Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

September 27, 2016

Reinventing IndyCar Oval Presentation – Part II

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 1:47 pm

Part One yesterday lamented an apathetic neglect of quality oval venues in IndyCar today.  Even a cursory look at venue balance over time validates the theory.  If we assume really good attendance for an IndyCar oval event outside Indianapolis is 45,000 the question remains how can that be attained and consistently repeated?  Application of a ‘boutique’ approach could be a definitive step in the right direction.

With 45,000 as a goal how would a boutique experience work?

  • Existing big, permanent center main grandstands would remain. Those would immediately become the ‘cheap seats’ with about 20,000 as maximum capacity.
  • Traditional suites with all the benefits (and expense) would also remain or get added to accommodate a minimum of 2,000 people depending on the venue.
  • Enhanced camping experiences could accommodate a few hundred RVs, tents or other camping for additional minimum 2,000 people.
  • Include sponsored picnic and/or party zones to accommodate both families and younger fans. Both concepts work well at IMS.  Keep capacity at around 2,500 for each area.
  • The boutique sweet spot is the addition of either twelve permanent and/or temporary smaller stands with a capacity of no more than 1,400 each. Small sizes could vary depending on location, amenities and pricing opportunities but all would be intimate.

ppirThese would be no ordinary stands.  Each elevated stand would be located high above outside turns.  Depending on location and sun angle as many as possible (preferably all) would be shaded and covered.  Seats would be configured to accommodate the increased girth of fans today with plenty of space and pitch between seats and rows.  The top portion of each would be covered platforms with food, a bar and merchandise.  Space would be large enough to accommodate tables.  Areas underneath stands could also be used as shaded picnic areas with plenty of tables and views of the track and not just the underside of a grandstand.  Each stand would contain their own set of restrooms, and smaller adjacent parking areas would be allocated near each for ticket holders in those stands with in and out access to vehicles.

On race weekends specific drivers and teams would be assigned to each stand to interact with fans.  Sponsor involvement would also be encouraged and facilitated.

Fans that purchase small stand tickets would be easily connected using any device or provider.  High definition audio visual displays would carry not only the action, but technical data as well.

  • Following the lead of drag racing, every ticket sold would include garage area access. Each ticket sold would be good for all three days at one price.
  • It would be mandatory for each ladder series to race. Partnerships with other racing entities, whether USAC, Robby Gordon’s Super Trucks or something else would be encouraged.  The goal would be to have something competitive on the track every hour of each race weekend day.

The real goal is to present an entire weekend of activity for anyone at a reasonable cost.  A component that is necessary but would no doubt be most problematic for IndyCar is the concept of finding a dance partner for race weekends.  This would be a partner with complementary demographics but not necessarily in the racing genre.  Both IndyCar and the dance partner would need to commit to aggressively promoting each other.

Weekends would feature a continuous calendar of events from Friday through Sunday.  No idle time would be planned.

yummyA suggestion made here in the past serves as a good example.  This is not offered as a potential solution.  It is merely an example of thinking in wider terms to create events.  The example is barbecue.  What is more American during summer?  Partner with or organize a competitive barbecue circuit that goes to ovals with IndyCar.  Each competition would have podiums, winners and championships.  Potential sponsor involvement is tantalizing.  Imagine a corporate entity such as, say, Johnsonville sponsoring both at oval events.  How about a national grocer such as Kroger?  A joint commercial partner seems vital.  Imagine a new IndyCar event at the intriguing oval outside Memphis early in May when that city hosts the Indy 500 of barbecue competition.

The more reasons IndyCar gives fans to attend the more people they are likely to draw.  More people attending events increases popularity.  When the circuit(s) are not in their geographic area the more likely they are to watch on television if they have been sold on the experience.

It all, of course, boils down to money.  Who gets what and how much?  Who pays for it?  Typically IndyCar wants it all AND a hefty sanctioning fee.  Broader approaches are needed to increase revenue outside Indy.  I am not sure it would ever happen given the personalities and lawyers involved but if asked someone could certainly craft some really spiffy PowerPoint filled with pretty graphs and short attention span bullet points then dazzle the suits with all the untapped potential.  I would be surprised if some variation of the idea has not already occurred to them.  It just needs to become actionable.

One thing is certain.  Kill ovals and this niche sport will either die or become an even smaller niche.  Given the recent takeover of F-1 by Liberty Media (with aspirations toward definitive expansion in North America) and Apple’s rumored investment in McLaren the time for IndyCar to act is now.

Milwaukee the week after Indy and Pikes Peak any time.

September 26, 2016

Reinventing IndyCar Oval Presentation – Part I

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 4:42 pm

Another exciting IndyCar season has wrapped up with mostly the best drivers and racing anywhere.  Once again buzzword speakers in the fanciest offices at IMS will trumpet steady attendance and minuscule television ratings steadiness as giant steps forward.  Most proclamations about excitement, competitiveness and accessibility ring true.  Every event my party attends leads to satisfaction.

