CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte’s burgeoning sports media industry adds another major player this week as NASCAR.com moves from Atlanta to a sleek new operations center in uptown.
Based on the eighth floor of the 20-story NASCAR Plaza office building at South Caldwell and East Stonewall streets, the hub will operate the motorsport group’s web operations and other digital products – including mobile apps expected to be rolled out in coming weeks – beginning Thursday.
Already, about 50 people have been hired for the operation and another 20 jobs will be filled in the first quarter, says Colin Smith, NASCAR Digital Media’s managing director.
Since 2001, NASCAR.com has been managed by Atlanta-based Turner Sports, which also handles digital operations for other sports including the NCAA, the PGA Tour and the NBA.
A year ago, hoping to take better control of its message and boost TV ratings – which began sagging after the 2005 season – NASCAR decided to bring all its interactive, digital and social media rights in-house. Turner will continue to oversee ad sales and sponsorships for NASCAR digital through 2016.
Expanding digital offerings
“It was a good relationship with Turner,” Smith said, but NASCAR wanted to better emphasize fan engagement and relate to viewers in a new way through its website. NASCAR.com attracts about 6 million unique users monthly.
“It was not cheap. If you’re going to do it, you have to do it right,” said Smith. NASCAR.com’s airy, digital-casual workplace with a Starbuck’s-like break room cost an estimated $2 million to outfit.
Its new website and digital apps will feature bigger visuals, more imagery and will focus harder on upcoming races. New video experiences will include in-car camera shots and driver commentary.
“A lot of what we’re focusing on is the second-screen experience,” Smith said.
Fans watching races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be able to follow their favorite drivers on the web, or through tablets or other mobile devices. NASCAR.com will also provide graphics, maps and in-depth information on the various tracks.
Sports media center
NASCAR.com represents another major expansion in media for Charlotte, already a major center for sports broadcasting, publishing and digital operations that employ hundreds.
Based here are the SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily, The Sporting News and NASCAR’s media production operations. ESPNU, the Connecticut-based sports network’s collegiate channel, was launched in 2005 from studios in Ballantyne.
Fox-owned Speed channel has more than 100 people at its University City facility in video and digital operations. It’s expected to announce soon that it will become Fox Sports 1 and carry programming beyond motorsports beginning in 2014.
Raycom Sports, in Charlotte since its founding in 1979, manages digital assets, mobile platforms and theacc.com for the Atlantic Coast Conference, holding broadcast rights for the conference through the 2026-27 season. Raycom Sports has a full-time staff of more than 50 and hires hundreds of temporary production workers during football and basketball seasons.
Ken Haines, CEO of Raycom Sports, said he believes Charlotte has grown as a national sports hub because of its history of entrepreneurs, and its airport and banking muscle.
“It made economic transactions and borrowing money easier,” he said. “And travel was easier. There’s a lot of travel involved in the sports business.”
Recruiting for talent
Among the better-known Charlotte-based correspondents for NASCAR.com are David Caraviello, Holly Cain, Kenny Bruce and Alan Cavanna. Stu Hothem manages the editorial team and Zack Albert, formerly of USA Today, will oversee the newsroom and report from NASCAR events.
Smith, who worked 16 years for Raycom Sports before being hired to set up NASCAR.com in May, said Charlotte already had a core workforce experienced in motorsports, but he wasn’t sure how easy it would be to recruit new talent to the city. It turned out to be a non-issue.
“Charlotte has become a pretty desirable destination,” he said, in part because of a lower cost of living and its family-friendly atmosphere.
“I talked to people from New Jersey who were beaten down by the Northern mentality – once you’re in the office, it’s just grind, grind, grind. Here we’re trying to keep it casual and fun.”