Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

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.

September 2, 2014

The IndyCar Season is Over Already!?

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 11:58 pm

Hes a nutThe Disciple contingent returned east from the season finale in Fontana. We are disturbed the season ended so early despite the rationale. It is easy to understand the ratings threat posed by football, but there was none on Sunday afternoon. Creatively scheduling events for a month not to run at the same time as football would be a great way to approach the month of September and possibly much of October Mr. Miles. You know, when the weather is the nicest it will be all year.

Whenever we head west someone in the contingent always wants to hit fast food joints such as In-N-Out, El Pollo Loco, Del Taco and others, not to mention all the actual authentic Mexican fare. That is all well and good except it usually takes a week before many of us old timers are able to work up a normal bowel movement after consuming all that junk.

Speaking of intrusive, fetid, unwanted, semi-liquid fecal matter it is fairly certain actual racing fans will be subjected to inane, repetitive end is nigh pollution from the darkly IndyCar-obsessed for another few weeks, as it is for any IndyCar event. These are the children who believe 23,000 people are actually 2,300, and that overnight 12+ audience estimates they believe are ‘low’ portend certain doom for anything even remotely resembling MmmmSubwayIndyCar. Never mind such keyboard ‘fans’ do not attend races nor, they say, watch them on television. Yet it remains odd how they somehow know more about any given IndyCar topic than anyone else on earth. Oh, and Fontana has re-upped for another couple of years.

All of this discussion of crap-inducing rhetoric and food led to a realization that will serve as the wrap-up to the really short 2014 IndyCar season. IndyCar is Quiznos. NASCAR is Subway.

Quiznos was once very popular with over 5,000 retail locations. Their niche was higher quality and toasted buns, as well as an intriguing lineup of unique sandwiches. They also had a ‘secret sauce’ and much nicer facilities. Subway, which has essentially placed itself less than a mile from wherever you happen to be, is ubiquitous. Its bland, predictable offerings offer the same experience every time. Once through the ‘artist’ with highly processed cold cuts, fill ‘er up with veggies, then down the gullet. The end tip of the bread will always have the chewing consistency of a Goodyear racing tire.

Ten years ago Subway effectively neutralized Quiznos by adding TurboChef ovens for their own toasting, not to mention the $5 footlong deal. Quiznos had no idea how to react. What kind of shape is it in today? Just this week investors sued claiming previous management grossly overvalued the company. There are more out of business Quiznos locations than in business locations (around 2,100). There are essentially six menu offerings now; i.e., all spec. Quiznos, unlike any other food franchise, does not allow its franchisees to buy supplies directly from approved vendors. They must buy all supplies through Quiznos at a substantial markup. Instead of food costs between 25% and 30% they are at 38 or 39% right out of the gate. The pricing structure prevents the profitability necessary to open additional units. In actual fact a Subway franchisee can be more profitable with less volume.

DisgruntledThere are a whole lot of Panther Racing-like Quiznos franchisees who are livid both here and abroad who are walking away bitter from their businesses, and the number of franchisees continues to dwindle. Not so for Subway, who is still attempting to be on about every corner. Meanwhile, Subway has become the safe choice and plenty of new sub chains have arrived with better products than either Subway or Quiznos. Jimmy Johns, Firehouse, etc., are making life tougher.

Quiznos, like IndyCar, must begin to address its systemic problems.

For IndyCar the list of things to address is long:

-Create a franchise structure with a shifted balance that facilitates easier and faster profitability for franchisees and less gouging by the franchise.

-On a related note, figure out a way to increase the size of the field. 21 or 22 is a joke. There must be at least 28 entrants every single time. For Indy 40 legitimate entries should be trying for one of the 33 spots. Lights must also have at least 18 to 20 entrants every race to be taken seriously.

-Folks like Conor Daly and Sage Karam are Americans who did not come up through the USAC ranks per se, and could become American stars. That is something else IndyCar desperately needs. Most of the drivers and teams that fouled the sport for everyone have finally begun retiring. New team ownership is desperately needed. They need to address the challenge with the same determination Michael Andretti has.