As the series moves forward it is wise for leadership to understand and grasp reality, then use that knowledge to shape the sport for everyone else down the road.  Most sports and entertainment events these days play to large swaths of empty seats.  Television ratings are way down for all but a handful of sports mostly due to a complex fragmentation of product offerings and delivery technology.

The manner in which the oval product of IndyCar is presented today is stale and outdated.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway invented then evolved event presentation.  As NASCAR ascended they essentially lifted then customized all aspects of IMS event presentation.  They executed it over and over until eventually they were doing so most weekends of the year.  It all seems very dated and tired today even for NASCAR.

Presentation must be reinvented.  IndyCar is in a perfect position to facilitate that.  It is my belief the current mindset of scheduling around television widows to drive up ratings is a dead end.  It is also obvious television partners do not understand or even care that much about the product.  On NBCSN IndyCar is third in the pecking order behind NASCAR and Formula 1.  This is evidenced by a quantified lack of promotion, a merry-go-round of on air presenters and race start times that not only defy objective logic but kill attendance.  Instead of attempting to use tiny increases in ratings to drive attendance why not enhance attendance to build buzz that will ultimately drive higher viewing?

Lack of presentation is most pronounced at oval venues.  The irony is that the fastest, closest and most exciting racing occurs on such tracks.  It does not even matter that IndyCar is occupied by participants married to a non-oval niche that has never enjoyed mainstream popularity in America.  As a matter of fact one of the core strengths of IndyCar is its diverse, multidisciplinary approach to venues.  Watching a race in person at a track like Barber is just as fun as watching at Texas.  The experience and approaches, however, are very different.

Fans who attend non-oval events enjoy discussing the experience, which mostly includes not sitting on large swaths of aluminum.  How would IndyCar go about reinventing oval presentation?  It is relatively simple but requires partners, investment and dedication.  It involves concepts that must be beta tested.

milwaukeeThere are two venues at which such beta testing seems natural.  The first is a venue that is older than even the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  As this windy missive is being composed the management of the track in Milwaukee is entertaining proposals that involve conversion and alternate re-use of that legendary facility.  That is incomprehensible to legacy racing fans.  Milwaukee, even without an IndyCar event, remains one of the highest rated television markets for IndyCar.

The second target is a much newer facility in a geographically desirable area.  The Pikes Peak track outside Fountain, Colorado is also ideal for the concept (provided SAFER gets added).  Its primary problem is a NASCAR-foisted clause that essentially prohibits anything but club racing at the track for present and future owners.  That clause was inserted with anticipation a track for NASCAR could be built near Denver, which is now highly unlikely.  Since IndyCar left PPIR Colorado Springs has become one of the hottest growth markets in the country and Pueblo is not doing badly either.  The region is large enough to support a new event even with no promotion in Denver.  IndyCar fans that live there would make the drive anyway.

ppirWhat do the tracks have in common? Both have removed most ancillary grandstands.  Venues are located in areas that have a potentially high fan base.  While Milwaukee and PPIR have a successful history with IndyCar current expectations today are low to non-existent.  Perfect.

A repetitive, ongoing IndyCar mantra is that ‘…it’s all about the fans.’  It is probably time for money to go where mouths are.

My entire concept of presentation reinvention revolves around something I refer to as a ‘boutique experience.’  Admittedly the word ‘boutique’ may seem weird when discussed within the context of auto racing, but ‘boutique’ is the key.  Creative, variable pricing is also a component but moves away from more shameless nickel and diming, intelligence insulting money grabs that occur at many venues today, especially street events.

The one oft repeated and increasingly sport killing sentiment parroted by participants and leadership of IndyCar is that ‘…ovals are just not popular anymore.’  Hogwash.  Those venues suffer at the box office because they are not presented or promoted effectively.  It is possible to prevent such prophecy from becoming willfully self-fulfilling with relatively minimal effort.

In reality it does not really matter how well most oval events are promoted or even that the racing fans would experience is the best in the world.  Potential fans today, especially younger ones, have moved beyond any desire to sit somewhere in an ocean of aluminum in the summer with no shade to watch three hours of racing.  Throw in draconian rules about what fans are allowed to bring with them, not to mention whacko start times (most recently Pocono pre-rainout plans at 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon for a 500 mile race) and most casual fans these days will opt out.  Fan lack of enthusiasm is compounded when nothing except IndyCars run a weekend schedule with no ancillary events.

This is the first of two parts of this fan-frustrated missive.  The general concept knocking around this noggin has been presented and justified.  Part Two tomorrow will dive more deeply into how the concept could work at beta venues.

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