Just out of bankruptcy, 2004 was a
survival year for Champ Car. By the end of 2004 the naysayers had put away
their death of Champ Car proclamations and were figuring out a way to remove the
foot they had stuck in their mouth.
During the off-season Champ Car began
to lay their foundation for the future. Based on recent moves by Champ Car,
and other strategic moves yet to take place, Champ Car is poised to complete that
foundation by the end of 2005. From here 2006 looks to be far brighter and
far more organized.
Personnel: In the past
two months Champ Car has made a number of staff changes, hopefully for the better.
But that's not all.
Domestic TV: Although
late in coming together, Champ Car's 2005 TV package is the best it has had in
over five years. CBS is back on board with four races and even NBC will air
three races. SPEED Channel will air the remaining 7 to 9.
International TV: In Europe Champ Car will be on Eurosport
in almost 100 million homes. Eurosport has added a 2nd channel called
Eurosport 2, effectively doubling their inventory of available time slots to
show Champ Car races live. Nearly all races will be shown live on one of
the two stations. TV deals are still coming together for Latin America,
South America, Asia, Mexico and Canada. Champ Car in '05 will reach far more
households than it did in '04.
TV Production: Champ
Car has retained Molson Sports and Entertainment to do the TV production for 2005
and beyond. After the hack job done by Betelgeuse last year, making the
Champ Car races almost unbearable to watch, in Molson Champ Car has a company that
understands how to do sport TV production.
South Korea: The Ansan,
South Korea race will not only bring NAFTA sponsors into that market, but it will
expose the Korean companies to Champ Car. With Champ Car's solid array of
NAFTA races, I expect we will see some of these Korean companies enter the series in coming years to
reach the all-important NAFTA market, i.e. the Koreans want to sell product in
North America, a lot of product.
China: The rumored
Beijing, China race has the potential to be the biggest boost for the series in
the next five years. Beijing will not only bring NAFTA sponsors into that
burgeoning market, but it will expose the Chinese companies to Champ Car.
With Champ Car's solid array of NAFTA races, I expect we will see Chinese
companies enter the series in coming years to reach the all-important NAFTA
market, i.e. the Chinese want to sell product in North America, a lot of product.
If Champ Car eventually has a Chinese driver in the series, this race has the
potential of drawing a bigger attendance than Mexico City someday.
South America: Some
sponsors like Ford want Champ Car to race in South America. Although beset
by economic woes in recent years (both Argentina and Brazil), there are signs of a
solid economic turnaround. Buenos Aires is a city looking to put itself back
on the map and Champ Car's strong international TV package will bring the exposure
they seek in all the major markets worldwide. Ditto for Brazil where Champ
Car, though not as popular as it once was, still has a strong following. If
Cristiano da Matta comes back to Champ Car as rumored, and joins the likes of
Bruno Junqueira and Mario Haberfeld, Champ Car's popularity will once again rise
True Global Sports Property:
Can Champ Car, a NAFTA based series, be a true global sports property? Do
NAFTA sponsors care about overseas races? Sponsors stay in F1 and spend big money. F1 isn't just "European" money.
CART was so poorly mismanaged, and the international TV package so poor in the past,
they could not market themselves as a global sports entity. In 2005 Champ Car will
have a proper international TV presence so companies can use that to get the word
out about their product. Now the question is whether Champ Car itself hires the
right marketing and sales staff to capitalize on this....and how long it will take to
build a global awareness.
There simply are not enough domestic dollars around to make Champ Car successful
as a "NAFTA" only product. Ditto for the IRL. NASCAR has sucked the USA (and soon
NAFTA) market dry. A real hope for Champ Car is international money, if it has the
right international platform.
As long as every race is televised and a sponsor's name is seen by the demographic
of people they are trying to reach, it does not matter whether the race is in
Oshkosh or Beijing. TV reaches far more people than the people at the actual race
track. Sure, you must have fans in the grandstands, but if I am a sponsor, those
50,000 to 100,000 pair of eyeballs is dwarfed by the tens of millions of fans watching on
Champ Car must have the right marketing people in place who can sit down with the
sponsor rep and explain the "vision" and benefits to them of a global series, but
that they still reach the specific markets they want through TV, regardless of
where they are racing this week. It comes down to good TV production and a solid
TV reach into both domestic and foreign markets. There are still "plenty" of races
in the NAFTA market to reach the fans at the race tracks in North America. Champ Car has excellent
NAFTA venues and that will soon get even better, but TV is the key to global
Champ Car vs. F1: The difference between F1 and Champ Car is
that Champ Car delivers far more NAFTA race markets than F1 does. While
both are international, Champ Car has a home-base in NAFTA while F1 has
a home-base in the EU. That is the difference and sponsors can choose
one or both series, depending on what markets are most important to
them. Champ Car is also far less expensive than F1, so if it reaches a
lot of the same markets, the potential to deliver a better return on
investment is there.
Better crop of drivers:
Until Champ Car re-establishes itself as a flourishing sports property,
some teams will continue to rely on ride-buyers to exist. However,
already we are seeing a better talent pool of drivers eyeing Champ Car
and this is an important factor in rebuilding the fan base. You
can't make a hero out of a wanker but you can develop a great racing
driver into a hero-figure.
