Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

June 26, 2014

Someone From Verizon IndyCar Series Marketing Speaks

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 11:35 pm

MalsherRacer’s Editor David Malsher published an interesting interview with C.J. O’Donnell, Chief Marketing Officer of Hulman Motorsports. The problem is many of us are left with that feeling one often gets an hour after eating Chinese food. Hunger. Full disclosure: I am a subscriber to the print edition of Racer and believe it is a must have item for any serious racing fan. Coverage, photography and content is all top notch.

That is why I am somewhat disappointed in the interview. My initial impression is that Malsher took sort of a mild Gordon Kirby-like approach to questioning (only without the hysterics and as blatant an agenda), but still allowed O’Donnell to answer most questions in a corporate-speak manner that is really long on sugar but preciously short on fiber.

So while observing IndyCar as ‘the greatest series no one knows about on either side of May,’ a snarky observation as part of a question that asks about priorities, O’Donnell discussed a methodical 5-year plan plus attendance and ratings gains through Detroit, all couched in hopeless generality. You could plug in any leader from Randy Bernard to Jeff Belskus over the past five years and get the exact same boilerplate, obfuscation-riddled buzzwords. Why not at least ask what the key milestones are for each year of the next five? Better yet, ask what specific steps are being taken to get media in general, but broadcast partners in particular, to actively promote the series on a season long basis instead of ignoring it wholesale. I might also have asked how Indy-based momentum is expected to continue with a three-week hole Racerin June and no significant sports competition.

Asking legitimate questions about what IMS learned from the re-vamped month of May is great. Positioning May as ‘dead in the water for some years’ as part of the question is the kind of gratuitous tripe one might stumble across on an IRL hate site. As usual the implication is that the 500 is the only sports or entertainment entity with unrealistic expectation problems in 2014. The problem is the expectations of those who spout such hyperbole are not always based in reality and are usually rooted somewhere in the late 80s or early 90s. Still. O’Donnell again let buzzwords fly, repeated Mark Miles sound bites, and congratulated the team on a great month. While C.J. was mentioning the second and third years my follow-up would have asked how qualifying will be tweaked, what changes to keep the month fresh are planned, and what steps are being taken to fill up the garages with race hopefuls to avoid another suspense-less field of 33 pre-ordained and micro-managed starters.

IMS SuitLater, in another postioning-statement-within-a-question, Malsher observed ‘oval track attendance has looked poor for all venues except Indy.’ Then, just as I had earlier observed about writer expectations, Malsher actually asked about ‘recapturing the mojo of the 80s and 90s.’ If it is that easy why not recapture the mojo of the late 60s and early 70s? That period was second to none in terms of innovation, speed, and consistent drive to advance beyond rules.

Jesus H. Christ. Is there not enough to worry about in 2014?

Oval attendance is poor at ovals but not non-ovals? At least O’Donnell disagreed. The thing he didn’t do was answer the question about how to increase attendance, other than increased points for ‘triple crown’ events. I might have asked why there is not a sponsored 5 or 10 million dollar prize for any triple crown winner. Can you imagine attendance at Fontana if, say RHR also won Pocono after Indy and was in line for the big bonus?

Malsher asked O’Donnell about series sponsors and observed not seeing as many. C.J. reinforced what Verizon, Honda and Chevrolet do and extolled the virtues of B2B relationships, but did not really address the underlying issue. When will more of them become involved?

I applaud the attempt at a potentially worthwhile interview but urge trying again. Next time ask questions without bias and frame them to extract specific answers untinged with flowery smokescreens.



  1. This has been a week of disappointments. If you read Mark Wilkinson’s most recent blog, you get the sense that another fan of oval racing is waving the proverbial white flag. Now we have another member of the racing media having a snark-fest with Hulman Motorsport’s relatively new marketing guy. Do these media guys WANT to destroy IndyCar racing, or just send it down the same path that we’ve seen before (twice.)
    Editor’s Note: Amen.

