Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

February 5, 2015

IndyCar 2018 by The Fan

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 10:46 pm

Since David Malsher of Racer Magazine and Racer.com is unlikely to ask me or any other long time IndyCar fan to express opinions about IndyCar 2018 as some of the sports’ movers and shakers have done in the fine series that publication is running, consider this my contribution.

If the goal of IndyCar is to become a lot more popular (as opposed to slightly more popular or less popular) by 2018 the path seems straightforward in basic ways.

2018The schedule should include 24 events that begin in February after the Super Bowl but before the Daytona 500 and conclude in October. No more than two weeks should pass between events. Strive for a 50% oval/50% non-oval balance. IndyCar invented the genre and can easily invigorate it. The suggestion by BCG that the season should conclude prior to the NFL season is borne of ignorance. Activation sponsors do not want a condensed season, and not one sponsor or fan I know believes a five month season is sustainable.

The IndyCar Series should be configured from a cost and equipment standpoint to ensure a minimum of 28 entries on the grid for every event. Fewer than 28, especially at big tracks, looks foolish.

Offer two distinct big money triple crowns, preferably sponsored. One for the ovals; e.g., Indy, Pocono and Fontana, and one that stresses series diversity; e.g., Long Beach (street), Barber (road) and Texas (oval).

Make race weekends actual events with little to no down time between events. Encourage participation by an increased number of ‘classes.’ Different disciplines could well be encouraged as supporting events, including electric or other alternative powerplants, something like Robby Gordon’s trucks, freshly designed front engine open wheelers, non-NASCAR ‘stock’ cars, etc. Every rung on the IndyCar ladder should participate in every event. If racing at a big oval and a class is oval-averse, use the road course that most ovals have for those classes.

When fans today visit tracks they want to be entertained and get bored quickly. One great idea Randy Bernard attempted to roll out during his tenure was high quality video at vantage points around tracks. Expand on that idea on a Daktronics-like scale. Make portable, transportable video elements larger and present all over every track. Take the ‘Indy experience’ to all venues.

Consider employing a name music act(s) to accompany IndyCar on the road at domestic venues. Entertainment should be continuous on Saturdays and Sundays. The approach should be the polar opposite of the unbelievably nondescript presentation in recent years at venues such as Pocono and Fontana.

Open up the rules. Encourage participation by other manufacturers. Loosen up on the specs and let nature take its course for a time.

Employ a marketing department that actually markets. Ryan Hunter-Reay should be a household name by now.  The fact he is not is just the most fundamental of marketing failures. IndyCar remains distant from achievement of its commercial potential. Stop trying to raise television ratings be setting out specifically to do so. Concentrate effort instead on growing the visceral experience organically. When the series becomes more popular with paying fans who actually attend the ratings will rise on their own. By 2018 the number of people who do not consume traditional television will be much higher than it is today. If IndyCar is unable to effectively disseminate its product to non-traditional video content consumers no meaningful growth can occur.

Some of the biggest names in IndyCar, both behind the wheels and behind the teams, are not getting younger and new blood will desperately be needed. The most important responsibility IndyCar has is to create an environment conducive to and welcoming of new participants.

Ultimately the fans pay the bills by enabling the sponsorship. IndyCar must spend more time weeding through rhetoric and harvesting the best ideas. Conservative no longer cuts it. Get aggressive.



  1. Editor’s Note: Surprisingly good questions given the contributor’s past proclivities toward untreated mental illness.

    Given the declining demand for Indy car, how would you bring your plan to fruition?
    Editor’s Note: First, ‘declining demand’ is a reality most sports and entertainment providers face these days. Attendance, television ratings and exposure are down for the vast majority of such offerings. What sets successful entities apart from less than successful entities is their accessibility and ease of consumption.

    How would you right size costs?
    Editor’s Note: By maximizing the use of other peoples; i.e., sponsors and B-to-B partner money.

