Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Social Media and The Effects on Short Track Racing.

Welcome back to Central PA Racing Scene! 

Today, I want to take a look at social media and how it has changed the world of short track racing here in Central PA. The social media landscape is now where everyone has a voice (good, bad, or indifferent) and plays a huge part in our every day lives, so it is only fitting that race tracks and fans use it at and away from the race tracks. Fans have used it to post everything from pictures from the local tracks, live updates as the racing unfolds as well as debating the racing scene. The race tracks have used it in varying degrees and purposes.

But when did this all get started? 

All this really started, for me, 10 years ago when I found a little thing called the Williams Grove Message Board, and soon after came Now. most of us have been on both of these sites at some point so there is no need to explain how the sites work to any of you, but;  most of the stuff we see on social media was started by Jason Bly on Jason started posting live updates on his site as soon as the lineups or the results happened which initially created a big uproar at some race tracks that had the mindset that people would stay home if they could sit on their computers and know what was happening on track. 

Were those tracks right? 

I don't know, but it saved me a few times when I was short handed with cash and I could keep up with the races and not feel left out. The message board eventually became the place to find updates from the track as smart phones started to come out. But that was shut down real fast by Williams Grove management, as they became the next track to have the mindset that if people could sit at home versus coming out and enjoying a live race. Now, once again were they right? That's for them to say and argue the point of.  

What was the next step in Social Media?

Twitter was next which really transformed social media for the racing community. Some folks  most notably Brandon Bare :@Live_Updates,  started sharing complete unofficial live updates from all the races they attended and well, this is something tracks feared and disliked. Tracks were really unhappy about it and once I was officially helping certain racing media and such learned to know what was going on behind the scenes as well as to what we could and couldn't post during the night. The disappointing factor in the media circle was that that tracks would tell one group of people one thing while others in the media were doing the exact opposite and it was okay. Eventually, the tracks were battling a losing war in their fight over Twitter and even Facebook  as we soon saw everybody and their brother starting a live updating page where they copied and pasted everyone else updates and so forth. The tracks decided to take advantage in the social media game and they all jumped on the twitter bandwagon. Lincoln Speedway was one of if not the first track to start posting their official results, and soon after Selinsgrove, Port Royal, and Trail Way Speedway soon followed suit in offering varying degrees of “Live Updates”. 

Now this leads us to the new kid on the block who has a tracks, promoters, and others up in arms....Periscope.

To all of those that have not signed up for Periscope; it is a live video sharing app that combines with Twitter to allow users to share video from anywhere at anytime. Now, as far as racing is concerned (and remember folks this is a racing site) it could be a great thing, or it could be a very bad thing for the sport depending on whom is using it, if it's being utilized correctly and if permission is granted. It's safe to state that race tracks have jumped on board and started showing live video from the track at different points through the night to bring fans closer to the action and these live videos from the pits,  a quick video of the cars screaming down the backstretch have been shown by both Williams Grove and Port Royal Speedway.

I have started using it along in a joint venture with Slicks N Sticks to bring you behind the fence video nobody else has tried before. We went to Port Royal a few weeks ago and showed some of the racing action as well as bringing you live interviews with racing personnel such as Mike Heffner ,the owner of Greg Hodnett's 27 410 sprint car, and asked him live about the fans complaining that he was at Port that night instead of racing with the All Stars at Lincoln. That news was broke with us live at the track and brought the conversation to a bigger level.  We talked to Kevin Nouse ,who was the last 410 winner at the track, about the heat race and he made the announcement that he was returning to Slingin Dirt the following week. We also talked to the pole sitter that night, Brock Zearfoss, before he was ready to strap in for the feature event. 

After the positive feedback from our coverage at Port Royal,  I went down at Trail Way Speedway the past 2 weekends using it to show fans who might not have been to the track or are across the country paying attention to our local racing, which is something I have been saying for years. Now, Trail Way Speedway has some of the best racing action in our area hands down and now it's being displayed on video. Last night I was able to show the last minute of the feature which drew 30 people live and another 20 who came and watched the replay of it. Thats 30 people who might not have ever been to that track, and saw the end of another great 358 feature, and now might want to swing down and catch a race in person. That is how local short tracks can use Periscope to grow the sport and their individual brand name.

Well, you are thinking "Is anyone really against this Social Media Movement?:

There are some who think things like Periscope can not only hurt the sport, but also the promoters back pockets where it will hurt the most. Former World of Outlaws driver and promoter of the Brad Doty Classic, Brad Doty has been a very vocal critique of Periscope and it's use at short tracks. I got to take the time and with talking to Brad vie email he shared his thoughts with me on this and why he thinks its going to hurt the sport more then it will help.

 “As a promoter my fears are that even though, for now, the video quality isn't that great, in time it could be good enough to where people might stay home and watch it on someones periscope broadcast if the weather is an issue. For the track and promoter to survive you need paying customers in the seats." 

