IndyCar on its way back At the very first race Randy Bernard attended, the Sao Paulo 300 in March, 2010, Mario Moraes’ car ended up right on top of Marco Andretti’s, and Andretti luckily escaped without injury.
“It was at that point I realized how dangerous, and yet how exciting the sport really is,” exclaims Bernard, the former head of the Professional Bull Riders, who became CEO of the IZOD IndyCar series in March of 2010.
The crash was symbolic of how far the sport had fallen since it split in 1995 when Indy Racing League founder and CEO Tony George announced plans for an open-wheel racing league, with the Indianapolis 500 as its cornerstone, to compete with the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). George wanted a league that accepted drivers based on talent, not financial strength. Competitive drivers such as now five-time NASCAR Cup Champion, Jeff Gordon, were turned away in the early 1990’s. Since INDYCAR’s split with CART, which was eventually named Champ Car in 2004, revenue, ratings and spectatorship dipped. They lost between 15 million and 20 million fans.
We need to bring those fans back,” says Bernard. “We know they’re not dead. They’re out there somewhere. It’s my job to bring them back.”
Bernard has proven he can inject life into non-traditional sports. In 1995, he took over Professional Bull Riders (PBR), which is an international professional bull riding organization where cowboys compete to see who can stay on the bull for eight seconds. Bernard increased PBR’s total prize money from $250 thousand to $11 million per year by the time he left in 2008. He did this by making bull riders walking billboards, much like in NASCAR, which attracted more sponsors. His team also created PBR-themed games and video games — even a fantasy league, and developed a line of action figures. Bernard negotiated critical television deals with VERSUS, FOX, and a host of other networks as well, with broadcasts around the world, including Poland, France, Russia, and China.
He is trying the same re-branding technique with the open-wheel racing series, which reunified with Champ Car in 2008. As of 2011, the Indy Racing League has become known as INDYCAR. And along with its new name, the series has new sponsors. Since Bernard came on board, INDYCAR has signed on 14 new partners, including Verizon, Sunoco, Starwood Resorts, Philips, Mazda, AVIS, and its title sponsor IZOD, a Philips Van Heusen clothing brand. It’s up $100 million in revenues over last year in major part because of these deals. On top of that, Bernard’s brought Chevy back into the race and Lotus, creating greater competition on the manufacturing front, by selecting a new chassis package for the 2012 season. More at Forbes.com