Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

November 14, 2014

Stay Tuned For The Greatest Spectacle in Racing….

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 5:34 pm

GentlemenOne of the most idiotic tenets of the anti-anything-even-remotely-related-to-Hulman crowd is the woefully misguided notion that the Indianapolis 500 be de-emphasized in favor of making the entire series stronger.

Often these people position the entire series in ‘dire straits’ as a result. One nutso contributor at one of the IndyCar-centric online forums opines that there is ‘…too much focus on the Indy 500. The Indy 500 is NOT everything. If the series wants to be healthy again, it needs to go back to the ONE model that worked: The Indy 500 being the most important race of the year, but NOT more important than the series championship or the series as a whole. That model will regain the prestige of BOTH Indy and the series.’

These types of anti-Hulmanites make so many assumptions based not just on prejudice but on a mostly self-perceived utopia they have created for themselves and believe existed prior to 1996. Uh, yes, the Indy 500 IS everything in IndyCar and everything else is secondary. Despite the protestations of those who feel the Indianapolis 500 is somehow tarnished in terms of prestige the event remains as legendary as ever. Usually those who chide any perceived lack of prestige at the 500 suffer from the special brand of arrogance that actually did destroy the model they hold up as ideal.

In other words it is the Indianapolis 500 that has always given legitimacy to whatever official or unofficial sanctioning organization claimed it as their centerpiece. Without it they failed.

This is not to say the rest of the series schedule is not important. In fact IndyCar MUST do a better job presenting and Hardened Nipspositioning the other events to enhance the viability of the entire series. Bragging about how diverse it is only gets them so far. When presentation is ignored; e.g., at just about any oval other than Indy, there is not much hope for maximizing popularity outside Indy.

The point of this piece: Winter is nearly here. The polar vortex has already gripped most of the country. When winter arrives most race fans know they just need to get through it before springtime May activity begins at the big track. This is about the time actual fans begin getting really impatient.

November 11, 2014

New Faces in the Fancy Offices at IMS

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 5:01 pm

MafiosoMark Miles is said to be nearly finished with his overhaul of all things Hulman. Just last week the ‘retirement’ of Jeff Belskus was announced, and just as quickly he was replaced by Cindy Lucchese, who is part of the ‘Miles Mafia.’ Given the level of outright hysteria on the Internet about IndyCar and the certainty, according to most, that it is doomed to die is it not ironic that IMS has hired an executive whose last job was CEO of a casket company?

Now that all of these new executives are in place and the ‘aw shucks’ old guard is elsewhere perhaps it is time for the new leadership to ponder the following basic, common sense observations from many IndyCar fans:

-IndyCar now has marketing professionals on board with impeccable credentials. When will the work they are doing not be such a secret?

-If the IndyCar car leadership feels that filling up seats at race tracks is something that is important why would a 4:00pm start time on a Sunday afternoon ever be considered a good idea?

Good crowd-If ovals are part of the heritage of IndyCar why try so hard to kill them? When will an Indy-in-May assortment of fan-attracting diversions get added to other big ovals at Pocono, Fontana and Texas? IndyCars and vintage hobbyists simply do not cut it.

-If bridges have been burned with ISC and SMI why not get creative with geographically complementary ovals just begging for the kind of racing IndyCar can offer? There are plenty of choices.

-What is wrong with marketing meaningful ‘triple crowns’ with a $3 million dollar prize? There could be a ‘big oval’ triple crown featuring Indy, Pocono and Fontana, and a ‘diversity challenge’ triple crown featuring Texas, Long Beach and a natural terrain road course. What are the odds they would have to part with the 3 mil?

-When will IndyCar demand the same sort of treatment from their television partners afforded to NASCAR and F1? If they consider what they have acceptable they are mentally challenged.

-Aero kits are a step in the right direction but how long will the general homogenization of the entire sport be allowed to continue? Spec racing is consistently in the top three of complaints casual fans express.

The one thing Miles has in common with the previous regime is being tight lipped, except for flowery press releases that contain all sorts of business-speak. Race fans do not care about that. They care about a compelling product on the track, and wider accessibility to it.

Is it too much or too soon to begin demanding meaningful results?

November 7, 2014

How IndyCar and its Participants Manage to Shoot Appendages Off With Alarming Regularity

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 12:58 am

The only real prerequisite for being an IndyCar fan is that any person so inclined must lean toward extreme masochism. Take the 2015 schedule, for example. It remains highly compressed (ending before Labor Day) and contains fewer events than the previous season, including one that leaves the hemisphere.

ESPN on ABC, predictably, only cares about Indy and a couple of others that won’t require much effort. NBCSN is already over-promoting NASCAR. Based on actual current promotion, programming and effort being expended for F1, IndyCar has already been relegated to bastard stepchild status. If some brave reporter unafraid of potentially having credentials pulled were to ask an intelligent question at a press conference it might be worded in such a way that asks what specific steps they are taking to achieve parity with a ‘partner’ that consistently says one thing but does another. Another good question: Why is a cable television network being allowed to determine start times for races that are scheduled so inconveniently for casual fans you are almost guaranteed not to draw a meaningful crowd in person?

