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24 Francesco Dracone 14
There is no such thing as unmarketable

by Jason Peters
Thursday, January 29, 2009

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Brazil, England, Japan, Canada, Australia, Italy, South Africa.  Most reading this would attribute that to the nationality of current Indy Car drivers.  Many complain that because these drivers are not American, they are not marketable.  The UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) was last years fastest growing sports.  It is ranked 6th in the country and is now considered a mainstream sport. 

The UFC is comprised of fighters from the same 7 countries I just mentioned plus another 15 for a total of 22 countries.  Don’t tell me that Indy Car drivers are not marketable because they aren’t American.  UFC proves that theory wrong.  Granted there are more American fighters than non-American. 

But with Americans like Razak Al-hassan, Carmelo Marrero or the countless others with non traditional “American” names, its safe to say that even the American fighters are diverse in heritage.  Diversity is a great asset for Indy Car.  The problem in the past is that Indy Car has not been marketed to a diverse crowd.  Wouldn’t it be nice to see vocal fans waving different flags in the crowd?  I think that is something that Indy Car should strive for.  Now if we could only get some diversity in the cars they race.

People don’t watch UFC because they are Americans fighting, they watch for the action, because it’s extreme.  It is for the same reason why Bull Riding is the most popular event at the rodeos.  I don’t think anyone can deny that Indy Car, with its speeds and inherit danger, is extreme.  I was disappointed with ESPN because they did not capture or promote that with Indy Car. 

Needless to say, I was more than happy to hear about the new T.V. contract with Versus.  In fact, I was pushing Versus to Terry Angstadt well before any announcement was made.  I have read mostly negative comments, all of course coming before any Indy Car programming by Versus.  The most common argument made about Versus is that it’s a step backwards from ESPN because it is in less households.  That only the core fans will watch on Versus.  That could be true at first, then again only the core fans were watching when the races were on ESPN or ESPN2.  So as long as Indy Car races get a .6 or close, then there is no difference between the two networks. 

That is were the potential comes in.  As long as ESPN is invested in NASCAR, there is no chance for Indy Car to succeed on that network.  Indy Car is now one of the top sports on a sports network. 

Personally, I think Versus has done a great job with their NHL coverage, as well as the College Football and other sports that I have seen.  So as they continue to grow as a network, which they are at a decent rate, it’s inevitable that Indy Car will grow as well with them.  Something they would not do on ESPN. 

For motorsports, Versus invested only in Indy Car.  Because of that, they have incentive to promote Indy Car without worrying about degrading a larger investment.  Something Indy Car has needed for years.  With a pre-race show as well as other support programming showcasing the drivers, Indy Car will get twice as much airtime as before.  That alone will generate more value for the sponsors.  In time, the switch to Versus will be one of the more progressive choices Indy Car has made in years.  It’s a risk, but a risk worth taking.

Back in November, Joyce Julius released a study of Indy Car sponsorship returns.  The Target sponsored cars received a value of 16 million dollars of exposure.  In second was Motorola with 6.9 million followed by 7-11 with 4.7 million.  You can only imagine what the lower tiered teams received.  There is way too much disparity in values between the teams.  It’s clear that proper airtime was not given to all of the drivers.  I hope Versus changes that and spreads the wealth a little bit.  It’s not all about the front runners and Danica.  It is one of the reasons why a long time fan favorite team owner might be out for 2009. 

I would also like to see a change in the actual race broadcasts.  Be aggressive with different in-car camera positions and show them often.  It’s a virtual viewpoint that will create the excitement by showing how fast and close the racing is.  It’s a benefit for the sponsors as their logos are easier to read than when a static camera is chasing the moving car. 

Being innovative by changing the locations and angles of the static position camera’s can really capture how fast these cars go.  Indy Car needs to create the emotions that make the viewer want to be at the race.  Now Indy Car has a clean slate to work with.  I hope they take advantage of the new beginning and make the correct, subtle changes that the T.V. programming needs.  This is a great opportunity to develop the image of Indy Car. 

About the Author
Jason Peters of 360 IMC has been a freelance communications consultant specializing in Open Wheel business development for almost 10 years.  As always, he can be reached at Jason@360imc.com

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