09/20/13 A reader writes, Dear AR1,
I saw your news item on the IndyCar downward spiral. I am a very prominent and successful CEO. Yes, you would likely know my name and see it in the news from time to time. I am an avid IndyCar fan.
Yes, as I have accurately predicted the demise of CART, Champ Car, IRL, Indy Lights and Toyota Atlantic, open wheel racing is not sustainable with a dominant buy-a-ride environment. This must go away. The only way to do that is build value for sponsors in both the consumers (i.e. fans) that buy sponsor products, and build value for the B2B deliverables in the paddock.
People complain about the TV package, but that is all tied to the fans and viewers. Yes, you can get higher ratings on network television, but if you are having to buy those telecasts, that represents a cash drain that should be a cash infusion, like it is with pretty much every other sport that can call one of its events a global spectacle of racing.
Until IndyCar takes a real, major step in cultivating a fan base that finds the sport compelling, this will not happen, and IndyCar will be on various levels of life support and struggle to stay alive indefinitely. It will never return to its rightful place at the top of North American racing.
The collegiate model that was proposed by one of AR1's staff members, is ideal for this. My company has found tremendous exponential value in marketing the collegiate segment. Making our product a household (well…dorm room) name has been a key element of our growth and success. Our relationship with several major universities has yielded a growing market share for our brand, that we have tracked from their college years well into middle age. Once these consumers like something in college, they tend to stay consumers of that brand (or type of product at least) for the rest of their lives. Our research also shows that many people’s entertainment tastes in various sports and other lifestyle points, are solidified during these college years.
This makes the collegiate consumer the single most valuable face we want to get our name in front of.
IndyCar should take special note of this, as their product tends to already appeal to a more educated consumer.
However, going on step further, look at the following for college football and basketball. Their appeal spans well beyond the campus or any generous estimate of graduates. This especially obvious in Alabama, where a majority of the population has not attended college, yet are crazy foaming-mouthed Crimson Tide fans.
The collegiate competition lends a compelling aspect the sport that catches the attention of this group. Then the racing and intrigue that the sport naturally has, takes over from there.
But that means having the best brands and the best drivers on the track, and a driver's uncles handmade widget company isn't going to ring with fans. Fans want to see not only their drivers, but their brands they know and love. We are a consumer nation, driven by our tastes and our possessions.
So the only way to make it work is to get those best drivers in the car without writing a check, and getting the brands on the cars with value that is packaged with the racing to add value for them.
It's really not that complicated.
The problem is the sport is dominated by wealthy people who want to go out and have fun, and a smart enough to figure out how to get the fans to chip in, or can write their hobby off of their taxes.
There is a reason polo is not a mass spectator or TV sport. Have you ever been to a polo match? It's absolutely astounding and riveting. But nobody wants to watch a bunch of rich guys go out and play.
IndyCar needs to wake up and run a business instead of a glorified playground.
I wish them luck. If they need a CEO, I might be interested in a new project. Let them respond to you and I might reply if they seem sincere enough to let me do it my way with no interference from anyone. But in the meantime, I recommend they get on the collegiate marketing train and ride it back into prominence.
09/18/13 The IZOD IndyCar 2014 schedule will be one of contraction and disappointment. I try to be a cheerleader for the IZOD IndyCar series but the outlook for next year’s schedule just so dismal, unimpressive and artificially truncated.
Unless there is are some surprises coming on the schedule, expected on Sept. 25, it looks like a shorter season with less venues and more doubleheaders. Baltimore is gone, and rumors are that Sao Paulo might not happen too, which sucks. If the rumors of Houston and Auto Club Speedway moving into the heat of the summer are true those events won’t be long for this world either. Having the MavTV 500 taking place on Labor Day weekend and Houston in June or July because they don’t want to go head to head with the NFL just sounds insane to me. I can’t imagine sitting in aluminum stands in 95 degree heat to see a race.
So we’re looking at 15 weekends at 14 venues, which is only one more race weekend than Champ Car had in the years before that series folded. The IRL had 17 events pre-merger You can dress it up with some double headers if you want, but the series has regressed in its efforts to compact the schedule. I support the idea of international races, even a standalone series, but fifteen races over seven months is just sad.
Derrick Walker, IndyCar’s head of competition, held a Twitter Q&A with fans this afternoon, and so I asked him if there would be any new venues in 2014, and the answer confirmed what I’ve long feared. Nope.
Walker also ruled out returning to Mexico next year, confirmed that there is trouble with Brazil’s race that has nothing to do with date, and all but confirmed that IZOD is on their way out as title sponsor.
The only new event will probably be the Indy Road Course, as part of a weekend United Sports Car Racing event along with Indy Lights, Star Mazda and USF-2000 would be my guess. I’m not opposed to this idea, Bobby Rahal made a good case for it, but IndyCar cancels one, possibly two events, exiles two events to the heat of the summer and makes up for it by adding a double header at St.Pete, and road race at The Speedway? Really? That’s an improvement? Yeah, I can totally see where canceling popular races in big markets like Baltimore and holding outdoor events in 95 degree heat will bring more fans to IndyCar.
So with no new venues, maybe no Brazil, the least they could do is move Houston to April. Back when the Shell Grand Prix of Houston was a Champ Car event it went off the third weekend in April. The six-week long Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in March would prohibit Houston for a date earlier than January. Looking at the arena’s event schedule April seems to be a much more reasonable time to race around the Reliant Center than midsummer.
So here we go, 15 events, all north American with four double headers for a grand total of 19 events. It’s a unimpressive schedule of last resort if you ask me. Forgoing established events like Baltimore and moving others into unfriendly weather in order to meet some artificial deadline just seems so unnecessary. If they can’t get an international series done, and there’s a good chance it won’t come off as planned, there will be a lot of unemployed crew members come the mid-September. Matt Schafer, Beyond The Flag
March 28/29 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Streets of St. Petersburg*
April 6 Honda Grand Prix of Alabama. Barber Motorsport Park
April 13 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Streets of Long Beach
April 26/27 Shell Grand Prix of Houston, Reliant Stadium
May 11 Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course
May 25 Indianapolis 500
May 30/ June 1 Chevrolet Duel at Detroit*
June 7 Texas Motor Speedway
June 21 Milwaukee Indyfest, The Milwaukee Mile
July 6 Pocono Indy 500, Pocono Raceway
July 19/20 Honda Grand Prix of Toronto*
July 27 Iowa Corn 250, Iowa Motor Speedway
August 3 Honda Indy 200, Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course
August 24 Go-Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma
August 29 MavTV 500, Auto Club Speedway
Bold dates are confirmed through public sources
* Denotes double header event