Randy Bernard is spending an increasing amount of time bending over for self-interested owners who have only their best interests in mind and certainly not the greater good of the series or its fans. Owners really ran amok this weekend, voting that Brian Barnhart be fired. That is unacceptable regardless of how you feel about Barnhart. They have spent the past few years promoting an anti-oval bias in favor of rich guy, euro-style, mostly private club-style racing with way too many non-American formula wannabes on non-ovals and streets. It is an out of control situation.
Let’s do some Indy Car math. Many believe the fee Indy Car charges a venue to hold a race is between $1.5 million and $1.75 million. Whether that is correct or not is not the primary concern. What really matters is that both Indy Car and the venue turn a profit. Indy Car may enjoy receiving $1.5 million when 25,000 fans show up, but chances are that will never work for venues. They just cannot sell that many overly inflated beers and hot dogs and track merchandise. Indy Car has never really offered much help other than ‘attaboy’ back slaps, so it is little wonder venues come and go more frequently than McDonalds hourly part-timers. It is also difficult to tell how the economics actually work for both parties, but in order to make certain types of venues draw more of a crowd Indy Car must dramatically enhance and reinvigorate the fan experience. Competition for attention these days demands that be done. Indy Car’s oval presentation off the track is stale, uninspired and boring. Great racing is simply NOT enough.
-Increase the net amount Indy Car earns from each venue. Just raising sanctioning fees will get them tossed. They must get creative. One way may be to LOWER the sanctioning fee but add significantly to coffers by selling their own packaged corporate sponsorship. In EVERY market Indy Car races, there are headquarters of nationally recognized companies who should be engaged in sponsorship roles. That would allow Indy Car to lower venue sanctioning fees, allow tracks to generate their own non-competing corporate support, then allow Indy Car to engage national sponsors for entire seasons much like Formula 1. At specific venues national sponsors would hold exclusive event sponsorship rights and would also maintain a highly visible presence via signage, digital media and other means at all other venues. $1.75 million is a nice chunk of change, but $2.5 million or higher, for example, would be much better particularly if charging a venue perhaps less than a million. That opens up many more creative possibilities for both individual venues and Indy Car. It probably would not alienate venues scratching their heads trying to justify Indy Car races that lose them money.
Along with increasing corporate involvement, lower ticket prices for race fans and/or offer more creative packaging. The promote the heck out of it in meaningful ways. Corporate sponsorship is easier said than done, particularly in a challenging economy. IZOD has, by most accounts, been a great partner that has assisted Indy Car in tailoring the package to desired demographics. Why can’t other corporate involvement go the same way?
Let us take Texas and Kentucky for example. That part of the lone star state is home to over 80 nationally recognized firms, many of them Fortune 500. The list includes everything from AT&T to Exxon Mobil as well as widely used consumer brand/parents such as Kimberly-Clark, J.C. Penney, Dean Foods, Radio Shack, Frito-Lay, Chilis and more. Between Cincinnati and Louisville for Kentucky there are obvious entities such as Procter & Gamble with their many brands, to Kroger, Yum Brands, Humana, Sunny Delight and about everything in between. It would not be difficult for intelligent marketers to offer effective season packages with specific event sponsorships to bump up revenue. The same opportunities exist everywhere Indy Car races.
-Can you imagine an exciting, activity filled midway at every event filled with not only merchandise trailers but exponentially more interactive, appealing exhibits that represent all corporate sponsors and all manufacturers and provided by them?
-Indy Car decided it wise to re-up with the Disney family of channels and not even consider other offers. Given the abusive history of that relationship it is not a stretch to imagine ESPN will do virtually nothing in the future either, instead devoting 99.9% of their time, effort and money to NASCAR especially now that Danica is officially part of that series. That is why production and distribution of content by IMS Productions detailed below to not only partner entities but directly to local media all over the country is imperative.
-Leverage the relationship with Disney. Tony George and crew tried early and even built a great little oval just outside the Walt Disney World gates. Enhance the fan experience at every race by having Disney co-brand and provide some sort of elaborate ‘portable Disneyland’ that travels to each venue. It’s a win-win for Indy Car, the venue and Disney. All three could derive great exposure and sales.
Randy Bernard trumpeted about a year ago the opening of a Los Angeles Indy Car office to generate mass media attention. What have they done? They seem invisible. There is a mainly mainstream motion picture about a Formula One subject in theatres today, and a really mainstream Ron Howard movie about a Formula One subject in production. Given the 100 year history of Indy Car can this office not inspire interest out there?
Each venue, especially ovals, should have a carnival, festive atmosphere that last entire weekends. Give people tangible reasons to attend besides great racing. This also ensures that when inclement weather plagues a race weekend folks can still have a great time.
-Indy Car is directly affiliated with IMS Productions. That organization includes some very talented creative people who have access to the richest treasure trove of material in all of racing. Leverage it. Why not produce content for the Web? Or content to distribute in markets where races occur? Time the release of content to generate interest. This is a technique that has worked for years for Formula One and NASCAR. Our ‘stock’ car brethren have distributed free content to media outlets for decades. Offer programming to broadcast partners. If the NFL can all of a sudden have new shows on Versus on the chance they will get part of an NFL contract there is no reason why Indy Car cannot produce great content, distribute it then get it aired?
-Having a worldwide presence is a noble goal. Indy Car can usually charge much higher rates to foreign entities. These foreign excursions, however, should bookend the meat of the season on Indy Car’s home continent. Schedule them before and after the meat of the season, and on this continent never allow more than two weeks to transpire except in May.
-It is essential that a viable, high dollar ‘triple crown’ be reinstated. That idea from Indy Car’s past was perhaps one of the very best. It has worked for decades in horse racing.
-Race all ladders in some form or fashion at EVERY venue. Offer on-track action all weekend.
-Get popular stars involved every week. Having a strong military presence is noble, but has gone overboard lately. Keep the military presence but increase the star power.
-Restore some of the special aspects. I am not saying these are specific answers but are the type of activities that must be reinstated. Many miss, for example, parachute teams that deliver flags before events, or flyovers. Make special events part of the show again.
-Attempt to make EVERY oval a Las Vegas-type spectacle that carries the Indy brand.
Indy car needs to stop rationalizing their way into a schedule that is predominately non-oval. That orientation has NEVER worked long term in this country. Repeating the same mistakes repeatedly and hoping for different results defines insanity according to Einstein. Randy Bernard should start listening to owners like Sarah Fisher and Sam Schmidt more frequently than Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi. He could well get a sense of what is good for the series and not individual owners if he did that. Balance is absolutely imperative.
There are opportunities for up to 24 races easily in North America alone. That means AT LEAST 12 ovals. Here is a viable pool from which to choose up to 12:
That’s 14. That does not even include other great ovals like Michigan, Kansas, Phoenix, Pocono or Walt Disney World (some venues with improvements, of course). Many are also believers in going to court to get Pikes Peak unlocked from ISC and re-used. Gateway and Nashville are also in viable markets and deserve competent ownership. If management at Homestead could take their heads out of their nether regions that could be viable again. That’s 9 more. All of a sudden we’re up to at least 23 potential ovals.
Indy Car needs to re-invent the presentation of ovals and they need to do it quickly. A schedule heavily reliant upon non-ovals would be the culmination of a very slippery slope started when the series arrived in St. Petersburg. Balance is the most important thing Indy Car can maintain. Randy Bernard is a great promoter, but he needs to do more of it himself and with the series. Reliance on others to do it leads to a 2011 Milwaukee followed by a disingenuous blather of weak excuses that blame everyone but the series. Indy Car needs to finally learn from mistakes made repeatedly in the past.