Fans are a huge part of the Indianapolis 500’s success. The Indy 500 usually attracts a crowd of 300,000, and one of the many traditions of racing’s largest annual event is the ultimate fan experience of meeting all 33 drivers the day before the race.

However, Penske Corporation was facing a dilemma. The transportation services company had just bought the IndyCar Series and the Indy 500 venue, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when the pandemic struck. Knowing how critical it is to engage fans, Penske wanted to make sure they could watch the historic drivers’ meeting.

“As we went through the spring and our preparation for the Indianapolis 500, we realized that our ability to host fans on-site was going to be impacted based on what was happening in the world,” says Jonathan Gibson, Penske’s Executive Vice President of Marketing and Business Development.

“We had to quickly pivot and figure out how we could bring these experiences we’re known for to fans who were not able to attend the event.”

Giving Fans an Unforgettable Experience

Working with its long-time technology partner Verizon, Penske’s entertainment division rolled out solutions, including BlueJeans Events, to develop its first-ever Indy 500 virtual events. It also adopted the video conferencing platform BlueJeans Meetings to support collaboration, enabling its employees to map out a virtual events strategy.

“[Verizon is] a really critical partner to what we do from a technology perspective,” says Gibson. “When we turned to this opportunity with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was an easy decision because they’re already a strategic partner.” 

Penske Entertainment held its first virtual drivers’ meeting using BlueJeans Events and in partnership with NBC Sports, delivering a great show to more than 25,000 fans and continuing an iconic Indy 500 tradition.

To create an even more immersive and thrilling fan experience, Penske Entertainment used a 360-degree augmented reality camera powered by Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband. Fans and partners got to enter an augmented reality portal, see different views of the track, and feel as though they were behind the scenes or in the grandstands watching from the front row.

“By creating this augmented reality experience that Verizon did, it enabled our team to go to our partners and say, ‘I know you can’t come to the race this year, I know your customers can’t come to the race this year, but let us give you this world-class experience and [show you] what happens during the race through a unique lens,’” says Gibson.

“We had a 360-degree camera that was between the pit road wall and the track wall, and the sponsors and their customers were able to see that through the device we provided them. This could only happen through a partnership with Verizon.”

Engaging Sponsors Through a Virtual Summit

Penske built even stronger connections with partners by turning some of its corporate events virtual.

The company holds corporate sponsor events throughout the year and an annual partnership summit at the end of each racing season, along with the annual drivers’ meeting. These gatherings have traditionally been held at the Penske Racing Museum in Arizona and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in coordination with the Indy 500.

But unable to hold them in person, Penske transformed these partner meetings into a virtual event, hosting a three-hour summit for 300 partners via BlueJeans Events.

“Going forward, even when we can get back together in person, we’re still going to use the BlueJeans platform to deliver these types of experiences for our partners because it allows us to broaden the net of people that could be included,” Gibson says.

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