-Maintain quality and safety but steer away from spec. Spec = bland from a perception standpoint, and perception can be the difference between someone either attending a race/watching it on television or just saying ‘screw it.’

-Have the marketing VPs hired from Ford and NASCAR and their staffs do some actual marketing. They will really need to do something over the next SEVEN months.

-Find a couple of more Verizons while you’re at it. Leverage Verizon to expand the brand on the Internet and using mobile devices.

-Don’t have races on holiday weekends except Indy.

-Work diligently on the way events are presented. If you are proud of what you do for street events devote the same amount of energy toward building natural terrain road courses and ovals. Fontana was even more of a joke this year than usual. IndyCars and a handful of local collector vintage cars is not enough to fill up a weekend. Do you really expect that kind of crappy presentation will draw anyone but diehards?

-Get creative on oval presentation. Reinvent it. Enter new markets not yet polluted by NASCAR. Memphis would be a nice start. Understand you must also co-exist with NASCAR. Richmond always drew well. Figure Phoenix out. Kentucky. Chicagoland. Reinvent the presentation and do more than send 22 cars out there after demanding a mil and a half.

Triple Crown-Triple Crown? Have AND PROMOTE two, preferably with a sponsor name attached. One for the big ovals: Indy, Pocono and Fontana. $2 million minimum prize (preferably 3 to match the number of events) to anyone who wins all three in a season. The second to represent series diversity: Texas oval, a natural terrain road course and Long Beach. $2 million minimum prize (preferably 3) to someone who wins all three in a season.

-Have IMS Productions/NBCSN/ESPNonABC/et al figure out a cutting edge way to make the cars look as fast as they actually are. Most of what is seen on television today fails to adequately display the sensation you get at the track.

-Incentivize all participants…teams, sponsors, manufacturers, fans….everybody.

-Offer reasonably priced team and series merchandise. Get away from the NASCAR sleaze style.

Off season-Improve the things already done well. Access to drivers and teams. Make more of an effort to take the Indy experience everywhere.

-While television ratings are still important dwelling on them and obsessing over tenths of percentage points missed the point. Propagate the brand by every means possible, especially social media. Do that right and everything else gets taken care of.

Seven months off is far too long. The risk of marginalization is extreme and many are worried the right people to pull it off are not employed there. We shall see after our really long hibernation.

August 19, 2014

Milwaukee Mile: Great IndyCar Experience and Nice Weather for a Change…

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 11:57 am

PowerUpMilwaukee was fun. Kudos to the Andretti folks for attempting to reinvigorate that legendary venue. It is also on the schedule for next year as well. Tens of thousands of racing fans made their way into that great little flat track. In the fractured world of IndyCar, however, the usual cadre of blithering idiots tripped over themselves to screech about how bad they thought attendance along with usual predictions of the end being near, complete with television screen captures to support their ‘points.’ They even bitched about the brand of champagne drivers sprayed on each other on the podium (an act that always seems kind of gay wherever it is done. Thanks F-1).

That in turn led to the usual boilerplate crap such as ‘…ripping the cars and stars away from the defining event and creating a competing series with no-name drivers totally alienated the existing fans, devastated the mojo of the sport, and despite the series owners’ best efforts to rebuild it for the past 17 years, Indycar has never regained any kind of mass popularity whatsoever. But that’s just my opinion.’ Which are like rectal openings.

Youthful cart Enthusiast

Youthful cart Enthusiast

I continue to feel sorry for those who only got to experience IndyCar in the late 80s and early 90s. It was a fun time for sure, but it is too bad such folks were not around in the 60s or 70s. If they had been their philosophical orientation would certainly contain additional breadth.

For those interested in the future growth of IndyCar two potential paths exist going forward. Neither path includes (nor should it) going backward trying to recreate an owner-managed cart. After that group boycotted the Indianapolis Motor Speedway they died. That is not viable.

