When NBCSN broadcasts the 2001 Pepsi 400 at 8 p.m. this evening, it might seem like another bid to use a classic sports contest to fill the schedule. But the network is hoping a few modern twists will transform an iconic race into a new, modern viewing experience that will prompt fans to want more.
The broadcast will feature live tweets from race drivers and crew members who took part in the race. Among them will be Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who won the contest for the first time at the track where his father, Dale Earnhardt, had died just a few months beforehand. Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton, all of whom competed in the event, will also be on hand, tweeting – and maybe even appearing live via Periscope or Facebook Live – during the evening.
“I do believe there could be an opportunity with iconic races, iconic sports events, where you can bring people who were participants and have them engage with consumers,” said Jenny Storms, chief marketing officer of NBC Sports Group, in an interview. “After seeing how tonight goes, there could definitely be the opportunity to look into more of this in the future.”
TV networks have long tried to harness fan reaction on screen to goose interest in programming, as anyone who watched “TRL” on MTV last decade might tell you. ABC took the idea further during the run of “Lost,” when it would repeat an episode with comments and details about the episode that were not available during the original airing. NBCSN’s effort marries those ideas with live, running perspective from people who took part in the event.
NBCSN sees the technique as a way to draw attention to its coming Nascar coverage. NBCUniversal splits the rights for Nascar with 21st Century Fox, but the two don’t broadcast races at the same time. Fox handles the first part of the season, while NBCU gets the second part. Tonight’s race, billed as a “Nascar throwback,” is aimed at getting fans interested in hooking on to NBCSN’s coverage, which wil start this weekend with a race from Daytona, Florida.
To make things work, NBCSN will have the racers – all of whom are analysts for NBCSN Nascar coverage – work out of a studio in Daytona. A social media team will be based out of NBC Sports’ headquarters in Stamford, Conn.
NBCSN is working off insights into viewer behavior around its broadcast, said Storms. Executives have seen a clear rise around viewers of sports events using social media, she said. Last year, during broadcasts of races, the network noticed crew members, racers and other insiders jumping on social media to add comments and perspective to the events. “Increasing the content accelerates the social numbers,” she said.