Still some major hurdles
Retaining Long Beach:
Champ Car's biggest race is up for renewal after this year. The
IRL wants it. Can Champ Car get a renewal? Losing Long Beach will
be a major public relations blow for Champ Car. The next big battle between
Champ Car and the IRL is indeed Long Beach. Champ Car appears to have the
upper hand right now. The Long Beach City Council does not want a
switch to the IRL, but Dover Motorsports is the promoter and they could
sign a deal with the IRL. Can Champ Car get the renewal they seek?
The motorsports world is watching.....
No Title Sponsor:
Champ Car still doesn't have a title sponsor which underscores the fact
that sponsors are still sitting on the fence waiting to see if Champ Car
is indeed out of hot water and on its way to success.
Healthy teams: As it
stands now, there are 10 confirmed seats in the Champ Car series for 2005:
Dominguez (HVM), Paul Tracy and Rodolfo Lavin (Forsythe Racing), Alex Tagliani
(Rocketsports), Jimmy Vasser (PKV Racing), A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson
(RuSPORT), Gaston Mazzacane (Dale Coyne), Bruno Junqueira and Sebastien Bourdais
(Newman/Haas). There are also as many as nine possible openings still up for
grabs, however, a great many of those are dependent upon adequate sponsorship
Having promoters who can make a profit on their Champ Car event is a key
ingredient to solidifying the race schedule. It's hard to build a
fan base in a city if the venues are continually changing. NASCAR
had a staple of races that were held on the same weekend for decades.
Only recently, after it established a huge fan base, did NASCAR start
changing their schedule around, primarily to make room for new, bigger
races. Both Champ Car and the IRL have had a big turnover of races since
the split, owing to a drop in popularity of Champ Car when Tony George
created the IRL, split Indy Car racing in two and destroyed the once
hugely successful sport.
Meaningful engine manufacturer
support: While Ford is helping Champ Car, since Honda,
Toyota and Mercedes left the series, the paddock has become noticeably
poorer. Gone are the majority of sponsors and the hospitality
facilities that they bring. The car companies have very deep pockets and
they help a race series in many ways - from track signage and corporate
hospitality (both help race promoters) to TV ads, magazine ads,
newspaper ads and team financial and technical support. Despite
all the "evil" that goes with this money, manufacturer support is a key
ingredient to all successful racing series. There isn't a single
successful racing series that doesn't have car manufacturer support.
Think like a true Global Property:
If Champ Car wants to become a true global sports property it had better
start thinking and acting like one. Why go back to Europe, to
South America, South Korea or China if you are going to continue to
conduct yourself as a domestic racing series? The entire
organization, from the head office right down to the mechanics must
understand the vision, the goals.
Only 14 races :
To date Champ Car has announced just 14 races, the same as last year, a
bankruptcy year. Races in Argentina and Beijing are rumored and
Road America is still out there, but 14 races does not put Champ Car in
front of their audience enough and provide their sponsor the type of
exposure NASCAR does racing 38 weekends per year. Just another
reason why NASCAR is stealing sponsors away - good exposure week in and
As we have stated on numerous occasions, every successful sport has
superheroes. Champ Car currently has none, hence why attendance
and TV ratings are down. There is very little marketing of the
drivers and Champ Car doesn't seem to have a clue how to engage sponsors
to use their drivers in their advertisements. One of the secrets
to NASCAR's success has been their ability to convince their sponsors to
help make the drivers superheroes.
Why hasn't Ford re-signed with Champ Car? Did they scare away that
manufacturer too? If our sources are to be believed, they will be
back on board for at least one more year, and possibly three, but why is
it taking so long?
Need more teams:
Champ Car is in need of more new teams. The cost is not very high
right now but still rumors of possible new teams have gone silent.
That means Champ Car is not able to convince team owners to invest in
them. The goal should be 28 cars, preferably 14 two-car teams.
More teams, each with their own PR and marketing staff, puts more people
out there looking to bring sponsors into the series and getting the word
out about their team, their drivers and the series.
First we were led to believe that Champ Car would adopt all-new cars for
2006, but now that is delayed until 2007. The existing cars are
getting old and tired. New cars and possibly new engines always
generate renewed fan interest. After all, Champ Car is not IROC,
but given all the teams will use Lolas powered by Ford Cosworth makes it
appear that way.
Improvement in TV Ratings:
In order for Champ Car to become a "hot" property to sponsors, the TV
ratings will have to improve. In the world of sports marketing and
advertising, TV ratings are king. Low TV ratings mean no sponsors
and no TV advertising revenue. Individual TV ratings by country
are important to generate TV ad revenue in each market, but Champ Car
must get a handle on its cumulative worldwide TV ratings because the
cumulative rating dwarfs just the USA rating and this number is
important to sponsors who have their name on the race car. Those
sponsors want to reach as many eyeballs as possible.
While Champ Car is laying a
solid foundation for the future, there are still many challenges ahead.
But compared to this time last year when the vultures were circling
CART's dead carcass, the future looks better than it has in a long time.
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