Continuing on that theme, the big ovals other than Indianapolis were the scenes of the most lackluster, empty race weekend presentation in the history of the sport. It was embarrassing, particularly at Fontana and Pocono. And once again, dates for such venues have been shifted again. How long can we expect IndyCar to last at NASCAR-owned Fontana now that the biggest supporter of the series at that track, Gillian Zucker, is leaving to run the Clippers organization? If Miles and crew believe the addition of a bunch of non-racing entertainment and more racing contributed to the increased success of the month of May at Indianapolis why would the same approach not work at Pocono or Fontana? So longThe observed differences are night and day. As a fan I do not want to lose Pocono, Fontana or Texas. We have already lost for too many ovals for dubious, half-assed reasons.

One thing that seems to occur a lot at headquarters is turnover. The latest out the door is a big one. Jeff Belskus. Some believe that is a good thing. Under his watch the Speedway physical plant has deteriorated far more rapidly than at any other time since WWII. Besides penny pinching any major decision that had to be made while he was in charge had to be made without running afoul of the France family, including supposedly foregoing high dollar sponsorship because Brian

Boston Consulting Group

Boston Consulting Group

might get upset. He is also said to be responsible for commissioning the Boston Consulting Group activity that has been increasingly chided by those actually knowledgeable about the sport of auto racing.

Just today on one of the IndyCar fan forums a participant asked a great question about Pocono: Why no Indy Lights there? Another contributor opined that it is because it is an oval and Mr. Anderson does not like those. Then, someone claiming to be Dan Anderson chimed in:  “Actually, not true. I like ovals a lot. Many teams in the Indy Lights series rely on drivers and the support they bring, and at this point in time, the reality is that there are too many new drivers unfamiliar with oval racing who opt out of the high speed oval events. Witness last year’s 8 car field at Pocono. In time, we hope to see that reality change, but ignoring it would hurt our teams, and we are in the midst of reviving this series, no need to challenge anyone more than necessary.”

No ovaltine pleaseIf that was THE Dan Anderson I would only say a couple of things. 1) The guy deserves props for adding cohesiveness to the rungs of the ladder, and 2) Actually making each rung grow. I do not have a problem with some of his reality based rationale, but I also remember quotes from a Gordon Kirby piece in the summer of 2013:  “We’re going to do less ovals,” he said. “I think that the model that requires Indy Lights to do five, six or seven oval races a year is just not workable. It defeats the population in the series because too many drivers from foreign countries don’t understand ovals or are scared of them. Oval racing is exciting but there’s a high cost in crash damage and everything else.  We definitely need to train drivers on ovals. My F2000 series does one oval race. My Pro Mazda series does two oval races and my Indy Lights series will do three oval races.”

At least he is honest. He is stuck with mostly self-funded race drivers who get there with money instead of just talent who only want to race on non-ovals because they are either scared of ovals or unwilling to learn how. Definitely not his fault. Is

Oh My God! It's an OVAL!

Oh My God! It’s an OVAL!

it any wonder there is so little attraction for casual American fans, especially given owners who just take the checks and churn through drivers (and their wallets) faster than McDonalds goes through fry cooks? Oh, and ‘…no need to challenge anyone more than necessary!?’ What!? If IndyCar fancies itself as having the most diverse drivers on the planet isn’t ‘challenging’ what it is all about? Besides for years we have heard cart enthusiasts chirping nearly continuously about how easy it is for a road racer to pick up ovals. What is the problem then?

If the foreign ride buyers are too ‘fraidy scared of big ovals can’t you at least use an infield road course for their part of the weekend? It’s not like interior space availability is a problem.

Unfortunately the battle for control of the sport between IMS/American oval racers and Formula wannabes rages on, as it has in earnest since the 1970s. Caught in the middle, as usual, are fans. Far too many have had enough and are no longer around. This is a problem that will likely never be solved. In the meantime as we bend over we should probably learn to enjoy it some more.

October 30, 2014

The 2015 IndyCar Schedule is Released…Verdict?

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 6:38 pm

New Foyt Full TimeThe 2015 IndyCar schedule was released today and for the most part it remains underwhelming. Most of us understand the difficulty of piecing together that puzzle and appreciate the hard work that goes into it. Still, it remains troubling and here is why:

-There are only 17 events, and that is a stretch because it includes two races in one weekend in downtown Detroit and the two events in Indianapolis.

-The schedule is 65% non-oval. Perhaps the people in charge still feel that shoving something that has repeatedly failed down the throats of potential fans they are mostly unsuccessfully trying to attract will somehow have a different outcome.

-It still ends before Labor Day. Hindsight screams about how ludicrous a notion that is.