Much to the chagrin of lurking, obsessed cart enthusiasts and other IndyCar critics the most likely path going forward is basically what we have today. A series controlled by IMS operating with the same philosophies as always, remaining a niche in the sports world with little self-created opportunity to move up the sports and entertainment food chain. Their focus will always be the 500, and everything else will serve as promotion for the next 500. Not bad, but far from optimal in the minds of those who created a mid-90s fantasy world for themselves.

Hardly anyone who loves the sport believes that is enough. The second potential path is to do something truly bold. Sell the series to someone with the funding to grow it who is already successful operating businesses in the modern era. It must be someone who can leverage the technology of now, operate successfully and profitably and take no prisoners. As long as the centerpiece remains the Indianapolis 500 everything else should be fresh canvas to someone who is wealthy and creative.

Ideal kind of candidate? Not saying the examples below should be the ones, but anyone competing successfully in that type of ballpark would fit nicely. Mark Cuban. Steve Ballmer. That type of person.

….and then I woke up.

August 11, 2014

Challenging Week for Racing Fans

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 10:52 pm

Bad mistakeThe grand sport of auto racing made the national news this week for all the wrong reasons. The sprint car accident that claimed the life of aspiring racer Kevin Ward, Jr. in upstate New York before NASCAR ran at Watkins Glen touched off a firestorm. Still is. When I awakened from my slumber Sunday morning every initial report that arrived via my smart devices had already positioned Tony Stewart as a crazy race driver who mowed down another driver and killed him, and that video was out there. My imagination concocted a lurid visual picture of Tony Stewart as a mad man who aimed for the young Ward and took him out.

TonyThen I watched the video expecting the worst. What I saw was a fairly innocuous accident, a yellow, then cars slowing for it. Meantime Ward, completely uninjured, extracted himself from the cockpit and proceeded to run around his wrecked car and into the racing line to express his displeasure with Stewart when Tony came around.

The guy in front of Stewart barely avoided Ward, who was running down the middle of the track. Tony did not. It was oddly reminiscent of an accident in a cart race in Vancouver in 1990 in which a track worker wound up in front of Willy T. Ribbs’ left rear and also paid the ultimate price. Those in the know have indicated how difficult it is to see out of a winged sprint car under normal circumstances. Add in a dimly lit track and a driver in a black uniform with a black helmet running toward cars going about 80 and a recipe for disaster results.

It was a racing accident. The Zapruder-film-like frame by frame ‘analysts’ weighing in Stewart’s possible culpability have suggested Stewart may have intended to buzz Ward by getting close and goosing the throttle. That may be something we will never know, but either way Stewart has a conscience with which he will spend the rest of his career trying to put back into balance.

InsaneThe national media have played up the fact (and the video) of Tony Stewart being some kind of hot head to spice it all up. All the while the general reputation of NASCAR participants and race drivers in general of seeming like type-A redneck hooligans is enhanced. That is a shame. The one thing that would have presented the needless accident would have been Ward staying strapped into his car until the safety crews got there. The smart thing to do would have been to approach Stewart after he got out of his car after the race away from the track. That is fact. People will also forget that Tony Stewart is a race driver who does it because he loves every single part of it as much as possible. Asking him to give up the side trips is like asking a cart enthusiast that refuses to budge from 1995 to function as a non-developmentally challenged adult and lose the arrogance.

DanicaIt is easy to assume many more than usual tuned in to ESPN on Sunday to watch the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen. If so there were probably thrilled. It was a crash-fest on a road course red flagged twice to take care of barriers either ripped off their posts or smashed to smithereens. Using ARMCO barriers in accident-prone areas of the track is, to borrow a word from the president of the track, insane.

Some IndyCar fans pine for a return to either Watkins Glen or Road America, but the people who run the tracks disagree with the traditional IndyCar model of demanding 1.5 million or more to show up. They have a point considering neither IndyCar nor the tracks seem willing to promote events, and title sponsorship is challenging. Ever wonder why IndyCar seeks events in far flung corners of the world? Those folks are willing to cough up the bucks. My hope for 2015? That Pocono, Fontana or Texas do not  get screwed up, and add another oval such as Chicagoland back to the schedule.

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