Open Contempt by IndyCar for Fans Continues Unabated

The latest indelicate groin kick IndyCar Management delivered to some of its best fans was the far-too-casual announcement that California’s Auto Club Speedway annual IndyCar event would not be on the schedule in 2016. Never mind Fontana this year unleashed one of the most compelling, exciting IndyCar races in thirty years and possibly ever. That does not seem to matter and is not even acknowledged.

BuhByeNowThe concocted excuse trotted out involved an inability to identify a start time and broadcast window that would not adversely affect east coast viewership. Huh?

IndyCar evidently feels its fan base is stupid and will accept most any flowery press release lip service as gospel. A safe bet is to surmise that despite hard work proclamations by both sides no midnight oil was burned, no sweat hit brows, and arrogance no doubt surpassed intelligence.

The ‘window’ copout is particularly disingenuous. If the big Cup weekend is factored with ample space on either side that STILL leaves about 150 possible days in a year in which to consider CONSISTENTLY scheduling an IndyCar event at that track, especially if you get creative with perhaps a Friday night approach. Who says television has to be live on the east coast in a desirable time slot? Why not run a night race, broadcast it live, then re-air in a favorable time slot a day or two later? The replay approach can work well, as it did for the most recently held IndyCar event at Mid-Ohio. It also works for F-1, NASCAR and others who have broadcast partners who take those partnerships seriously. And oh, by the way, no one else has a problem running in the early portion of football season.

IndyCar must also realize that in the case of Fontana use of the ‘drunk guy throwing darts’ approach to date and time scheduling will almost always guarantee failure over time, and Fontana has been victimized by such carelessness more than about anyone (and they are far from alone). Failure also occurs when not meaningfully marketing/promoting the event in the second largest domestic media market. Half-assed presentation effort is also a precursor to failure. It is simply not enough to charge a lot for tickets then have just IndyCars, a handful of vintage hobbyists and Michael Young with a microphone at a track that great. Presentation of both Fontana and Pocono over the past three years is an embarrassing exercise of abysmal. ‘Triple crown’ potential is limitless but has been completely squandered.

MilesIt would not surprise me to see the same atrocious management remove Pocono for equally logic defiant reasons. The glimmer of hope meant to appease folks is enthusiasm about a possible return of Phoenix. I prefer to ground myself in reality. Phoenix is not a done deal and given the contentious relationship that track and its owner have with IndyCar, not to mention the fact that track still hosts two Cup events, wide eyed optimism about Phoenix is on par with the fantasies a three year old might have about Santa Claus, chimneys and toys. Even if the politics get squared away IndyCar will not suddenly develop an ability to market/promote professionally, create presentation efforts worthy of the Indy brand or offer fan pricing or amenities packages that will inspire fans to appear in droves. Given current management proclivity Phoenix is far more likely to resemble the last time IndyCar tried Loudon.

You know what would be refreshing? Honesty and transparency. One cannot help but wonder how much of an effect the incessant cackling of the current crop of squatting road racers after Fontana’s latest IndyCar race has to do with the decision. The emergence of young talent like a Josef Newgarden makes many miss a Dario Franchitti far less. It is also my belief that the inevitable retirements of the last of the cart contingent will be better for the sport.

My advice for Mark Miles and Dave Allen: Spend more time powering through and solving arbitrarily created problems and less time publishing flowery, excuse laden press releases. You will never retain fans by alienating them so completely. Adding road races like Road America is fine but series popularity will not be enhanced long term by adding non-oval races and dumping ovals, particularly when virtually no effort is spent building the latter.

11 replies to “Open Contempt by IndyCar for Fans Continues Unabated

  1. Ok, let’s check the scoreboard…..Fontana: Gone. Pocono: (on life support and ) probably gone. Milwaukee: Halfway gone depending on finding a new promoter. This we get to trade for Phoenix (maybe, but if trends continue, probably not for long,) and Elkhart Lake (just what we needed–another road course.) This is beginning to look like Indy, Iowa, and a whole mess of road and street courses.