-The primary TV partner is doing IndyCar no favors. Oh sure, IndyCar will blow smoke up everyones’ arses about how six events are on ABC, but the reality is they are only in three physical places: St. Pete during spring break, Indy in May (cherry-picked again), and Detroit the week after. Everything else is NBCSN and nothing elevated to NBC (as F1 has done). ESPN/ABC’s lack of commitment is obvious. Why IMS/IndyCar won’t push for a change to the terms that allows the brand on NBC is beyond me. That kind of exposure would be good for all parties.

NOPotentially good:

-Spacing seems about right.

-The sole foreign money grab event is in the fringe. What happened with Dubai?

-New Orleans in April works for us.

-Neither Pocono nor Fontana is scheduled on a holiday weekend.

How IndyCar can improve its fortunes, even with such a limited schedule:

-Get off your corporate, pompous arses and do something meaningful for a change with the presentation and promotion of events, especially the few remaining ovals. Give people a full weekend of reasons to show up. A small number of IndyCars and Michael Young screaming into a microphone no longer works, as evidenced by the increasingly paltry attendance.

-Run the entire ladder as well as outside series at EVERY event, even if you have to use another part of a facility (like a road course configuration at Pocono for some of the rungs).

-Invest in and promote the hell out of two triple crowns: One for the big ovals that includes Indy, Pocono and Fontana, and one that emphasizes diversity: Long Beach (street), Texas (oval) and Barber or MO (road). Offer 3 million to any triple crown winner. Chances are you’ll hang on to the money.

Looking toward the future:

-There are so many great unused ovals it is ridiculous. No one expects much as long as IndyCar sticks to the dated notion that having the series just show up is worth a couple of million. That has not been a good approach for many years. Should IndyCar suddenly develop creativity and alternative approaches to revenue generation that is not ‘traditional’ perhaps we will see forward progress. Two striking examples of unused ovals are Kentucky and Chicagoland. I do not buy the Mark Miles notion that such tracks are too geographically close. That is, bluntly, a load of horse shIt. What I believe he is really saying is that IndyCar does not have the means or ability to self-promote in a manner sufficient to generate revenue. Therefore it is easier simply not to pursue such opportunities. Trying to be an IndyCar fan remains frustrating at almost masochistic levels.

Kentucky is ideally located geographically between the population centers of Louisville and Cincinnati. Add to that the contingent that would drive south from Indiana and surrounding states and you have a winner. Of course re-building a winner requires promotion in the key target markets and reasons for people to attend.

Dollars funnel.Chicagoland is within the third largest media market in the country. A no-brainer.

-I would still pick up Rockingham at the asset sale then incentivize potential involvement in IndyCar by existing nearby NASCAR teams, and I wouldn’t care what the France or Smith families thought.

-Open a well-attended Barber-like experience at the Memphis Motorsports Park. No worries about Frances or Smiths there. Ditto for Gateway, both geographically underserved by everyone.

Those are all great starts for getting the schedule up over 20 events, particularly not when bending over for everyone before Labor Day.

The Disciple party has now booked New Orleans, Indy, Fontana, Pocono and one of the Midwest ovals…plus a few more tentatives. I am really hoping the presentation, particularly at oval venues, improves from the embarrassing lack of effort us die-hards were forced to endure in 2014.

Hey….they beat November for release. That’s progress.

October 28, 2014

Meanwhile, While Awaiting Release of the IndyCar Schedule for 2015….

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 10:54 pm

While viewing a few YouTube racing clips for nostalgic purposes one of the suggested related clips was the ‘Outside the Lines’ episode entitled ‘500 Miles Apart’ from ESPN released and aired shortly after the Indianapolis 500 in late May, 1996. This goofy pundit had not seen it in a few years so why not? Based solely upon on-camera performances the interviewees and participants can easily be classified into two groups, which is even easier now given the added benefit of hindsight:

  1. Most Stupid, Clueless, Bitter, Hypocritical, Hostile and/or Arrogant People on Earth at That Time.
  2. Most Sensible, Rational Thinking People on Earth at That Time.

Group 1 features (in roughly order of appearance on the program):

IRLDan Gurney. When asked whether the winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1996 could take away the same satisfaction as any champion, Dan answered ‘…no, absolutely not, and he will know that.’ Somehow, Dan, as much as we love you I doubt that Buddy Lazier, actual winner of an Indianapolis 500, knows a little more about that feeling than someone who did not win and chose not even to compete when your idea was disrupted. Dan continued: ‘…it isn’t about trying to help out the little guy; it’s for control of what has the potential of being an enormous business, and the rest of it is so much hooey.’ Or…’I’ve known A.J. a long time…one of his modus operandi is to put words in other peoples’ mouths first and then tell them why it’s wrong, and that’s a no-win situation.’ ‘…(Tony George) and his palace guard and schemers decided that they would pull it off this way.’ Personally I really do love Dan Gurney and respect what he has done over the years in terms of innovation. But with regard to the ‘split’ he comes off like a petulant little dick.

