Long Beach Grand Prix: Fun, sun, IndyCar racing – Makings of a perfect day

UPDATE A reader writes, Dear AR1.com, Interesting. This article says it best:

"One of those food-truck visitors was first-time Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach attendee Sarah-Beth Johnson, who said her race weekend experience has been "surreal."

'This has been an absolute blast,' she said. 'I've met race-car drivers, driven a Go-Kart, visited the Lifestyle Expo and dined at some of the best food trucks ever. This has been the best weekend in Long Beach that I have ever had…..This will definitely be a tradition for me,' she said. 'I can't wait to invite family and friends to this event. I just can't wait until next year.' "

As I stressed back in April of 2010 (article here) marking the origin of our debate, “events beget fans." Indy Car and NBC Sports must transform those newly minted fans into television viewers. Despite its weak start, and to date, disappointing ratings, NBC Sports is no bit player in television coverage and is more than capable of providing a partnership with Indy Car to achieve the objective. If Indy Car is to survive, it must happen. While we both may agree that there is a ‘noose around Indy Car’s neck’ our debate revolves around who owns the rope. I contend that television coverage mirrors the popularity of the series, not creates it. Indy Car must focus their attention on repeating the success of Long Beach. More fans. More fans. More fans. And the pathway to produce them is found in droves at the events. Fewer fans = lower television ratings. After Long Beach, there is a whisper of optimism that wasn’t there before the race. Let’s all hope the future TV ratings can reflect, with some consistency, the same reasons for optimism.

Blaming Indy Car's television package for lackluster ratings is like blaming an engine for running out of gas. Indy Car’s malaise in television ratings is squarely centered on its disappointing ability to attract new fans and even retain the older ones. The series lost a multitude of fans during the split and many apparently haven’t come back. There are other reasons too, including a particularly worrisome issue of young people not really being car fanatics. Add in spec cars, changing schedules, multitude of motorsport viewing options and the recipe for poor ratings is abundant. The various (and disturbingly growing) groups don’t watch on television because fundamentally they don’t care to. It’s really that simple.

Yes, I agree, if Indy Car were to be broadcast on a commercial television network, the number of viewers would increase, but marginally so. It would still suffer from lackluster rating numbers compared to “other" programming. Broadcasting the signal on a larger network of viewers will not be sufficient to cure what is wrong with Indy Car. For Indy Car to succeed, they must focus their energies on attracting more fans. More fans will translate to more viewers. As I have said many times, events beget fans, television reinforces them. If you are a fan of Indy Car, you’ll watch on television. If not, you are far less likely to. Indy Car has indeed initiated efforts to regain lost ground, but must develop even more modern, exciting and interactive revamps of the race fan experience at events to find pathways to new, renewed and enthusiastic fans.

And one final element: Racing is renowned for its ability to translate sponsorship support into sponsor sales. That happens when race fans choose to support a racing sponsor’s involvement with their favorite past time. It’s how NASCAR has been so incredibly successful. The fans buy sponsor products! Casual fans that happen to watch a race on television are far less likely to make that same connection. And that connection is what makes all the engines sing in motorsports. To rely on “casual" and passively obtained “TV" fans is relying on weakened and likely diluted fan response. Sponsors must clearly identify a positive response from race fans that translates into more sales. Sponsors are always interested in reaching greater numbers of consumers. But the real test is how many of those consumers will respond to the commercial message. That is why a sponsor must activate a sponsorship campaign rather than relying predominately on the “exposure" generated by a racing sponsorship. Television coverage alone is insufficient to generate the kind of response needed for today’s marketing objectives. For the campaign to succeed, the final determining factor is always the bottom line.

Ratings are to television what fans are to motorsports. Get more fans and more viewers will follow, no matter where it’s broadcast. I believe that Indy Car is getting the message. I see new initiatives that are good attempts to make progress. When and if the rating numbers increase sufficiently to justify commercial network broadcasts, I predict you’ll see the networks clamoring to get a piece of the action. NBC Sports Channel is not the noose around Indy Car’s neck as it has been described. Rather, it is upon Indy Car to make the changes needed that can loosen the knot. Their efforts to make gains should be applauded and amplified. Because NBC Sports is merely the reflection of where the sport is today, not the reason it got there. Brian C. Mackey, Mackey Marketing Group, Inc.

04/22/13 Though the big race was the draw for Pete Jameson on Sunday, his wife, Kathy, came to the 39th annual Toyota Grand Prix for the food.

But Kathy Jameson didn't come for half-pound corn dogs or chili cheese fries. She came for the wide array of gourmet food trucks.

"We have come together for 15 years," Kathy Jameson said. "My husband (Pete) has been coming since the race's inception. He loves the racing. This is his favorite weekend of the year, but when the Grand Prix added food trucks a couple years ago, it changed the game for me. "

This year is just the second time that the mobile restaurants have been permitted inside the race area, and nine of them were located behind Grandstand 31, south of the front straightaway near Shoreline Village.

The Food Truck Experience brings the best in Southern California gourmet food trucks to the races – and this weekend the options have been vast, including Greasy Wiener, Lobsta Truck, Ragin Cajun, South Philly, Meat the Greek and Longboards.

Food lovers could choose from soul food, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, lobster chowder and Greek fair. There were such desserts as fried cupcakes, ice cream sandwiches and frozen yogurt.

Kathy Jameson described the food options as "even better than last year." But several thousand people, like Kathy's husband, Pete, came to watch the street race, the third in the IZOD Indy Car Series, which includes the Indy 500.

The 1.97-mile temporary road course winds its way around the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center and The Pike. The track was built from the ground up over the past several months, including concrete barriers and grandstands, which allow fans to sit along south Pine Avenue, Seaside Way, Shoreline Driver and Aquarium Way.

Attendance this year was expected to reach 170,000-plus over the three days, and race officials expect numbers to be higher than last year, as the weather has been ideal for fans.

Last year's numbers were hit slightly due to a rainy Friday, but race officials said they "couldn't have asked for better weather," with Friday and Saturday temperatures in the 80s and Sunday's highs in the mid-70s.

On Sunday, as the Shoreline Grandstands were packed with race fans rooting for their favorite Indy Car driver – such as reigning Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Champion Will Power, pole-sitter Dario Franchitti and fan-favorite Helio Castroneves – hundreds of others were walking the food trucks village.

About 3,000 people visited the mobile restaurants on Friday, according to officials, and that number jumped to 5,000 on Saturday. Food truck owners said they expected between 5,000 and 7,000 visitors on Sunday.

Patricia Harding, owner of the Irvine-based Cluster Truck Events, who organized the food-truck village, said the event, like last year, was "a huge success."

One of those food-truck visitors was first-time Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach attendee Sarah-Beth Johnson, who said her race weekend experience has been "surreal. "

"This has been an absolute blast," she said. "I've met race-car drivers, driven a Go-Kart, visited the Lifestyle Expo and dined at some of the best food trucks ever. This has been the best weekend in Long Beach that I have ever had. "

Johnson moved to Long Beach from Texas last summer, and said the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be an event she "never misses. "

"This will definitely be a tradition for me," she said. "I can't wait to invite family and friends to this event. I just can't wait until next year. "

The most popular trucks were the ones serving gourmet cupcakes – some of the flavors were pumpkin, chocolate marshmallow and banana dark chocolate – the Lobsta Truck and Meat the Greek.

But it wasn't just the food trucks that enjoyed the race weekend business and exposure. Managers of restaurants in Shoreline Village and Downtown restaurants said they had "more foot traffic than last year. "

All-in-all race officials said great weather helped to provide a great weekend for race fans. Long Beach Press Telegram

Leave a Reply