Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

August 29, 2011

ATTENTION RANDY BERNARD: ‘Leaning Toward More Road Courses’ = NOT Acceptable in Indy Car

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 12:56 am

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.

What follows are some ideas to enhance the Indy Car oval experience and economics for new fans:

-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:

Indy Car Owners On The Way To 'Vote' About Something

-Indy
-Texas
-Iowa
-Kentucky
-Vegas
-Chicagoland
-Fontana
-Richmond
-Memphis
-Rockingham
-Charlotte
-Loudon
-Milwaukee
-Atlanta

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.

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12 Comments »

  1. The 50/50 oval-twisty mix should be maintained even if Indycar has to rent a venue and sell their own tickets for a race or two.

    What they don’t need is Infineon. That wss a horribly boring race in front of half-empty grandstands. Compare that parade to the insane but entertaining bumpercar action of Nascar at the same venue and it looks even more boring. And I’m not buying that the new car will instantly make twisties more competitive–at least not that particular twisty.

    Comment by redcar — August 29, 2011 @ 3:26 am | Reply

  2. The 50/50 mix SHOULD be maintained. I’m a living example of a fan who walked out of CART simply because there were too many road/streets courses. We need ovals and I like very much your article. I hope someone in IndyCar PR takes notice. Please send this to Randy’s e-mail exactly as you wrote it.

    Comment by Jerry Cruz (@jerrycruz1077) — August 29, 2011 @ 4:19 pm | Reply

  3. Amen, brother. More ovals, less boring road/street courses.

    Comment by spreadoption — August 29, 2011 @ 4:21 pm | Reply

  4. Great post with really good points. As a long time fan ( I watched Roger Ward win the 500 in 1962 ) I will admit that I was headed for the door in the late ‘80’s when CART went heavy with the road races. The formation of the IRL was the only thing that kept me on board. I will also admit that when Buzz Calkins won the initial Disney World 200, I got that gnawing feeling in my stomach that we had been set up; that we were going to get the same story with a different cast of characters. If the IRL turns into CART III I will probably start looking for that door again. Only this time it will be a lot harder to get me back.

    If you divide $1.5 Mil by 25,000 you get a ticket price of $60 bucks, and all you have done is cover the sanction fee. There is nothing left over to cover such things as track help, promotion, electricity & water, and most importantly PROFIT. Even if an event sponsor steps up with $1m,
    in the scheme of things of what it costs to put on an Indycar race, it doesn’t leave much for that all important profit.
    And we need to treat these sponsors right. There have been instances when the “at the track” sponsor was different from the “on the TV” sponsor. Whether they didn’t know they had to, or didn’t want to pony up the additional bucks for the TV rights, I suspect the IRL never heard from them again. The IRL needs to make sure the event sponsor gets their bang for their buck. I certainly do like your ideas for the midway.

    People keep telling me that street races make sense financially. I think if you look at the races in Denver, San Jose, Edmonton and even Long beach you will find that they do not make a dime, except for the subsidy that the promoter gets (or got) from the local government. If this is the model that the IRL wants to use, why can’t they use it for ovals also. An economist writing for the local paper stated that every IRL event at PPIR brought $53 M into the greater Colorado Springs economic area. This translates into $2.65 M in sales tax revenue for the city. Today the city gets nothing.

    All of that being said, the fact is that the sanction fee that is charged today is simply too high for the product that is being offered. It all comes back to the car owners club racing mentality.

    Comment by Chris Lukens — August 29, 2011 @ 11:48 pm | Reply

  5. “Randy Bernard should start listening to owners like Sarah Fisher and Sam Schmidt more frequently than Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi.”

    Why? Because they were not from CART? I see you are still fighting the battle.

    Comment by TroyM — August 30, 2011 @ 2:29 pm | Reply

  6. God, I really hope this becomes basically an international F1 style series again with Indy as the single oval! I hope we get races predominantly in foreign countries, maybe keep 5-6 events in America and dump the boring 1.5 mile NASCAR tracks that no one attends.

    Comment by Tomi Williams — August 30, 2011 @ 6:13 pm | Reply

  7. Maybe it’s time you find a new hobby or sport to follow. You seem to not like most of the car owners of this sport, and many of the top drivers. You are always directing blog posts to the CEO. Find something that brings joy to your life.

    Comment by TroyM — August 31, 2011 @ 2:40 pm | Reply

  8. I am not sure the league can survive many more races like this past weekend. The
    top 5 qualifiers ended up in the same position at the end of the race. The Pole
    sitter has won that race the last 4+ years. The big highlight of the broadcast was
    the battle for 18th spot.

    And this following the fiasco at the end of the NH race.

    Comment by Bob F. — August 31, 2011 @ 8:02 pm | Reply

  9. Just read (Indy Racing Revolution, I think) that Al Unser, Jr. and Cotman are with a company wanting to have a street race in Seattle. Nothing against that necessarily, but Unser said that (paraphrasing) “if we end up having a few more street races than ovals it’s no big deal.”

    I also heard (Cavin, I think) that Bernard is leaning towards streets because they are a better return on their money.

    Well. I think it is a big deal. I’ve grown to enjoy some of the street races–I’m actually looking forward to Baltimore. But the heart of Indycar racing is ovals and the continued stress on the short term and streets is dismaying at the least. The uniqueness of the series is the 50/50 mix and they’d better be careful trying to sneak that mark toward 30/70. In the long run, they won’t gain any new fans, but they might alienate some old ones.

    Comment by redcar — September 1, 2011 @ 10:43 pm | Reply

  10. There’s a reason nobody in this country pays attention to F1 …. it’s all road courses. Yet IndyCar continues to pattern itself, more and more each year, after F1. Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi and Randy Bernard: Dumb and Dumber and Dumberer.

    I can see the IndyCar slogan for next year: Come to our street courses, you MIGHT see one car get passed.

    Comment by spreadoption — September 3, 2011 @ 6:24 pm | Reply

  11. IndyCar is about speed and finesse, not bumping and grinding on a road course. I have watched almost evry race for 5 years, but my family is losing interest with the road course. When the only thing that matters are crashes, because it’s soooo boring, it’s time to move on to another sport or series. Now, I don’t want only ovals. 3-4 road course a year mixes up the points battles and tests drivers to adapt to a variety of situations. BUT, IndyCar gets its name from Indy 500 racing. While NASCAR putters around at 100-160+ mph, Indy racing’s sizzle is the excitement it creates when cars are a pushing the limits of speed and technology. Nothing quite compares to the sound of the cars, the intensity of that kind of acceleration and superhuman qualities it takes to handle the pressure of these machines. IndyCar, please differentiate yourself from F1 and understand the American psyche. Continue down the path of 70/30 road courses at your own peril.

    Comment by Tommy D — September 6, 2011 @ 3:27 pm | Reply

  12. If only 25,000 people show up for an oval event, and the ratings are lower than temporary street races, which so many people seem to find abhorrent, maybe the fan base doesn’t really want more ovals. If Milwaukee draws 30,000, then maybe the series should try to add 1 more oval, but only if a track can pay. Remember, the sanctioning fees aren’t being used to buy mansions or private jets. They keep the teams in business. the last time I checked, no teams, no races.

    Comment by Albert MacKrell (@AMacKrell) — March 3, 2012 @ 10:58 pm | Reply


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