This year’s ‘Chase for the Sprint Cup’ will be NASCAR’s most social playoffs yet

With its annual postseason looming, NASCAR is embarking on an expansive video and social content program to keep fans interested and engaged in between races.

“The Chase for the Sprint Cup,” an annual 10-week series of weekly races to crown a new NASCAR champion, is televised by NBC Sports. In a first for the league, NASCAR plans to supplement the TV broadcasts with an original action-film series as well as a wide swath of social video across Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and other platforms.

This year’s campaign is part of NASCAR’s broader strategy shift toward leading its marketing efforts with digital and social programs ahead of more traditional means, according to NASCAR CMO Jill Gregory. “In years past, we might have been more focused on our TV campaign, but this year, starting in February, we’ve focused on digital and social content first,” she said. “That makes them something to look forward to [on off-days] and makes them even more interested in the sport.”

At the center of NASCAR’s Chase 2016 campaign is a digital action-film series, which will live on and the league’s social channels. The first film, starring last year’s champion, Kyle Busch, premieres today. In the short, Busch is on foot and being “pursued” by other racers, also on foot, in the style of classic Hollywood chase sequences. Four more short films will roll out over the course of the 10-week postseason. Each subsequent film will recreate race highlights in the form of dramatic foot chases. Jonathan Taylor, an action-unit director who has worked on films like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Mission Impossible — Rogue Nation,” is directing the film series.

Beyond the films, NASCAR will team up with Snapchat to curate two Live Stories during the Chase — one during the Oct. 8 race, when the tournament whittles down from 12 to eight drivers, and the second during the championship race on Nov. 20. It’s a big effort for NASCAR, which plans to send as many as 20 employees — millennials who work for NASCAR and actually understand the platform — to the Oct. 8 race to capture content for the Live Story.

With Facebook Live, NASCAR plans to produce numerous streams to give fans a behind-the-scenes look during each tournament round. This will include interviews with NASCAR drivers and personalities, as well as capturing other on-site and behind-the-scenes elements leading up to the races.

“Like any other league, our athletes are avid on social,” said Gregory. “And they’re always a focal point of our creative, and that will remain true with this new digital and social content.”

Most of NASCAR’s social content will be overseen by an 11-person team, which has grown since the company had essentially one person managing its social presence three years ago. NASCAR’s social apparatus today includes the “Fan and Media Engagement Center,” a hub through which the social team keeps track of conversations and content posted by fans across platforms. The FEMC works alongside a social media war room during race weekends to quickly respond to and post videos, graphics and other content to social platforms.

In August, NASCAR’s social channels did 37.8 million video views across Facebook, YouTube and Vine, according to Tubular Labs. Facebook, where NASCAR has 4.6 million followers, accounted for most of the viewership with 27.8 million in August.

While the social campaign for The Chase is meant to increase fan size and engagement on these platforms, it’s also being done with an eye toward driving TV tune-in and race attendance.

“All of these components complement each other,” said Gregory. “The fact that a fan might be engaged during the week leading up to the race — whether that’s via Facebook Live or Twitter — will generate interest in the race that weekend. The Snapchat Live Stories might lead a fan to get to a race in the future by seeing how compelling the race-day experience is through Snapchat.”

This is not to say NASCAR is completely eschewing traditional marketing — it will still run TV spots promoting “The Chase.” “Digital and social just allow us to talk more closely and directly with fans,” said Gregory.

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