The 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 IndyCar. 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.
There 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? 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.
-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.