    Look, I’ve been to Elkhart Lake and I welcome its return to the series, but this began (in the early part of the last century) as an oval series and now we can’t have but TWO ovals? Sorry, but I am fast losing interest. Unless and until this series stops heeding the BCG faction and returns to the roots that made it a successful series to begin with, I can foresee a day when we have a stand alone Indy 500 and a bunch of road races.

    It’s not like there aren’t any ovals on which to race: I’ve long suggested that IndyCar should approach Darlington, which has been NASCAR’s orphaned, red-headed stepchild, bouncing from two races a year, to one on Mother’s Day Saturday, to date-to-be- determined, back to Labor Day weekend. They must be feeling like the NASCAR version of Milwaukee: a historic venue that’s been shuffled hither and yon, which creates virtually NO date equity (except that Labor Day was long the traditional running date for the Southern 500 back when “the track too tough to tame” hosted two events a year.) Richmond, Chicago, Kentucky, and Michigan also seem to be off the radar. There’s also Rockingham, another track which NASCAR has deserted entirely.

    At 61 years old, I’ve got better things to do with my time than support a series which ignores its fan base, which seems to be the order of the day for IndyCar.

  2. Yes, I know what I’m talking about here. So let me fill in some blanks. First, the only reason California wanted that race was ’cause they lost the second NASCAR date. Their sponsor, CAA, required 2 major race dates a year, and IndyCar was good enough after NASCAR pulled the plug. Guess they don’t need it anymore.

    You see, before this track, there was a previous track — Ontario. Beautiful place. State of the art. Probably nicer than IMS in many ways. But it never caught on, and it went broke, and the bulldozers got it. May it rest in peace next to the Riverside road race track a few miles away. So this location has failed twice already, and is over the verge of failing again.

    Roger Penske decided that he could build a clone of Michigan (minus a couple of degrees of banking) and make money a couple of years after that. But as time wore on, the crowds dwindled, not just for open wheeled cars, but also for NASCAR. Did I mention they too pulled a race? Hell, and they OWN THE DAMNED TRACK. To be clear, the same Daytona “mafia” owns both ISC and NASCAR, and they’ve half given up.

    The rest of this rant is kinda puzzling. I’d say clueless, but that would be mean. For instance — do you want to attend a race that is in the desert while it’s 107? Last time I went my IndyCar hard card almost melted. And that was in October. Don’t even think about April – September. March (as you point out) has a NASCAR date. Kinda like Phoenix in this weather/ISC/NASCAR thing.

    And I’ll tell you want else melts in October — the media coverage. I spent many a races in the media centers of IndyCar. What happens is that, when football starts, all column inches, air minutes and travel budgets go to football. Not to mention journalist time. So when IndyCar ends the schedule at California, there isn’t any coverage the next morning. Hell, barely any in the Indy Star.

    Now this next part is the punchline to all of this, and something everyone needs to remember: IndyCar, like NASCAR and F1 and the upper classes of NHRA, don’t support themselves with fans in the seats. Nope, not at all. Rather, they support themselves with something called “sponsorship.” Which is really “advertising dollars.” When the tobacco companies were spending billions (and it was billions) on motor sports, well, there was lots of money, and every sponsor wanted to join in the fun, and every TV network wanted to broadcast. But just as the laws gave motorsports tobacco ads, it tooketh away. And they’re gone. And what you see today — in F1, NASCAR, NHRA and IndyCar, is the slow death of sponsor-based racing.

    So to conclude — why would IndyCar show up for a race where 1) it is promoted by their competitor, and 2) there are few fans and 3) almost no press to give coverage to the sponsors of the thing?

    Call me evil if you want, I lived thru “the split” at a very partisan place, I’ve been called worse. But what I tell you the the honest frickin truth.

    – Tim Wohlford
    Editor’s Note: Arrogant much? Actually, despite your needlessly smug approach you make some great points. But you missed mine. Would it not be nice to evaluate if IndyCar actually put forth even minimal effort toward marketing, promotion and presentation? Until they do that objective judgement cannot occur.

    1. Yup, damned arrogant when I’m talking from what I learned from the inside of the thing. BTW, I signed my own name, so it’s not like I’m trying to hide behind a nom de plume — I really do think like this. Give me a phone call, we can talk.

