On Tuesday, IndyCar formally announced Japanese telecom and data giant NTT as its entitlement sponsor in a multi-year deal. On the face of it, the move filled a void left when Verizon ended its naming rights deal in 2018. But the bigger part of the new partnership flew under the radar.
NTT is the parent company of many businesses, with one being NTT Data, a $19 billion global business. Under NTT, over $2 billion has been spent in R&D. And what’s more, as a massive holding company that sees $106 billion annually, with tech arms throughout, the deal with IndyCar is going to mean more than just the name on the racing series.
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For one, Verizon owned and developed the Verizon IndyCar app for mobile devices. It allows for driver telemetry to be watched with other video and graphic content, but to watch a race live, you had to be a Verizon customer for that exclusive content.
According to Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, which includes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and IndyCar, the deal with NTT will open up live streaming.
“NTT is developing the next generation app for IndyCar,” Miles said. “It will be open to everybody. There will be no need to authenticate with a cable provider. You will not need to be a customer with any one mobile provider. And it will be free. It will truly be open to all to watch races live.”
Beyond that, the partnership with NTT will take the driver and car data that is collected as part of race and harness it for both the teams and the public. For those who follow baseball, the partnership with NTT may open up a “Statcast for IndyCar,” and there’s already been some work done to show how that might look.
Tony Kanaan has worked with NTT for some time. NTT Data was his primary sponsor when he was with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2012. “NTT is still my personal sponsor,” he tells me. “That’s what kind of relationship I have with them.”
Kanaan went on to say that he worked with NTT for a shirt that captured all kinds of biometrics when he was in the car racing.
“It would show what kind of dehydration I was having. How my heart rate would go from 80bpm to 160bpm. It was showing me that I wasn’t breathing through the corners at Indy. Imagine what can be done with that.”
As Miles said, NTT Data becomes a huge asset for the teams and broadcasts. It’s big data for racing. As one small example, that bug that’s on the screen that follows the car telling you who is driving during broadcasts? That’s telemetry being fed to the broadcast.
“In an average two-hour IndyCar race, our timing and scoring group with the technology today pull 50 million data records the cars,” Miles said. That data is currently used by the teams and Honda and Chevrolet, which supply the engines. That helps the drivers and the manufacturers get smarter.
But the NTT partnership would allow that to expand. Imagine making race control smarter with the potential for AI to see scenarios that are likely to happen and other advances in technology that will assist in officiating. But Miles sees it going further still.
“In my mind, when you mine that data with great technology, it creates content that the fans would like and present it in a way that they’ll love.”
It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds. Miles said NTT has a commitment as part of the partnership to invest in technology with IndyCar.
Imagine how visualizing the car and driver data would play into broadcasts: It would provide additional content that is key to retaining and attracting viewers to live content.
So the sponsorship agreement to replace Verizon as the entitlement sponsor of the IndyCar Racing Series is much more than branding. The deal will present IndyCar racing in new ways, make drivers and teams better through advanced analytics, make race control more aware of what is happening during races, and all that on top of now being able to have races streamed to all for free. Harnessing big data around IndyCar should make the next few years exciting for fans.