Scott Pruett. ‘…It’s not the same level of competition you’d have otherwise.’

Bobby Unser. ‘…Tony George’s thing, he’s gonna make stars overnight. OK? I say he won’t.’

U.E. Patrick. ‘…to do what he did down there…which is part of America, to me it’s like apple pie and motherhood…it’s something you just don’t mess with and I think he’s gonna screw it up.’ Even ‘ol U.E. eventually formed an IndyCar team.

Andrew Craig: ‘…they said he wanted the world to stand still or perhaps I’d put it another way, they want the world to revolve around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.’ ‘It would be really difficult to bring the two sides back together.’

Roger Penske: ‘…Tony George, he’s the one who’s going to have to make a move. At this particular point our people want to go to Indy but at the end of the day we wanna go on a level playing field.’

Paul Newman: ‘…We’re being shut out of Indianapolis. We have 26 or 27 drivers here and 8 of them would have been allowed to run Indianapolis. Well, what do we do with the other 20 guys? Send ‘em home?’ ‘I promise you if Mario thought what was best for racing would be the IRL he’d be sitting down there right now.’

Rick Mears: ‘…When they started to regulate who can and who can’t run in the Super Bowl that’d be like going to the Dallas Cowboys and say hey you guys can’t play this year.’

Al Unser, Junior. Evidently ‘…you just don’t know what Indy means’ was a lie, as evidenced by his presence in Michigan. He regrets it, as almost everyone there that year. That regret hit some harder than others. Had Al Junior done the right thing it is not difficult to wonder whether his domestic and substance abuse problems might have been minimized by a clearer Indy Racing conscience. ‘…the gist of it is, uh, the best drivers in the world and the best crews in the world are, a , racing in Michigan this year.’

Emerson Fittipaldi: ‘We are doing right to be here. I’m very happy and, um, I’m going to stick to this group.’

Bobby Rahal: ‘….all 19 owners are unified.’

Bryan Herta: ‘…it hurts not to be there but you know I think that uh we really didn’t have any choice and so since we can’t be there I’m glad that we’re here at the US500.’

David Letterman: ‘…it would be great to be in Indianapolis if you had the Greatest Spectacle in Racing you deserve to have the best race and this year that’s not what they have. The best race is here in Michigan.’

Paul Tracy: ‘…I’m not a traditionalist. I’ve been to the Super Bowl, I’ve been to the Stanley Cup playoffs, I’ve been to the World Series. I don’t go to look at the stadium. I want to compete against the best drivers.’

Mario Andretti. ‘Indianapolis represents the theatre but the players are someplace else.’ ‘…to have a totally oval series you almost have to go back to the 50’s. Why do we want to go back to the 50s? Times have changed guys.’

Steve Potter, then Mercedes-Benz Marketing Manager, distinguished himself as one of the bigger douchebags on the program. ‘…tradition is important and it’s worth something but they have to be valid traditions. They have to be traditions that have continuity. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway made a decision about the qualifying rules and they cut the tradition. They cut its head off. They cut the head off it and it’s dead. That tradition no longer has a business value to Mercedes-Benz and that’s why we’re here.’ ‘….Wake-up calls for the Speedway? I think they’re sleeping pretty soundly.’

Robin Miller: ‘…the month has been a disaster. People have not showed up. And…they’re gonna blame the weather but I’ve been out here when there’s been a hundred thousand people waiting in the rain for ten hours hoping for qualifying to open.’

Phillip Morris and Valvoline, who decided to place all their sponsorship into the US500 and cart.

Robby Gordon: ‘…Best sponsors, best drivers, best cars, best teams. Right here. I guarantee our race will be better.’

Bob Tossel, a veteran of 51 straight 500s in that year, who compared the Indy field to the Toledo Mud Hens and the US500 field to the New York Yankees.

Paulla Weinberg, a chunky gal who started a group ‘Fans United To Save Indy’ and got 1300 signatures on a petition well before social media was the norm. ‘…We don’t recognize it as the Indianapolis 500. It’s the IRL 500. The Indianapolis 500 doesn’t exist this year as we’ve known it.’

Dan Kidwell, who made anti-IRL T-shirts and went to Michigan for the US500 instead of being with his brother and his new wife, who got married at the track the day before the race.

Brian Brown, a decades-long fan who dumped his family to attend the race in Michigan instead.

¾ of the field of ‘stars n’ cars,’ who failed to make it to the green flag due to crashing each other into an extended red flag. Idiots. Compare that to a field half filled with rookies who put on a great race.

So-called fans adorned in T-shirts with anti-Indy messaging, often expressed in crude fashion usually referencing human excretory functions.

Whiny ticket scalpers who bemoaned a drop in value of tickets they were trying to scalp. Poor bastards.

Group 2 features (in order of appearance on the program):

Johnny Rutherford, whose words ‘…you don’t buy tradition; you build it…’ were brilliant. ‘I can assure you all those guys wish they were here.’

