-and-ball sports are bet on. Traditionally the race-winner market has been the featured offering for NASCAR, and given the long odds combined with length of a race, if that’s someone’s first bet on a NASCAR event, it also could be their last. Beginning next season, along with our sportsbook partners, we will be focusing on matchup or head-to-head betting. This changes the way a fan or bettor watches the race from a one driver vs. the field model, to a driver vs. driver model. We are also exploring providing a point spread bet for finishing position differential and an over/under for points gained in these head-to-head matchups.
NASCAR.com: We are a season away from an actual sportsbook opening at Phoenix Raceway, but what can you share about Barstool’s plans for Championship Weekend?
Solosky: Since Barstool has received their license in Arizona, the Penn National team and my group at NASCAR have been in constant touch multiple times per week planning for the championship. There are going to be really exciting promotions, and activation areas Barstool Sportsbook will have at Phoenix Raceway including a simulator where participants can win prizes based on lap speed. Additionally, the Barstool Racing talent should be out as a bullhorn drawing attention to the launch and excitement of betting on NASCAR.
NASCAR.com: Your pick to win the Cup championship?
Solosky: It’s hard to go against Kyle Larson this season, so I’ll ride with him.
Marcus DiNitto is Senior News Editor at Gaming Today and has been covering sports business for more than 20 years and sports betting for about 10. NASCAR is among the many sports he bets – and typically loses – on. Follow him on Twitter; do not bet his picks.