There are big changes coming to the NASCAR digital and social media space in 2013.
Beginning next year, NASCAR will take editorial control of NASCAR.com – meaning the sanctioning body will run the site itself and decide what content makes the cut.
Currently, NASCAR.com is operated by Turner Sports – and NASCAR has little say what types of stories appear on the site.
The restructured agreement, announced today, is likely a mixed bag for NASCAR fans.
NASCAR.com will no longer be an independent voice in the sport, thus making criticism of rules changes or stories about attendance – topics NASCAR would consider "negative" – that much harder to find.
But on the other hand, NASCAR's freedom to now control its own voice will lead to improvements in the interactive fan experience.
Under the current agreement, for example, NASCAR does not even control its own Twitter and Facebook feeds (those are shared between NASCAR's public relations people and Turner). NASCAR will now be able to use its social media accounts to promote whatever it sees fit.
In addition, Turner's exclusive video rights have been extremely restrictive. Another web site (such as this one) can't walk around the garage interviewing drivers on camera during a race weekend; only NASCAR.com can do that.
That also means race-day elements – such as the drivers' meeting or driver introductions – cannot be filmed and posted online. Whether those rules will change under the new agreement is yet to be determined.
Beginning next year, the sanctioning body will be heavily invested in making its online platforms into tools to enhance the fan experience. There's a good chance fans will be able to see more live streaming video of races, for instance, and perhaps even hear radio broadcasts online.
NASCAR can use its site to promote all aspects of its agenda on NASCAR.com, including a plan to put emphasize the "star power" of its drivers. Driver pages could become hubs for fans to rally around.
Turner will still sell advertising and sponsorships for NASCAR's digital platforms, but it will have little input as to how the site is run. A similar arrangement is employed by NBA.com.
Will there be an app for that?
Another potential positive from the restructured NASCAR/Turner deal is an app for iPhones, iPads and iPods.
The lack of an iPhone app for the sport has been a glaring, gaping hole in the interactive experience. How is it 2012 and there is no official NASCAR app?
"I can assure you it will be an important thing for us moving forward," NASCAR chief marketing officer Steve Phelps said last week. "Whether we have it for '12 or not, it's probably not something that's going to happen. But digital and social media is going to be a major plank for us as a sport. It's going to be a way for us to engage our fans, candidly, in a way we've never been able to before.
"We think our sport lends itself (to an app) as well as any sport – maybe better – because of the community nature and social nature of the sport. It clearly is coming."
But fans may begin to see changes in the app world even earlier than expected.
Tim Considine, Sprint's director of sports marketing, told SB Nation in a statement Monday: "Sprint is working with its internal partners to develop NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile for the iPhone, with an expected launch in the first half of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season."
Finally, it seems there will be an app for that.