Tony George: ‘…I want to have some input into the direction of where the sport goes. That’s paramount. I think this institution has to have some input.’ After being informed of many of the nonsense epithets being hurled his way Tony replied: ‘…I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck…I’ve been around a little while and I’ve had a lot of interaction with a lot of the drivers and car owners. I’ve gotten to know their personalities pretty well. A lot of it is not surprising to me.’ ‘I don’t think there will ever be an accord whereby cart as a unit comes to compete at the Indianapolis 500. They as individuals are going to continue to be welcomed here.’

A.J. Foyt: ‘…the big Roger Penske. Where in the hell was Roger Penske made? Right here at this goddamned race track. He damned sure did not make this place like A.J. Foyt didn’t or Wilber Shaw or whoever. I’m sick and tired of hearing their crap and I’ll tell you why. Because…like Mario…like they made Indianapolis…they made shit.’

Johnny Unser. ‘…I never thought I’d be the only Unser at Indianapolis, especially in my first year.’

Derrick Walker, who was smart enough to run cars at both races.

The Disney family o’ channels: The Indy 500 on the big OTA network; US500 on cable. Editorial bias, however, remained clear as long as cart clung to existence.

Jack Long: ‘…we’re talking about two different philosophical approaches to business and to the sport.’

The Keith Brown family with the exception of son Brian. The family did the right thing on Memorial Day weekend in 1996. Brian did not.

Jim Nabors, Dan Quayle, Florence Henderson and other regulars who put politics aside and never wavered in their respect for IMS.

Creative T-shirt wearers at Indianapolis with slogans such as ‘Crybaby Auto Racing Teams’ and such.

Stubbs BBQNow that nearly twenty years have passed and knowing all that has followed, it is really easy to observe the differences between arrogant and rational. It is too bad Group 1 wasted our time for a few years before the inevitable occurred. The best part about their whiny boycott was quality racing when the IRL schedule was painfully thin. Unfortunately they managed to keep the then-best young talent away from actual IndyCar fans who never got the chance to see folks like Alex Zanardi or Greg Moore in the 500. What a waste. Imagine the potential sponsorship opportunities. It is really telling to evaluate Group 1 in terms of who returned without adherence to their original terms.

Is anyone else craving release of the 2015 schedule? We could use it.

October 21, 2014

Should IndyCar Ever Decide To Do Something Way Off The Wall…

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 5:46 pm

Rock1Rockingham Speedway, ‘The Rock,’ in North Carolina is a wasted treasure. Andy Hillenburg, the racer (and former IndyCar driver) picked it up from Bruton Smith in 2007 (after SMI scattered its two Cup and other NASCAR series to other tracks). Since then it has been a struggle, mostly the result of dealing with NASCAR, who at the height of their popularity severed themselves from their roots. Hillenburg and his group have fallen behind in their debts and must sell or auction before 1Q 2015.

If I ran IndyCar I would think way outside the box. For roughly the amount of money paid to the Boston Consulting Group I could own that entire facility, something that would cost $75 million to build new. After all it is in great shape, has SAFR, also includes a separate half mile oval and an infield road course, 35,000 permanent seats, suites, a fast surface and is non-cookie cutter. The oval is just over a mile and is widely known as a very fast track.

Rock2If nothing else it could serve as a really nice testing ground for IndyCars and feeder series. NASCAR also still likes to use both tracks for testing. IndyCar could easily present an oval/road course double header weekend, especially armed with the knowledge that IndyCar has done well in the past in the heart of NASCAR country; e.g., Richmond, Charlotte, Birmingham, etc. Also potentially entertaining might be the reaction of NASCAR and its fans at having an IndyCar-owned legendary track in that part of the country. Revenue opportunities are there; it is a track that can run a variety of series, driving schools, testing rentals, etc., and could be further exploited. Partnership alignments with many movers and shakers might be possible.

The primary obstacle is geography. On the other hand its proximity to Charlotte makes it reasonably attractive. A race fan can dream.

In reality, unfortunately, none of this will ever happen. IndyCar remains incapable of recognizing, much less understanding or accepting any bigger picture that does not involve their own home base. The family is probably not keen on track ownership following experiments at Walt Disney World and Chicagoland. Given the current proclivity of leadership to ignore, abandon, dismiss and otherwise forget about oval racing altogether it could never be in the cards.

There are so many interesting tracks just sitting there. Last week I flew into St. Louis directly over Gateway, which looks well-kept and race ready….just like Memphis Motorsports Park. There are so many easy ways potential scheduling conflicts could be erased.

Wish I had a couple of million of free cash to play with.

October 20, 2014

Mind Changed: We Should Be Indy Racing in October

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 7:22 pm

Mark MilesTime for ‘ol Disciple to weigh in on the shortened season. When Mark Miles announced it last year it made perfect sense. After all it attempted to address one of the primary concerns of fans about events being spread too far apart on the calendar. They even screwed that up by taking June off except the first and last weekends.

