Nascar's Plan to Boost Attendance and Ratings: Betting on Races

(Bloomberg) -- Gentlemen, place your wagers.

Nascar has signed an exclusive data partnership with Genius Sports, a deal the U.S.’s largest racing series says will lead to an in-race betting product and help battle sagging attendance and television ratings.

Genius will use up-to-the-second data points like car speed and track position to build a betting product that the London-based company can sell to global sports books. Exclusive access to the data will allow Genius to create a betting platform that provides traditional wagers -- like who will win -- and prop bets such as how many lead changes there will be or whether a Chevy will end up in victory lane.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

Currently, Nascar bets are few. U.S. sports books, if they offer Nascar odds at all, often only have head-to-head options or odds on the race winner.

Sports leagues and teams -- and betting houses -- typically see increased engagement when live betting is offered. Not only does it attract new fans, but live betting keeps them engaged for longer periods.

Attendance is down at tracks across the country. For instance, at Tennessee’s Bristol Motor Speedway, one of Nascar’s most-prestigious tracks, a race last month drew an estimated 38,000 fans. The 150,000-seat venue once had a wait list. As for TV, Nascar’s 33 races last season averaged a record-low 3.34 million viewers, a 25 percent drop from the 4.47 million average two years ago.

Smaller Footprint

Brian Herbst, Nascar’s senior vice president overseeing broadcasting and innovation, said the creation of in-race wagers is even more important -- and ultimately valuable -- because the racing circuit doesn’t have as many events as the traditional stick-and-ball sports.

“That’s the way we can grow this space from a commercial perspective and fan engagement opportunity,” Herbst said in an interview. “If we have less events, we have to do a better job creating more bet types for our fans.”

All U.S. sports leagues -- and the broadcasters that carry their games -- are trying to figure out how to capitalize on the legalization of sports betting. The gambling-research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming estimates that the U.S. market could reach $6.5 billion in revenue by 2023 as more states come on board.

Earlier Steps

Before this season, Nascar implemented a betting integrity program and gambling policy that allowed teams and tracks to sell sponsorships to sports-betting companies and licensed sports books.

Off the track, meantime, Nascar has bid about $1.8 billion for International Speedway Corp., a potential merger that would more tightly combine two companies already controlled by the France family. The race circuit, which sanctions more than 1,200 races, has been looking for minority investors, and a merger might help that effort.

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