    Comment by SkipinSC — June 27, 2014 @ 2:35 pm | Reply

  2. I think that’s the question the media guys have been asking the powers that be in Indycar for a number of years (with good reason, I might add).

    Comment by Bob Chinn — June 27, 2014 @ 3:51 pm | Reply

  3. I did not like O’donnell’s apparent joy of trashing the traditions of May. I think if they had kept the traditional qualifying in May (two days but no shootout and the old qualifying rules) and combined it with the road race, it may have been an improvement. Plus Carb Day is just a concert day now and the draw will be determined by the band. They have ruined Carb day but apparently make a few bucks and that seems to be all that matters to them.

    I think the Month of May may be in some trouble. Alot depends on how well the road course race does in year 2.

    He seemed to understand the need for more American drivers. We will see if that goes anywhere.

    Looks like there are more races coming for next year. That at least will prove interesting and we will know more about their five year plan.

    Overall I agree with you. Short on specifics. Buy overwhelmed to me by his comments on the month of May.

    Comment by Bob F. — June 27, 2014 @ 4:11 pm | Reply

  4. You should throw in the towel D. Evrytime you write a post, its all about how disappointed you are with Hulman Racing. Step back, take a look, Reality will set in and you’ll feel better. the IRL: the worst of everything racing.
    Editor’s Note: As stated several times previously I have the benefit of maturity and seasoning. I have never jumped on or off bandwagons. Indy racing is something I have enjoyed continuously for parts of seven different decades. Through that entire time the management style has been roughly the same. I do not let it spoil enjoyment of the sport. That would be stupid. I’ll miss Houston this year, but am geared up for Pocono again next weekend.

    Comment by Youowemeabeerasshole — June 27, 2014 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

  5. If you enjoy it, you shouldnt bitch about it every post. Which you do. Grow up and smell the coffee. Maturity, as you say.
    Editor’s Note: I enjoy the product. But riddle me this….who has more of a right to express concern, those who actually spend money and attend events or those who claim they don’t (but remain obsessed with it anyway) and squat on the Internet acting like four year olds?

    Comment by Youowemeabeerasshole — June 27, 2014 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

    • Great. So, in my fifth decade of attending races and spending money, I have the right to decry the deterioration of the sport and the dearth of qualified, effective leadership?Whew!

      Comment by Bob Chinn — June 28, 2014 @ 12:08 am | Reply

    • You know, I used to watch the NBA. Quit watching after Jordan retired because it just doesn’t have the same feel anymore and I find the college game more exciting. However, I don’t start websites devoted to picking on NBA fan forum users and I don’t go to their domain and piss all over their forums and comment telling them how much I think their product sucks and what a bunch of idiots and retards they are for continuing to watch. That’s maturity.

      Comment by Roger Roger — June 28, 2014 @ 4:34 am | Reply

      • (Off topic commentary relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

        Comment by Olderfan — June 28, 2014 @ 8:32 am

      • (Off topic commentary relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

        Comment by Willy Pheistergache — July 2, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

    • (Off topic commentary relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

      Comment by The Heavy Hammer — June 28, 2014 @ 9:20 pm | Reply

  6. Sorry state of affairs, indeed, if the director of marketing cannot give specific details on what he and his team have in store to market the series and promote the product….again, it all comes down to the core issue: is the Indy Car Series about one glorious event at the end of May and a bunch of other meaningless events hosted around the country designed to give the racing community a flavor for the series OR is the Indy Car series about hosting a bunch of meaningful events throughout the year and around the country (or wold) which just happens to also have a historic race held at the end of May?

    Comment by Neil Rubin — July 2, 2014 @ 3:17 pm | Reply

  7. ” And the answer is….”

    It’s all about Indy!