Another of the concerns that made sense at the time was not competing with the NFL. These suggestions and others are said to have originated with the Boston Consulting Group. My experience with them is that they offer what they feel are good strategies (for a very high price) and kick start the direction. Usually they are successful and promote those successes. In sectors where their experience is marginal (like auto racing) they often fail. Those failures are not promoted. On one hand it is always practical to get a broad outside evaluation of your business and its potential future from a group with their expertise. Conversely the risk of failure wrought by too radical a group of changes for fans that usually do not embrace rapid change gets higher.

Fast forward to today. Racing fans are simply not ready to give up auto racing before October, and being forced to do so is painful when IndyCar is a primary preference. That is why all other widely recognized series continue to run. Ending IndyCar’s season before NASCAR’s ‘Chase’ even begins now seems foolish given hindsight as 20/20.

Drink It UpThe real problem is not the NFL. That was proven when a tape delayed second tier sports car series drew respectable numbers on an NFL weekend.  There are actually two critical problems:

  1. Television network ‘partners’ that are completely ambivalent about the IndyCar product, ignorant about what it is, and who readily drink Kool-Aid expertly provided by NASCAR, F-1, etc. Worse, IndyCar is incapable of providing such Kool-Aid for them to consume.
  2. That leads to this point, which is that despite employing folks with marketing credentials no actual marketing ever seems to occur on a large scale. At least not the kind of marketing that fills seats up with rear ends and glues eyeballs to screens. The reason is difficult to ascertain, but the speculation of Internet Experts On Everything (EOEs) runs the gamut from internal politics to lack of money to ignorance equal to or greater than the television partners in terms of knowledge of the sport.

With a little creativity races could be scheduled most weekends in October with television slots that would not be head-to-head with football. Therefore IndyCar should, in fact, have a season that does not end toward the end of October.

It also requires more than creative scheduling:

  1. Education of television partners so that they step beyond the ignorance that makes them ambivalent.
  2. Meaningful and impactful marketing.
  3. Something that resembles a professional effort at tracks. The efforts expended at both Pocono and Fontana were utterly disgraceful. Uninspired, unpromoted and insulting. IndyCar MUST do better.

September 29, 2014

Question for Internet IndyCar EOEs (Experts on Everything)

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 10:27 pm

Elder AntonLet us say that one day the magic racing genie popped out of whatever you happened to be stroking to grant wishes. The most common theme among the obsessed is the one that eliminates any vestige of Hulman-George DNA from any part of ownership or management of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or IndyCar Racing.

In a way that has already happened. Current management (at least at the upper levels) is separated from Hulman-George lineage. Ownership is still a different story.

If you had the opportunity to change the ownership into something other than Hulman & Companies, who/what would it be? Be specific. Tell me why. Make a case. Sell me. I would tend to rule out both anyone named France or Smith. It would need to be someone with a deep respect for history as well as a forward looking plan of action to take the sport to new heights.

West SideThis is not about what you dislike now. It is about potential. My opinion is that IndyCar and IMS should remain unique in the racing world and not a cookie cutter. We can talk about what changes you would make to the facility. Personally I would get the city to ‘eminent domain’ an area roughly bounded by Georgetown Road, 16th Street, Kessler Boulevard, Lafayette Road and 30th Street over to Moeller Road. They could transform the historic race track into a showplace but as long as the neighborhoods on three sides of it continue to deteriorate none of that will really matter.

In other words I would look at someone willing to transform the entire west side. The Speedway Redevelopment folks’ great effort aside, much more should be done. But by who?

That is the question, and be careful for what you might wish.

September 23, 2014

The Disciple Consulting Group: Latest Free Advice for IndyCar

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 6:38 pm

ITEsThe internet is filled with self-appointed television executives that nearly continuously try to analyze 12+ overnight television estimates from Nielsen, and almost always reach a conclusion that any and all of these overnight estimates portend certain doom for IndyCar. Never mind that not one of them has ever actually seen numbers used in the actual commerce of television advertising sales, and if they had would not be able to formulate one coherent thought about their application in the real world.

While their approach remains comical as they openly and repeatedly make fools of themselves the one point that has merit is that over-the-air television ratings are lower than they were twenty years ago. This is often positioned by the ignorant as somehow unique to IndyCar. Again, laughter ensues. The real question that should be asked involves how much time and effort should be specifically focused on increasing ratings on ABC and NBCSN. My insider opinion is that they could assemble a team of the most knowledgeable television folks on earth to do nothing but make ratings go up and the numbers would stay about where they are.

Television ratings will not increase because an organization specifically sets out to get them to rise. We have already seen the hocus pocus happy talk about compressed schedules and time slots, and despite self-congratulatory back pats by those who believed their actions correlated directly into slightly higher numbers the approach remains shortsighted. The ITEs will drone on obsessively refuting increases; e.g., NBCSN has more households now, etc., but they always miss the point anyway.