“As a TV analyst I wish all our broadcasts were LIVE because of the excitement it brings to the event but I also understand why a promoter wouldn't want it, which is the same reason you don't want a thousand people at your event broadcasting it on periscope for free. People might stay home and not spend the gas money, motel money and ticket money to go to the event, especially if they think all the money would be wasted if they showed up and then got rained out. “

Brad has some very good points, but as a fan of sprint car racing I know I have no inclination of ever watching a race on my phone, but maybe that's just me. I won't even watch it on a computer and I'm hard pressed to watch a race that was taped a month ago and shown on tv as it does nothing for me. I need to be there live and in person to feel the wind and hear the roar of the motors.

Brad also brought up some very good points as to why we don't see any live sprint car races on tv anymore.

“Short tracks don't make a dime from having TV at there track and most short track racing that you see on TV, actually costs the sanctioning body and or track money out of their pocket by having to pay to have it produced and then they pay the network for the air time to show it."

“So, that is why periscope is bad in just a few ways, it might keep people from buying a ticket, and if the event is being televised and costing the track and sanctioning body money to air it, they sure don't want someone else broadcasting it for free."

His points are indeed very good points that most fans never think about as most of us don't think about what it cost to actually put on an event at any of our short tracks, let alone a live event. I'm not going to lie, I skipped the National Open the year Fred Rahmer won it because I knew it was going to be shown on CBS Sports Channel, and figured if I missed anything I could just watch it for free saving me and my family over $100 in the process. Now I'm probably in the minority with that thinking, and it cost me the chance at seeing history made when Fred finally found victory lane in the biggest race in our area. But am I the only one?

Brad finished our conversation by adding this quote: 

”I think periscope is great to promote the event and show people what is going on at the event and it lets people feel like they are there but to show the actual racing isn't helping the promoter or track at all. Yes, u could argue that showing the racing might get people to see what they are missing and next year they might show up in person and buy a ticket, but as I mentioned, NASCAR is seeing declining fans in the stands while TV ratings are up, which means more people are staying home and watching rather then going to the races! I do think that someone like NASCAR, NFL, concert promoters etc will be pushing to somehow stop periscoping live events, whether with technology or passing a laws.”

Now, he has some valid points there as well but; I disagree with him on others. We both agree on the promotional side of things as well as we also agree that showing the whole race is not good for the sport; but I think if some person would do that on their own it will help him in 2016 or beyond. If a fan stumbles upon a live video of a race, he/she might see how great the action is and make it a point to go next week if he lives close, or make sure he/she makes plans to attend the race next year. Forward thinking like that is what will keep our sport growing in the future. Yes you might loose a few dollars in ticket sales this year, but you could make it up in the next 10 by having a fan see it for the first time on Periscope and planing his vacation to attend every year after.

I also don't see Periscope or another form of social media ever going away. Lets be honest here folks, the internet age has changed everything we do in our lives and we can not go back from that now. It changed the way music is bought (or not depending on who you are) by things like Napster and file sharing websites and we all know that the record industry sued their fans in an attempt to tr stopping it from happening. Plus, that didn't help anything in the long run and  for every site they had shut down 10 more started, until the record industry changed with the times. The movie industry went through the same shift in the early 2000's and they all claimed it would be the death of the movies, and they are now posting record numbers by changing with the times and giving the fans a reason to come out and spend their money on a movie. They added 3D and in some cases 4D, as well as they have given special promotions to draw customers in the theaters. 

Now, live professional sports like the NFL, MLB, NHL and UFC have been fighting live streaming websites for years. Guess what? For every site they get shut down, 10 more pop up. I can watch and have watched live Steelers games that are not shown on my local channels on the internet for free which is bypassing the NFL and DirectTv's Sunday ticket. Just remember you can't stop it and once the cat is out of the bag you will never get it back in. We hear that all the time about rules in our sport, well guess what it applies to technology as well. You might see an app like Periscope shut down (which I don't think will happen since it was created by Twitter), but some kid is working right now at making Periscope 2.0 that will bring us better video and easier access to everything. That's just the way it works folks.

So what is next for the racing scene?

The race tracks need to worry more about what they are giving in terms of value to the fans rather than worrying about some kid with a cell phone posting live updates on a message board, on Twitter, or now sharing live video on Periscope. If your giving the fans a live experience that they truly enjoy, and could never get any other way, then you will never have to worry about losing fans to free streaming video on a cell phone. Give the fans a true reason to show up and spend their money on a race. Tracks need to use every social media platform you can to spread the word about your race, and make sure you are doing everything to make their stay in your bleachers a great night. Then and only then can tracks and their promoters sit back and watch social media blow up with fans screaming about how great the racing action was, and how much fun they had at your race track. You do all of that, and fans WILL be back the next week, or the next month, or the next year. Trust me I'm a fan, I know what I wish more local race tracks would do.....Actual Promoting.

©Central PA Racing Scene
Bill McIntyre 2015

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