    Comment by Olderfan — July 2, 2014 @ 8:37 pm | Reply

    • Great, then abolish this sham of a ‘series’ and focus all the energy and resources of Indy Car on the Indy 500, open up the rule book, move the race to Saturday or Monday to permit the NASCAR regulars to participate, install lights if necessary, put up a purse of $10 Million or more and turn this race back into the Greatest Spectacle in Racing…and if the drivers, teams and sponsors who run the Indy 500 with open wheeled cars want to continue running before or after the Indy 500, then attach these exhibitions to the existing NASCAR and/or Tudor Sports Car Series and save all of us the heartache of watching what is left of a once proud and prosperous series from dying a slow and painful death….

      Comment by Neil Rubin — July 3, 2014 @ 9:19 pm | Reply

      • Neil – it (Indycar) will never die completely. What is going to happen, I think, is that it will slowly revert back to what it was in the 60s and 70s; The Indy 500, along with a handful of poorly to modesty attended events, with only the 500 getting any significant media attention.

        I’d say that the rest of the events would share time on shows such as CBS Sports Spectacular, or A Wide World of Sports type show ( if they still existed) in between the ski jumping and skeet shooting roundups. But with the proliferation of entertainment offerings/cable TV channels it would probably end up somewhere, produced on the cheap.

        It’s encouraging that ratings are up this year; how much of that increase is (or may be)due to the ability of NBC to increase the subscriber base of NBCSN is unknown. We’ll have to wait and see.

        In any case it’s pretty clear that not even the host tracks are putting a ton of effort into promotion for IndyCar events, a situation the Defender freely acknowledges. Either they have already decided that it is not going to be worth their time or promotional dollars to push these events (insufficient ROI) or there is something else at work. Which I don’t buy. I think that it’s the former.

        Comment by Olderfan — July 7, 2014 @ 12:42 pm

      • Dear Older Fan: I guess you’re right and that we have an altered view of the past and the importance of the series when ABC only started broadcasting the Indy 500 live in 1986 and most of the TV coverage was tape-delayed and formatted to fit into a small time slot on some other show like Wide World of Sports, etc….in any event, perhaps now is the time for the series to save itself and what’s left of its fan base by ditching the concept of a full slate of poorly attended and watched events and just focusing on the Indy 500….boost the purse into the $10M or more range for the winner, move the race to Saturday or Monday to permit the NASCAR regulars to join the fun, open up the rule book to ‘run what you brung’ to invite more one-offs and innovation and then if the teams and drivers who want to continue running all year long can form a support series to attach to NASCAR and/or the Tudor Sports Car Series….Indy Car can run on NASCAR weekends either after the Nationwide Series or on Sunday before the Sprint Cup event and ensure that a packed house (and sizable TV audience) gets to see open wheel racing…imagine if the tin top crowd found Indy Car racing more competitive and exciting than watching taxi cabs…at this point Indy Car could again attempt to establish a stand alone full time racing series but at this point it’s like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, especially with the type of embarrassing crowd on hand yesterday in Pocono….

        Comment by Neil Rubin — July 7, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

  8. What IndyCar needs more than anything is somebody in charge who knows something about marketing, the series’ tradition and has an understanding about how much (or how little) disposable income the target market fans have. IndyCar seems to have no clue in all these areas.

    Comment by spreadoption — July 6, 2014 @ 11:28 pm | Reply

    • Dear Spread Option: You are spot on with your observation…nobody in charge of this series, other than perhaps Ropin’ Randy, has a clue on how to market and promote this series other than repeating the same old and tired cliches about having the ‘greatest drivers in the world’, blah, blah, blah…. take a page out of NASCAR’s playbook and get the existing sponsors involved in profiling the drivers and including their images in commercials, product placards and other promotional material….the biggest problem remains that the series’ drivers are invisible to both the racing and the general public and nobody has any interest in a series where you can’t tell one driver from the other….sure, we have an Andretti and a Rahal but these two are lost among a promising crop of current drivers that nobody has ever heard of…including the reigning Indy 500 champion who is an AMERICAN and would perhaps be marketable if DHL, SunDrop or any of his own sponsors profiled him in any meaningful way….

      Comment by Neil Rubin — July 7, 2014 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

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