I envision IMS doing three things that will cause over-the-air television ratings to grow organically without specific focus on ratings:

  1. Wash the DishesFigure out a way to make the cast of characters and the cars they drive more interesting to the casual public. IndyCar personalities have been sanitized to white bread levels. The cars, other than paint jobs and two engine badges, are identical. And there are far too few of them. Leverage any/all of the good ideas that exist to broaden those horizons. When Formula E goes belly up acquire those assets and run it as a support series at every IndyCar event.
  2. Take the Indianapolis or Long Beach experience to every venue at which IndyCar runs. Having attended many races again this year the most accurate words that can be used to describe IndyCars outside Indy are underwhelming and uninspired, and embarrassingly so. The 500 mile races at Pocono and Fontana were particularly egregious in the ‘phone it in’ department. Promote THREE distinct ‘triple crowns.’ $3 million for a single winner of Indy, Pocono and Fontana (the ‘500 mile’ triple crown). $3 million for a single winner of Long Beach, Texas and either Barber or Mid-Ohio (the ‘diversity’ triple crown) and $3 million for a single winner of three foreign events (the ‘worldwide’ triple crown). It is far easier to work toward filling up seats at tracks than setting out to get television ratings to rise. Filling up the seats means more interest at the fan level, and more interest at the fan level leads to higher television ratings.
  3. IMS/IndyCar is sitting on over a century of the recorded history of the sport. Rather than allowing video and audio content to decompose in vaults why not monetize and exploit it? IMS Productions has done great work in the past. Creative minds should be able to craft and package a century of content into enough content to support a channel.

IndyCar should start its own network. Not an over-the-air network. An over-the-top network that leverages the length and breadth of all digital platforms, from Kindles to gaming systems. The OTT network should be subscriber based with limited free content as promotion. If only diehards paid $6.95 per month the 100,000 who would subscribe would gross $8,340,000.00 annually. Imagine driving subscription numbers to 200,000, half a million or even a million over time. Add in revenue from ad sales and merchandising and goals of 15 to 20 million within a few years is possible, particularly given availability across the globe. It is doubtful selling DVDs in the gift shop or online comes close to that number, and an IndyCar TV network could serve as an effective storefront.

VincentMark Miles and cronies should drop in on the WWE folks in Stamford for inspiration. WWE, led by Vince McMahon, has acquired virtually the entire recorded history of professional wrestling in America. Their own OTT network features all live events across the country as well as carefully packaged and themed recorded content. The ITEs will no doubt stumble over themselves to point out that WWE’s OTT network is losing money, which misses the point as usual. IndyCar demographics are different than those of the WWE, and IndyCar still has two national television deals.

Programming an IndyCar channel with themed and packaged programming gleaned from the vaults along with live events, re-airs, retrospectives, highlight shows, new shows featuring personalities, technical aspects, etc., would be cost-effective (they already have the infrastructure) and a great way to grow the sport. An ‘Indy 500 Of The Day’ program would not have to be repeated for months. Add the capability for subscribers to access on demand content and ‘IndyCar TV’ becomes a worthwhile venture.

The entire point is getting the content out there. Content availability means potential eyeballs, and eyeballs equal new fans. Getting them to pay attention to the sport and attend the races means television ratings will rise on their own with minimal effort.  The past can be the gateway to the future, and the future should be embraced.

September 10, 2014

Improving IndyCar In An Off Season That Will Be Far Too Lengthy

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 1:52 pm

The problem with IndyCar is not that it will fail (despite the nearly continuous cacophony of doom and gloom by a small group whose sole mission in life is to position it as on its last legs); rather it is a perception of unmet expectations. I saw my first IndyCar turn a wheel in person in 1959. Each evolution of the sport since brought similar ‘end is near’ yelping. Yet here we are in 2014, over 100 years since the accepted beginning of Indy-style racing.  The sport itself remains compelling.

Factions of the IndyCar fan world and community are easily delineated. In general there are traditionalists who believe an American series centered around IndyCars should contain mostly Americans not imported from European formula ladders, a lot of ovals and an annual series of events that are scheduled consistently with the same teams and drivers that compete at Indy. There are also formula-centric enthusiasts who believe IndyCar’s ultimate potential is aspiring toward a Formula-1-like configuration including far-flung events worldwide and a non-oval orientation. There is nothing really wrong with either orientation. It all simply turns stupid when stereotypes begin flying.

In order to discuss the topic with any intelligence an honest look at actual reality is required. One point of nearly continuous debate involves television ratings. Ratings today are much lower than they were during the (your favorite era goes here) period of the past. The comical part about all the teeth gnashing is the preponderance of rampant ignorance about how ratings are actually used in the commerce of advertising sales vis-à-vis IndyCar. Breathless anticipation of 12+ overnights and sweeping predictions (usually of doom) that follow completely miss the point and makes almost anyone who attempts to form an argument on that basis look foolish to those engaged in such commerce.

