Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

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.

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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.

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