      To assert that IndyCar doesn’t put forth effort is not correct. Now, we can argue that they’re not good at it, but having said that, lots of very good marketing people have tried, and failed, at this race promotion thing. Remember CART and CCWS in their dying days? The fans were all over my posts yelling that the problem was with the promoters, and that Pook would fix everything. Well, Pook didn’t fix much (he did cut a helluva deal of Long Beach I heard) and promoters lost tens of millions. Hell, one lost a rumored $25 million that last year trying to promote two races that didn’t even happen.

      In the case of the California race, the LA market is deadly costly when it comes to marketing. You can spend a million dollars on TV ads, for instance, and not get beyond a few 3 am ads on a couple of local channels. Ditto for radio. Heaven knows that NASCAR can’t do it either, and they have about 5x the budget for such things. Did I mention that Ontario and Riverside slid under the waves as the racing business moved to advertising – based budgets? And I talked to the California guys in person a couple of years ago, and they really did try everything they could afford to push that race.

      You can make the same claim for places like Milwaukee. Milwaukee, with only a couple of exceptions, haven’t hit 40k fans for the last 30 years or so. (No, the Nigel year didn’t hit 100k, they just overflowed the 29k seats by a noticeable number.) This is in spite of the best that NASCAR, CART, CCWS, IRL, and IndyCar have thrown at it. Oh, not to mention Miller, Budweiser, Marlboro, and a few other heavyweight marketing genius companies. And as I recall, Green and Andretti and a couple of others I can’t remember. Just how much money do we expect Andretti to spend on this, and just what do we expect them to do?

      But my point still remains — Like it or now, when you run a sponsor-based racing series, the idea of “gosh I’d love to see ’em run at old venue X” takes a back seat to the business case. And the business case doesn’t make sense w/o a sponsor, which in turn makes no sense w/o the media coverage. Here’s a bold statement — “everyone” wanted to see IndyCar at Road America, but “no one” wanted to sponsor it or promote it (last I heard anyway.) That they have a date is great, but it won’t last 3 years if they don’t find a major sponsor, no matter how good the racing.

      You see (last big for this reply) you got used to tobacco companies spending billions of dollars on your favorite sport. With those billions came not only free smokes and fanny packs, but also marketing geniuses and the full attention of TV execs. Well, those billions, and those geniuses, are gone. And now we’re returning to auto racing circa 1977.
      Editor’s Note: Again, great points. BUT, NASCAR has not had much trouble with one race at that track (and I know, I know…given the slice of TV money they do not need many folks in the stands to begin with) and their on track product IMHO is not as good. Given that tobacco bucks have been gone for over ten years and attendance has dropped for lots of things every since I can understand the correlation. I think it’s bigger than that; e.g., the entire planet has fundamentally changed the way in which people communicate with each other and entertain themselves and that picked up no turning back speed at about the same time. Having attended not just Fontana but a lot of oval races for multiple decades I can tell you from personal observation that what is different is a stunning lack of coherent marketing (does not have to cost millions or involve ad buys in local TV) and promotion (although ACS does a good job with what they have) and a complete lack of attention toward presentation. 23 IndyCars, a few invited vintage hobbyists and Michael Young with a microphone won’t get it done. Neither will what IndyCar attempts to pass off as a fan village. I also understand old sponsorship models no longer work. But I also have little confidence anyone currently involved in the sport or its management is capable of moving the entire kit and caboodle into something relevant. Original point: Obfuscation involving broadcast dates and times is unadulterated horse sh!t. Neither Long Beach nor Sonoma have such issues and the presentations for each are much better even the the racing is not as good. This will be my third trip in a row to Pocono and the only things that seem better are not having the event on a holiday/travel weekend and they added a name band and some fireworks, although I suspect not many original Guess Who are still around. Still the same 23 IndyCars, no meaningful support ladders, some vintage hobbyists and Michael with his mic. In other words some excuse to dump/get dumped by that unique track is certainly possible. And it remains completely unnecessary.

      1. (Two instances of borderline illiterate, off topic, stupid commentary unceremoniously relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

  3. I wonder how much all the complaining by Team Penske drivers about the so called pack racing added to the decision to not return to Fontana? Can’t irritate the Captain you know.

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