It's 2013 and IndyCar needs to start thinking that way
This is a "re-publication" of the article AR1 originally published in 2011, made timely again due to the article in the "Harvard Business Review."
Much has been debated in recent seasons regarding Indy Car’s television broadcast coverage. Much of it negative. Numerous stories and comments have appeared that continue to describe Indy Car’s NBC Sports Network cable network coverage as inadequate and doomed to ultimate failure, the television coverage itself, if not the entire series. The reasoning goes that without credible rating numbers, the sport cannot attract sufficient sponsorship funding to be a viable commercial venture. All of that is true. But it’s also wrong.
It’s so very “20th century” to believe that relatively passive television broadcasting of an event is sufficient to satisfy today’s marketing objectives. Simply broadcasting to a larger audience is not going to cure Indy Cars marketing challenges. More modern thinking will.
As an illustration of how to develop a modern motorsport marketing platform, from a marketing perspective, I would point to Ken Block. Who? Ken Block, the (now) rally driver. I think all might agree that his motorsport campaign receives, at best, modest traditional television coverage. He receives network coverage through the X-games, but that seems about all. He has been the subject of several feature oriented stories, but little commercial network, not much cable and certainly not much in the way of ratings to utilize as the basis for his marketing of the rally team. If he were to primarily rely on television rating numbers, his rally car would be painted vanilla white, with not a sponsor to be found – like many of his rally predecessors. In fact, I tried to sell some “rally” oriented sponsorship 15 -20 years ago, with no results. From the traditional standpoint, rallying is a virtual “impossible” to sell to sponsors, particularly back then.
Yet, traditional he is not. What he has accomplished should be a lesson to every race team, including Indy Car teams, looking for the combination that will bring positive marketing results to their sponsor partner campaign. Consider his numbers that are relevant, viable and most importantly, marketing potent. As of this writing:
• His Facebook friends number 1,472,643. Danica, Indy Cars biggest star in 2011, had 25,357. Helio has 7,110. The Indy Car series itself numbers 39,365. Danica’s, Helio’s and Indy Car’s combined friends equal about 5% of Block’s.
• Ken Block’s YouTube videos totally destroy any comparison to Indy Car. His top three viral videos on YouTube number 30,500,229, 25,058,188 and 22,855,603 views. By comparison, Danica Patrick scores highest as might be expected with 2,602,479 for her SI swimsuit video and 1,689,547 views on her Godaddy.com commercial.
o Block’s Gymkhana 2 video was 2009's #4 most viewed viral video.
o Block’s Gymkhana 3 video got more than seven million views in its first week.
• If you Google “Ken Block” you get 11,400,000 returns. Compare that to “Danica Patrick” 5,300,000, Helio Castroneves 540,000 or “Indy” and you get 145,000.
So, picture yourself a marketing man. You’re being pitched on sponsorship of a certain property, be it an Indy car team (as an example) or Ken Block (hypothetically). Ken has a rally program that features limited “traditional” media compared to Indy Car’s television coverage, albeit on Versus, but it is national television cable coverage. But Block is not selling television coverage, or at least not relying on it.
TV is merely a piece of a larger pie and a by-product of a multi-layered media campaign. What he has developed and is developing is a relevant, smart, interactive, modern and exciting platform of motorsport to offer sponsors. He utilizes today’s “media” choices extremely well and has extended his influence far beyond what might be reached via television coverage alone. His videos are creative, visual and entertaining. The response to them has been, in a word, sensational. His viral videos are among the top viewed on the internet, period.
Now, you’re that marketing guy at a sponsor desk and you’ve just been presented with these kinds of numbers, this kind of interactive relationship, this level of commercial platform viability and you have to choose. Block or the Indy Car team……
Ken Block’s approach is basically available to all of motorsports with the proper and creative application of a modern outlook on motorsport marketing. It’s not easy, mind you. Block’s challenge now is to keep it fresh and relevant. It’s extremely difficult to be that creative and stay that creative, but in fundamental terms, we all can duplicate what Ken has done. I believe that NBC Sports Network is not the problem. In fact, their coverage of Indy Car racing is quite commendable. Maybe it could be better, but that is not the debate here. 20th century thinking is.
I would advise all of us in motorsport to seriously consider the strategies employed by motorsport campaigns such as Ken Block’s. Many kudos to him and his marketing team for creating this level of sponsor success. If motorsports were to adopt as much of his strategy as possible, the television debate would be cured as well. Ratings would surge as the popularity of the sport soared among FANS, not passive television viewers.
Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Take a quick look at Block’s rally car. It’s covered with sponsors. I hope and trust he can keep it going with fresh and quality creative. In the meantime, I suggest we all follow his lead and re-think the process of attracting sponsors. It’s 2013 and there is so much that can be done.
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