Christine Stoffel-Moffett was only seven days into her job as NASCAR’s new vice president of enterprise technology when the sports world abruptly hit pause on live events. She’d accepted the job expecting to tackle a completely different set of technological challenges than she finds herself immersed in today.
“Within seven days of starting here, the world changed. I had four days to get 2,000 employees across the whole U.S., all of NASCAR and all of the tracks, working remotely and making sure we had all the systems in place so we could close down our physical locations.”
That was just the beginning of the changes NASCAR would need to make. Soon work shifted from helping everyone work remotely to figuring out how to bring people back and host a live event.
“The big challenge now is how do we make sure that our employees are comfortable, that they’re coming into an environment that’s healthy, that’s virus-free as much as we can make it.”
Stoffel-Moffett founded the Sports & Entertainment Alliance in Technology (SEAT) in 2006 when she was serving as the first female technology executive in the NHL with the Phoenix Coyotes. Through this organization, she has helped promote collaboration among technology leaders across the global sports and entertainment industry. That spirit of collaboration has come in handy in recent months.
“Now I’m on a COVID sports council with 32 global sports execs. We talk every two weeks sharing and collaborating on best practices, because there aren’t really any best practices yet to go by. We’re all trying to figure out capacity planning and the best technology to get back to work.”
She says the challenges facing executives in positions like hers all around sports are very different today than they were just three months ago.
“We were talking then about technologies to improve the fan experience. Everything was built on fan experience. Now we’re looking at how do we go back to playing sports? How do we continue engaging with fans when they’re out of the stadium or venue?”
NASCAR will dip its toe in the water today at Darlington when it returns to action with The Real Heroes 400, where the focus is on keeping drivers, their teams, NASCAR and track employees safe. NASCAR has placed a strict limit on the number of individuals with access to the facility. Only those people who are deemed essential to the competition or broadcast may enter, and they must have completed a training on CDC best practices and be screened by their employer.
Additional requirements are that potential participants must have been symptom and fever-free for five days before the event without the use of Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen or similar drugs used to prevent or reduce fever. All personnel will be screened prior to entering the infield area, which will happen at designated times to ensure social distancing measures can be maintained.
Pre-entry screening will include a questionnaire regarding current health status and potential exposure, as well as a temperature check. Participants are also subject to random follow-up temperature checks throughout their participation. Once inside the facility, all individuals must follow health protocols, such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing at all times. The entire venue is being employed for garage stalls, hauler parking and other staging in order to provide for proper social distancing.
Stoffel-Moffeett says although this weekend is mostly about focusing on new procedures, they will be testing technology they intend to employ going forward such as thermal imaging scanning to take temperatures. As they look to the future and allowing fans in venues, however, she says technology companies are all working overtime to help them welcome fans back.
“I’ve been in touch with over 50 technology companies that are quickly pivoting. I can’t express to you the excitement we are in right now with technology, because technology companies are completely pivoting from what they were doing to where they have to be to support the new world and the way that corporations are going to go back to work and we’re going to go back to racing and bringing fans in.
“I was on a call recently with a technology company we’re building a partnership with and they are rapidly, based on what we’re requiring, building every single day. They’re going to their programmers and they’re developing what we need because no one has the best practice, no one has the solution yet, but it’s in progress.”
Stoffel-Moffett says there’s one silver lining in all of this.
“Technology is going to evolve faster, I think, over the next three months than it has probably over the last three years.”
She says the hot topics include capacity planning and crowd control, RFID tracking that can tell you things like which restrooms or concession stands have shorter lines, digital ticketing, cashless venues, thermal scanning and more.
Where teams and leagues might have been slow to adopt these in the past, and fans might have been hesitant to embrace new technology or consent to being tracked or receiving push notifications inside the venue, Stoffel-Moffett believes attitudes will quickly shift now.
“Now in the surveys we’ve done and the teams I’ve talked to who’ve talked to their fans, the fans now embrace it. They want to be notified, and they are happy to embrace the technology in order to keep them safe. It’s a very different conversation than it was a year ago.”
Until fans can return, NASCAR is focused on executing its new procedures today so it can bring racing back to a television audience severely lacking in live sports content. It won’t be just fans watching though, as teams and leagues across the world watch and learn as NASCAR returns back to the track.