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Market niches
Dear AutoRacing1: I am writing in response to the general discussion surrounding the fact that there are major changes going on in NASCAR that involves the re-invention of what had been a very traditionally American sport.
As we have seen with every major motorsport form in the world, the market is not static. Markets and demographics change as every major sport jockeys for position and funds from the fans, sponsors, manufacturers and media.
In Formula One, the clear message sent by Bernie Ecclestone is that he is chasing the Fortune and Fame to be gained from following the Old Silk and Spice Roads to the "Vast Riches" of the Middle and Far East. In that respect, their strategy is clear. As in any marketing effort you look at what works - or could work - and how it can make your product better. You seek niches wherever they may open. To replace the enormous losses of vast tobacco sponsorships that have sustained F1 for decades, they have been forced to look elsewhere - to other markets and other venues.
Formula One has also recognized the need to change the image and quality of their own product in spite of the incredible arrogance that they are notorious for. They have seen that there are things to be gained from Champ Car to improve their own product, i.e., possible "Push-To-Pass," option tires, more street racing, etc. The fact that there is little or no real "racing" going on in F1 seems to be a marginal and sometimes downright irritating triviality to them.
Champ Car is responding to new niches very well. They got the message that the American public - in general - is only interested in what NASCAR has to offer as the new definition of "auto racing." Fed by a glut of NASCAR television and print media exposure the mindless masses have followed - up until now.
Champ Car has recognized that they have had the need to reinvent themselves as well. The critical component of their strategy has been to, as quickly as possible, distance themselves from the so-called "Vision" that resulted in the Indy Racing League as laid out by Tony George and Friends in Indianapolis. American fans had been voting for quite some time - in the form of empty seats - that open wheel oval racing was no longer an attractive source of entertainment to them. That was happening even before the "Split." NASCAR, since then, has firmly locked into that oval racing niche. I am constantly amused by the AutoRacing1 readers who insist on casting doubt upon the business or strategic acumen of the Champ Car owners and management. I would encourage them to think a little deeper before casting stones at every passing train. In any business venture there are setbacks, adjustments or direction changes that demand flexibility and fortitude. Our "motorsports media" have definitely not been of much help in promoting the positive sides or attributes of Champ Car. It is still very obvious that the IRL "Get Out of Jail Free" card still looks a heck of a lot like an Indy credential to many of these folks. The IRL, struggling on every possible front, is given a free pass as far as criticism or accusations of lack of "thinking outside the box" mentality.
So Champ Car has recognized a new and promising niche - Europe and other markets that are increasingly being abandoned or alienated by the new F1 directions. A strategy that would have them solidify receptive North American venues such as Long Beach, Road America, Cleveland, the Canadian races, Australia, as well as selected European and possibly a few Latin American and Asian ones would create a legitimate worldwide championship. What Bernie and Friends seem to be ignoring is the fact that chasing Booms will eventually result in some major Busts - something the Asian markets are notorious for. Maybe they feel confident in regaining the "jilted girlfriends" whenever the need may arise.
NASCAR has also been largely immune to more than cursory criticism. I stand amazed at the fact that no one feels the need to question their new "Vision" and direction. Pundits seem to be proclaiming that NASCAR will take over the world of Motorsports - just like that, without opposition or potholes, yet no one asks the questions that need to be asked. Who will guide or sustain this new direction? Are the ominous warning signs of decreasing NASCAR race attendance, dropping TV ratings, and balking sponsorships just smoke and mirrors? The very issues that raise howls of gleeful accusations against every possible Champ Car news tidbit raise nary a whimper in the NASCAR ranks. For the next young driver coming up Earnhardt-style on the dusty bullrings of America - where is he or she to go when any Prima Dona Formula One wannabe or wash-up can have an agent make a call and have him slide right through the window of the next available NASCAR ride? Who's asking those questions? NASCAR is chasing their market niche, no doubt about it, and the sheep just get in line and follow.
As has been advised on this web site not too long ago, "Everybody take a nice deep breath, and just relax."
Chicken Little assures me that the Champ Car Sky is definitely not falling - not just yet!
Werner Fritz, Trevor, Wisconsin
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