NBCSNWhile the actual ratings used in such commerce remain somewhat relevant, especially on NBCSN, reliance on them for survival misses the point. The market has become far too fragmented for 20+ year old methods and practices. Most advertisers that run inside IndyCar programming do so at pre-negotiated rates based not on ratings numbers but on sponsorship obligations related to involvement in the series. Almost everything else either lands in IndyCar as part of a targeted mix of demographically similar programming or as ROS scheduled direct response. IndyCar makes money as the result of sponsorship commitment and NBCSN makes money derived from both sponsorship and spot revenue. Internet television experts always fail to recognize IndyCar is among the highest rated programming on NBCSN and that most programming on that and similar sports networks is not rated at all.

The real challenge going forward should not exclusively be attempting to get television ratings to rise. The only way that will actually happen is having every race telecast on OTA networks and even that is a finite proposition. As a matter of fact the best way to make all ratings rise is to enhance dissemination of the product by shamelessly exposing it on all currently available and emerging distribution channels, including serious use of the web. It must be made ‘hip’ again. Once they figure that out ratings will rise organically. IndyCar vaults contain well over 100 years of history and content, and sitting on it does not do the sport any good. Lawyers that demand a quarter or half a million or more for limited content use ensure continuation of the small IndyCar niche.

This is especially important given the inevitability that going forward NBCSN will devote 85% of its motorsport efforts and promotion to NASCAR, 10% or more to F-1 and 5% or less to IndyCar, along with special programming for both NASCAR and F-1 but nothing for IndyCar. Why so little? It is the cumulative result of not having people or processes in place capable of affecting such change combined with NFL-like arrogance at the highest levels. The NFL can get away with such arrogance because their popularity is widespread and pervasive. IndyCar must orient itself humbly and inside reality to grow. If they continue refusing to budge the small niche they currently occupy is the best for which anyone can hope.

Count EmIn the years following the post-IRL demise of CART critics loudly complained that IndyCar was not being run enough like a business, often chiding the ‘aw shucks’ modus operandi of the Hulman-George family rooted in decades past. That direction began to change toward a marketing/promotion-first stance when outsider Randy Bernard was brought aboard then shifted completely (foxes in the hen house at work again) toward a business first approach when Mark Miles was placed in charge of not only IndyCar but the entire Hulman-George business empire. The current failure to reach potential is not really the current business first orientation. It is the imbalance of business first against the purity and natural evolution of the sport, not to mention a complete lack of coherent promotion.

There is far too much reliance on rigid corporate structure as well as outside advice of consultants with no meaningful motorsports background, and precious little faith in racers who just want to race. If IndyCar is to reach its potential the balance between business and sport must be adjusted. Micromanagement that drives racers away; e.g., Beaux Barfield, must be scrutinized with objectivity. Motor racing, as Hemingway articulated decades ago, is one of only three sports (the rest being just games). The most extreme form of motor sports has been sanitized, homogenized and micromanaged into a format largely rejected by all but hardcore fans. Logical solution: LOOSEN UP, then let people know it is there.

If IndyCar employs high credentialed marketing professionals when will they actually begin marketing instead of merely crafting business-speak wordplay such as ‘…customized, synergistic promotional programs that leverage each other’s assets…’ and other such whimsy? IndyCar positions itself as diverse. Exploit it. Feature TWO ‘triple crowns’ per season. The first should emphasize diversity. $3 million dollars to anyone who can win Long Beach (street), Barber or Mid-Ohio (road) and Texas (high speed oval) in a season. The second should emphasize power and speed. $3 million dollars to anyone who wins Indianapolis, Pocono and Fontana. Besides, what are the odds someone would actually accomplish that given the overall competitiveness of the series lately? Why not throw in a third ‘triple crown?’ Three foreign races and $3 million to a winner of all three. Who would need any sort of gimmicky ‘chase’ then?

Maintain meaningful contact with domestic race tracks. Plenty of new markets exist. Hillenburg’s Rockingham and Memphis Motorsports Park come to mind. Learn from your mistakes. The two biggest this season with respect to venues was the Pocono 500 on 4th of July weekend and Fontana on Labor Day weekend. When a logical place on the schedule is located for them bring a street festival atmosphere to each track and run something more than just IndyCars. Presentation at each of those tracks was uninspired, lazy and insulting. IndyCar invented oval presentation, something copied and perfected by NASCAR. Re-invent the genre for yourself and get serious about it.

Given the proclivity of current management to chase easy money it is understandable that far flung races in places like Dubai might seem attractive from a revenue generation standpoint. Those are the events that should be scheduled on the fringes of the season. Do not be afraid to run races at the beginning of football season. Just do not schedule races opposite football games.

Figure out a way to make the series and its ladders more inclusive to a greater number of participants. A goal should be 30 full time entries in IndyCar. Instead of poaching sponsorships why not participate in generation of it for teams?

If fans were an important component in series direction IndyCar could concoct ways of attracting more of them. It is time for IndyCar to put its money where its mouth is.

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