NCAA Final Four offers key lesson for IndyCar survival
As I watch the madness overtaking Indianapolis with the NCAA men’s Final Four coming to town, a recent conversation—about IndyCar racing of all things—comes to mind.
One look at the fan fervor surrounding this 65-team hoops tournament, not to mention the business interests willing to spend cash to tap into that fan fervor, and I begin to wonder if auto racing fan and analyst Scott Morris might not have a solid point about how to develop a stronger open-wheel racing series.
Reading one of my posts last month about the dearth of American open-wheel drivers and the waning ranks of the Indy Lights series, Morris called me with an interesting idea. He says it’s high time for someone in the IndyCar Series to look seriously at launching the North American College Racing Association.
OK, I know. It sounds a bit off the wall at first. But then I began to listen, and after watching another NCAA basketball tournament unfold here, I began to wonder … could it work? My conclusion; it’s better than anything going right now.
“Colleges have corporate connections and they have endowments,” said Morris, a regular contributor for AutoRacing1.com. “Colleges have resources that would dwarf most Indy Lights and IndyCar teams.”
Colleges could use their labs, land, money and connections to compete very nicely alongside existing professional teams, Morris said. And the participating schools would get something back for their investment that they badly need.
“College education systems are in dire need of applied studies for their engineering, marketing and sales courses,” Morris said.
Morris thinks colleges nationwide could leverage their built-in fan bases to sell merchandise year-round and race tickets when the series came to their region. It might even open up new markets. Morris added that the college (upscale, educated and up-and-coming) demographic would be perfect for IndyCar and its existing sponsor base.
The $800,000 to $1.2 million annual budget to run an Indy Lights team would be little sweat for most universities. Most Big Ten schools have athletic budgets in excess of $35 million, with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan having budgets of more than double that.
Even mid-major and small colleges have athletic department budgets in excess of $20 million. So funding a one-car race team wouldn’t be much of a stretch, especially if the university could tie it to an educational initiative. And with a little elbow grease, Morris said, the school could make its race program self-supporting.
“Colleges offer two things the IndyCar and Indy Lights series desperately need,” Morris said. “Fans and rivalries.” More at IBJ.com