NASCAR wins with Big Data 

End-to-end HP solution enables real-time engagement with social media conversation

A pioneering approach to fan engagement

NASCAR needed a way to monitor and make sense of social and media activity. It engaged HP to provide an end-to-end solution comprising HP services, HP software, and HP hardware to build a state-of-the-art Fan and Media Engagement Center. NASCAR is now better able to engage with fans and media in ways that surprise and delight.

A generation or two ago, the average sports fan had much more leisure time—and far fewer entertainment choices. Fans typically followed a handful of traditional sports, either by attending events in person or watching on network television. How things have changed

Today, fans’ options have mushroomed to include extreme sports and international competitions. In addition to in-person and network broadcasts, spectators can follow sports from the multiple cable channels dedicated to them, or stream events to their smart phones, tablets, or PCs.

The competition for sports fans has never been fiercer.

Which is why the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) invested heavily - and collaborated with HP to produce a solution that allows it to connect with fans, including the young fans that represent NASCAR’s future. Dubbed the NASCAR Fan and Media Engagement Center (FMEC), this sophisticated data capture and analysis platform is based on the HP Interactive Media Command Center (IMCC) Solution.

It enables NASCAR to detect, analyze, and respond to online chatter in real time. It’s a capability that’s unique in the entertainment industry.

Monitoring 14,000 online conversations per minute

Today, customers can easily share unfiltered information, opinions, and rumors about businesses and their products and services. And to make the situation even more challenging, these conversations are mere droplets in a sea of unrelated chatter. In NASCAR’s case, during races the company needs to analyze over 14,000 online conversations per minute.

NASCAR’s answer to this challenge can be found on the 8th floor of NASCAR Plaza in Charlotte, NC, in a 500-square foot room that features a bank of thirteen 47-inch HP displays. The room is NASCAR’s FMEC nerve center: an enormous dashboard that allows the company to understand and interact, in real time, with anyone who is chatting about NASCAR events, drivers, and media coverage

Ensuring functionality and timeliness

NASCAR’s work on FMEC began several years ago when it compared the capabilities of several vendors, including HP, IBM, Dell, and Atos, plus a number of sports-related professional service firms.

HP emerged as the most suitable partner for the project for several reasons. HP has a long and successful track record within the communications, media, and entertainment industry. It offers the industry consulting services NASCAR needed to ensure the project would meet the company’s functional requirements and would launch on time. And its services portfolio includes the HP Interactive Media Command Center (IMCC) Solution, an end-to-end solution comprising HP design, integration, and implementation services along with cutting-edge technology from HP’s software and hardware portfolios.  “By far, HP was the best end-to-end solution that we had out there,” notes Steve Phelps, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, NASCAR. “And HP’s consulting services were better than anyone’s.”

Once NASCAR chose its partner, HP Enterprise Services deployed a team of consultants to validate and refine the project requirements and architect the FMEC platform.

The HP consultants’ first step was to identify the factors driving the platform’s technical requirements. The platform requires sufficient capacity to handle multiple terabytes of data: FMEC collects data, via Application Program Interfaces (APIs), web scraping, and online feeds, from numerous sources, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, online news articles, broadcast programming, and blog posts. And it needs to be highly reliable, with built-in redundancy to minimize risk of downtime.

“By far, HP was the best end-to-end solution that we had out there, and HP’s consulting services were better than anyone’s.”

Steve Phelps, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, NASCAR

“HP’s technology helps us turn millions of tweets, posts, and stories into real-time business insights that help NASCAR win with our fans”

Steve Phelps, chief marketing officer, NASCAR

To meet these requirements, the HP consultants selected components from HP’s Converged Infrastructure portfolio: an HP BladeSystem server with HP ProLiant BL460c Gen8 Server Blades, paired with HP 3PAR StoreServ Storage. With this hardware foundation, HP ensured the FMEC would have the requisite capacity and processing power. “HP’s blade servers are best-in-class,” notes Steve Worling, IT managing director, NASCAR.

“We were able to slide them into our current environment and build a backend hardware platform to support our FMEC solution.” The technology also offers a number of automated, embedded management and monitoring tools, as well as built-in redundancy, to ensure the FMEC would meet NASCAR’s requirements for around-the-clock availability.

HP then installed a powerful suite of software from the HP Haven Big Data platform—HP IDOL and HP Vertica. To address NASCAR’s fundamental business challenge—the need to extract actionable insights hidden within terabytes of data—HP deployed HP IDOL (Intelligent Data Operating Layer) software. Unlike traditional technologies constrained by linguistic and grammar rules, this highly scalable platform uses probabilistic and pattern-matching algorithms to recognize concepts and relationships in both structured and unstructured data.

As the FMEC engine, HP Vertica and HP IDOL provides a unified and comprehensive view into all the content NASCAR needs to track, from social media sites to the wire service. Hadoop and HP Vertica provide additional functionality around consolidating, aggregating, and streaming real-time social media data. The HP services professionals integrated HP IDOL with two other products that are part of the HP Haven ecosystem. HP implemented Tibco Spotfire visualization software to support interactive data visualization to help ensure NASCAR can spot important data quickly.

Connecting NASCAR with 75 million fans

Each race day, NASCAR finds new ways to engage its ever-growing fan base, and it truly took the lead by creating the NASCAR Fan & Media Engagement Center (FMEC), powered by HP.

The FMEC gathers real-time data by scouring fans’ favorite sites like Twitter and Facebook for immediate coverage of every lap during a race, as well as continuous coverage the rest of the week.