    How would you convince trackers that heretofore have not wanted to host the series to suddenly do so?
    Editor’s Note: You would not even consider such tracks. You would in most cases concentrate on opening new markets. The notable exception would be Kentucky, which suffered from date equity and lack of promotion. Of current IndyCar venues, nine of them are strong and long-term. The new venue, NOLA, is committed and is a geographically unserved area. Four venues continue appearing shaky, including Milwaukee, Toronto, Pocono and Fontana. All are easily fixed and should be. The remaining mostly ISC or SMI facilities will not consider IndyCar’s preferred method of partnership, which is essentially ‘hand us a couple of million dollars and we will appear.’ That model must change. When they finally figure out basic concepts of sponsorship, marketing, promotion, etc., and finally begin to meaningfully leverage existing partnerships; e.g., Verizon, much is possible. My preferred approach is to first exploit unserved areas including Memphis, Gateway, possibly Nashville and perhaps a new street race in a previously unserved market. I would also buy Rockingham out of bankruptcy for pennies on the dollar and use it for a nearly year round road and oval testing facility with a major event each year.. All such initiatives can be realized with the proper business relationships, sponsorships, joint promotion and coherent, active marketing. Given IndyCar, those are big ifs.

    Most importantly, where would you obtain the massive influx of capital needed to expand on such a grand scale?
    Editor’s Note: First of all, the scale is not as grand as you might fantasize. Capital can be realized mostly by reallocation of existing revenue as well as taking advantage of revenue generated by strategic partnerships, targeted sponsorship and coherent marketing.

    New venues, more competitors, presumably new equipment, consistent partnering with various support series, musical acts and, most notably, a greatly expanded financial payout to race winners, all of which will require an enormous outlay of funding.
    Editor’s Note: But not necessarily derived of HG funding. There is room to get very creative. They just need creative enough people. It is really easy to spend money. It takes talent to strategically invest and guide partner activity.

    So, who pays for it?
    Editor’s Note: Strategic partners, sponsors, paying customers, video consumers, etc.

    Who runs it?
    Editor’s Note: The team Mark Miles has assembled is capable although I would make changes in the marketing and promotion area as well as advancing beyond those still stuck in the OTA/cable television mindset in favor of OTT boundary breakers.

    Who markets it?
    Editor’s Note: IndyCar, strategic partners, sponsors and venues at which IndyCar runs.

    Who televises it (and provides digital access)?
    Editor’s Note: Current traditional broadcast partners are adequate. The challenge is dissemination of content through non-traditional channels. IndyCar and its lawyers have typically sat on the rich content available. That philosophy is out of date. Material must be packaged and distributed in such a way that it can be easily monetized. There are initial signs they are on the way toward figuring that out but have a long way to go.

    And who competes in it?
    Editor’s Note: Existing racers from a variety of disciplines provided costs are more disciplined. Get the people into the gates and streaming the content and traditional measurements of popularity will follow and grow.

    Comment by Sonny Steele — February 6, 2015 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

    • (Seven OCD-like instances of pointlessly repetitive taunting/mental illness relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

      Comment by Sonny Steele — February 7, 2015 @ 5:27 pm | Reply

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

      Comment by Sonny Steele — February 8, 2015 @ 3:55 am | Reply

  2. “Strategic partners, sponsors, paying customers, video consumers, etc.” are going to pay for it?

    I’m sorry, but this is a dream. Those aren’t paying for it now. If it weren’t for subsidies from drivers, the HG family, and various state, municipal, and even national governments, there would be no series.

    Baltimore went out of business for a reason. So, too, did Edmonton. In short, the public subsidies were yanked, and the events went away. The same thing just happened in Brasilia. Rhode Island’s new deficit-hawk governor said, no, thanks, to IndyCar.

    They’re racing at every venue that wants them and is willing to pay the sanction fee for a product that costs 5x what it’s worth in the marketplace.

    You want to solve IndyCar racing’s problem? Figure out how to do it at a price point of $1 million per year per team. That’s what it’s worth in the competitive cost-per-point marketplace. At $1 million per year per team, you could race wherever you want and as often as you want because you wouldn’t need to charge outlandish sanctions fees.

    You might even have money left over for a promotions budget.

    Comment by Roggespierre — February 7, 2015 @ 3:24 am | Reply

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