The 2015 IndyCar schedule was released today and for the most part it remains underwhelming. Most of us understand the difficulty of piecing together that puzzle and appreciate the hard work that goes into it. Still, it remains troubling and here is why:
-There are only 17 events, and that is a stretch because it includes two races in one weekend in downtown Detroit and the two events in Indianapolis.
-The schedule is 65% non-oval. Perhaps the people in charge still feel that shoving something that has repeatedly failed down the throats of potential fans they are mostly unsuccessfully trying to attract will somehow have a different outcome.
-It still ends before Labor Day. Hindsight screams about how ludicrous a notion that is.
-The primary TV partner is doing IndyCar no favors. Oh sure, IndyCar will blow smoke up everyones’ arses about how six events are on ABC, but the reality is they are only in three physical places: St. Pete during spring break, Indy in May (cherry-picked again), and Detroit the week after. Everything else is NBCSN and nothing elevated to NBC (as F1 has done). ESPN/ABC’s lack of commitment is obvious. Why IMS/IndyCar won’t push for a change to the terms that allows the brand on NBC is beyond me. That kind of exposure would be good for all parties.
-Spacing seems about right.
-The sole foreign money grab event is in the fringe. What happened with Dubai?
-New Orleans in April works for us.
-Neither Pocono nor Fontana is scheduled on a holiday weekend.
How IndyCar can improve its fortunes, even with such a limited schedule:
-Get off your corporate, pompous arses and do something meaningful for a change with the presentation and promotion of events, especially the few remaining ovals. Give people a full weekend of reasons to show up. A small number of IndyCars and Michael Young screaming into a microphone no longer works, as evidenced by the increasingly paltry attendance.
-Run the entire ladder as well as outside series at EVERY event, even if you have to use another part of a facility (like a road course configuration at Pocono for some of the rungs).
-Invest in and promote the hell out of two triple crowns: One for the big ovals that includes Indy, Pocono and Fontana, and one that emphasizes diversity: Long Beach (street), Texas (oval) and Barber or MO (road). Offer 3 million to any triple crown winner. Chances are you’ll hang on to the money.
Looking toward the future:
-There are so many great unused ovals it is ridiculous. No one expects much as long as IndyCar sticks to the dated notion that having the series just show up is worth a couple of million. That has not been a good approach for many years. Should IndyCar suddenly develop creativity and alternative approaches to revenue generation that is not ‘traditional’ perhaps we will see forward progress. Two striking examples of unused ovals are Kentucky and Chicagoland. I do not buy the Mark Miles notion that such tracks are too geographically close. That is, bluntly, a load of horse shIt. What I believe he is really saying is that IndyCar does not have the means or ability to self-promote in a manner sufficient to generate revenue. Therefore it is easier simply not to pursue such opportunities. Trying to be an IndyCar fan remains frustrating at almost masochistic levels.
Kentucky is ideally located geographically between the population centers of Louisville and Cincinnati. Add to that the contingent that would drive south from Indiana and surrounding states and you have a winner. Of course re-building a winner requires promotion in the key target markets and reasons for people to attend.
Chicagoland is within the third largest media market in the country. A no-brainer.
-I would still pick up Rockingham at the asset sale then incentivize potential involvement in IndyCar by existing nearby NASCAR teams, and I wouldn’t care what the France or Smith families thought.
-Open a well-attended Barber-like experience at the Memphis Motorsports Park. No worries about Frances or Smiths there. Ditto for Gateway, both geographically underserved by everyone.
Those are all great starts for getting the schedule up over 20 events, particularly not when bending over for everyone before Labor Day.
The Disciple party has now booked New Orleans, Indy, Fontana, Pocono and one of the Midwest ovals…plus a few more tentatives. I am really hoping the presentation, particularly at oval venues, improves from the embarrassing lack of effort us die-hards were forced to endure in 2014.
Hey….they beat November for release. That’s progress.