IndyCar to sack Toronto race promoter?

Kevin Savoore
Kevin Savoree of Savoree Green Promotions to lose Toronto contract?

Both the Honda Indy Toronto and the Verizon IndyCar Series have seen better days.

In the beginning, back in the 1980s when the race through the streets of Exhibition Place was known as the Molson Indy, more than 160,000 admissions – 70,000-plus on race day – would pass through the turnstiles each year. The race was one of three huge summertime festivals in Toronto – Pride Week and what was then known as Caribana being the others. It dominated the headlines; everybody knew about it. It was very "in."

And the sanctioning body of the day, CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) was seen as a viable alternative to Formula One. Enough of an alternative, incidentally, that none other than Bernie Ecclestone was moved to keep an eye on its progress.

Which is not the case today for either IndyCar or what is now the Honda Indy. Which is a puzzle, considering that the racing is better than it’s ever been, the race drivers are equal to their counterparts in any other series and are rock-star athletes in their own right, and the Toronto race/festival is in the middle of a population base of 4.5 million people.

In short, then, why are more people not showing up for the race? For several years now, I have described attendance as "a BMO Stadium crowd." Translated, that means the people who showed up for Honda Indy race day would likely fill all the seats in the BMO Stadium at Exhibition Place. That would put attendance for the race at 20,000 to 25,000 – which is really not good enough, considering how many people are living here now.

Yes, the crowd this year was okay, considering the weather, but most people in the GTA simply didn’t know it was happening. It’s one thing to know about something and choose not to attend. It’s another when there’s ignorance.

For instance, when Lake Shore Blvd. West was closed for Thursday morning rush hour – the first of four days of shutdown for the race to be run – there was a big traffic jam eastbound on that road. Radio station 680 News sent a reporter down there to ask people why they hadn’t used another route. All those whose answers were put on the air didn’t know that the race was on and one guy said he thought the closure had something to do with the Pan Am Games.

There has been a real disconnect somewhere along the line and something has to be done about it or I feel we could lose this race. A week before the Honda Indy, the Grand Prix of Canada was held in Montreal. The comparison could not have been more stark. The Grand Prix dominates everything in Montreal when it’s on. Once upon a time, that was the case in Toronto, too.

In our interview, Miles said he was concerned about the way the Toronto race is being promoted. He also suggested that Rogers, which owns the rights to televise IndyCar races in Canada, might want to become more involved in the Honda Indy.

And for the hard-core fans who are bothered that the IndyCar season ends on Labour Day weekend, he hinted that if the company is unable to start the season earlier as planned, it’s possible there might have to be a race scheduled after Labour Day.

Here is an edited version of our conversation:

Are you happy with the way Toronto is going?

We think we have a very good product. I don’t think the racing has been better, at least in recent history. In other parts of the series, we have momentum.

The best events are the events that become part of the civic fabric of the city. It’s more than the sporting event on the track. We’ve got to find a way to make that happen here.

Our Toronto promoter is accomplishing that in St. Pete. I’ve seen meaningful improvements there, where the Dali Museum is a focus point, where there are festivals downtown in the streets.

So we have to figure out how to make it happen here – but that’s what’s missing. It’s very much a priority.

Your TV numbers aren’t that hot. What’s the plan?

We’re starting from a small base but I think a 25 per cent improvement year over year should not be dismissed at a time when many other sports, including motorsports, are declining. Market share is another matter – share and total audience – but the only way to get there is to start to improve it.

Last year, we went to ABC and convinced them – instead of taking the (Indianapolis) 500 and other races randomly – to take three consecutive weekends in May and then the double-header in Detroit. From five consecutive broadcasts, they could promote from week to week. It made a big difference in the ratings.

Between now and 2018, when the current contracts run out, the plan is to extend this logic. We will try to get ABC (with ESPN) to take – like NASCAR – the first half of the season and NBC Sports Network to take the second half. You will have greater continuity (of coverage) and better opportunities for the broadcaster to promote their broadcasts. Norris McDonald/Toronto Sun

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