Saturday, October 10, 2009

IndyCar Ticket Giveaways did not Work

Yes, it's hot at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The heat is sufficiently oppressive that it is radiating through my television screen.

Still, given the amount of promotion that was dedicated to this three-way championship battle, the crowd has to be considered something of a disappointment. As I have written before, it is clear that the IRL can't sell these guys.

The product - the whole product - is the problem. We know this because not enough people are buying it. A product that is not in demand is by definition flawed. This must change.

Let's hope for a safe and entertaining race.


Friday, October 9, 2009

IndyCar History in the Making

Fans of IndyCar racing will likely witness a historic first Saturday evening at Homestead-Miami Speedway. I only learned of this factoid this evening.

Since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909, there has never been a season on the "Indy" championship trail quite like this one. This, the sport's Centennial season, will likely be the first to run to completion without an American driver having won a single race.

I can not speak authoritatively about the early years of IndyCar racing. However, I do know that Carl Fisher, the man pictured above and the driving force behind both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Miami Beach, would not have allowed the cars that race at Indy to become irrelevant. Tony Hulman and Wilbur Shaw are in the photograph to the left. They, too, would likely be saddened by the state of contemporary IndyCar racing.

Tomorrow, IndyCar will crown a champion. Most racing fans in the United States will not care.

Perhaps some day IndyCar will once again have leaders such as Fisher, Hulman and Shaw - executives who possess acute business instincts and who care about the sport as they care about themselves. I am proud to know that individuals such of these are frequent guests and contributors here.

Beginning Monday, we shall endeavor to construct a plan that might honor the fathers of the Greatest Race in the World. We do not expect significant rewards for our efforts.

We write "As If".


IndyCar: Good News at Sarah Fisher Racing

It is nice to know that good people can work hard, do things the right way, and achieve positive results. Such is the case at Sarah Fisher Racing, a fledgling IndyCar team that is poised to expand in 2010.

I encourage you to read the story in Curt Cavin's excellent Pit Pass in the Indianapolis Star.

Organic and Sustainable Growth

Fisher will increase her IndyCar participation to include nine races next season. Even better, Dollar General Stores, a holding of storied leveraged buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, has signed on for another year of sponsorship. Somewhat surprisingly, Fisher, a USAC veteran and oval track specialist, told Cavin that her schedule will include a mix of ovals, road courses and street circuits.

Sarah Fisher Racing took delivery of a new Dallara last month, courtesy of associate sponsor Hartman Oil. That enabled her to sign former Indy Lights Champion Jay Howard to drive in four races in 2010. The Englishman will be sponsored by Tire Kingdom, a subsidiary of TBC Corporation.

Sarah Fisher works just as hard away from the track as she does when she is in the race car. She has established a following on Facebook and Twitter. She has built an impressive array of associate sponsors including Direct Supply, IUPUI, AAA Hoosier Motor Club, autotex PINK, and the aforementioned Hartman Oil.

Congratulations to Sarah Fisher, John O'Gara, Andy O'Gara and everyone at SFR. They are making significant inroads without the benefit of government subsidies and APEX Brasil. Instead, they merely serve customers.

Perhaps the IRL might learn something from them.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Auto Racing Reporters Hungry for ISC Blood

This is absolutely hilarious.

First, let me explain that, if you have never been in a media room at a race track, then you are missing quite a treat.

Motorsports reporters are, on balance, a motley collection of misfits. They tend to be slovenly, poorly dressed, and malodorous.

Until now, they have typically been well fed. However, California Speedway has determined that the scribes will have to pay for the privilege of manning the buffet table. The following excerpts are from an email that was distributed to angry members of the the American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association.
"As some of our members may be aware, California Speedway (nee Auto Club Speedway) has decided to charge for meals during the upcoming Cup weekend, October 9-11. I wish to encourage AARWBA member not to pay the $25, and instead to seek other alternatives."
Horrors! I am a former news reporter. In the news business, reporters do not get free meals. They do get to spend a lot of time in awful neighborhoods, knocking on doors to obtain bits of information about the daily murder and mayhem. That is one reason why I am not a reporter anymore.

Sports reporters are the envy of newsrooms everywhere. Those guys get to hang out with athletes, attend cool events, and chow down on free food.

Let's just say that my sympathy for motorsports reporters is, well, limited. Frankly, $25 for three days of meals sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
"The track is owned by International Speedway Corp (ISC), and they are making plenty of money. A few years ago, the fall race had a gross margin in excess of $30 million. But that’s apparently not enough for the controlling shareholders."
This quote helps to explain why the writer opted to cover auto racing rather than work for the Wall Street Journal. The term, "gross margin", actually means something. It is the difference between sales revenue and production costs. It is not operating profit because overhead is not included in the calculation. Because racing facilities incur significant fixed costs, they tend to have substantial overhead liabilities.

Notice that ISC announced its quarterly results Thursday. They were not very good. We will not know ISC's gross margin until the company files its financial statements with the SEC. Nevertheless, we can say with certainty that it is a number that will not attract the attention of Wall Street analysts.

But it most certainly is the focus of that gluttonous band of motorsports reporters.


International Speedway takes a Bath

The recently ended quarter was not good to International Speedway Corporation. The House of France's satellite track ownership and promotions company is operating at a net loss after three quarters of FY2009.

Keep this in mind the next time someone claims that ISC is trying to kill the IndyCar Series. In my estimation, it is much more likely that ISC is merely trying to generate profit. If the IndyCar races at Kansas and Chicagoland do not produce profit as stand-alone events, then they will not continue to exist.

That is why IRL management loves publicly subsidized races. There is not only no financial risk, but also no pressure to attract a legitimate audience.

The year-over year ISC numbers for the quarter are interesting.

  • Admissions Revenue - down 15.96% to $53.35 million
  • Motorsports Revenue - down 18.22% to $105.96 million
  • Food & Beverage Revenue - down 31.38% to $12.62 million
IndyCar fans should take notice of the line item that accounts for more than half of all ISC revenues. Motorsports Revenue is primarily a function of direct distributions from NASCAR, as well as track and event sponsorships and licensing. The NASCAR distributions are enabled almost exclusively by television ratings.

Next week, we look to the future of IndyCar. Exponentially increasing U.S. television ratings is paramount.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Good Reviews for IndyCar Homestead Promotion

The word from Miami from multiple public and private sources is that promotion for the penultimate IndyCar race of 2009 has been surprisingly aggressive. Positive reviews regarding outdoor boards, direct mail, phone calls and emails are scattered throughout the Internet.

Several promotions have been mentioned in this space, although I have been critical of what seems to be an overabundance of free tickets. Distributing a few freebies can enhance event promotions, but distributing too many free tickets can also further devalue the product.

Sarah Fisher will make an appearance from 5pm until 7pm this evening at TGI Friday's in Miami. She, too, is giving away tickets. However, I shall not criticise in this instance because the beneficiary is Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Furthermore, I encourage that you give generously if you are so inclined.

Danica Patrick's recent soiree with NASCAR teams has provided additional intrigue.

Increased television ratings would be much more economically beneficial than increased attendance at race tracks. Nevertheless, if what we are hearing from South Florida is true, then I think that we should commend the IRL, Homestead-Miami Speedway, the participating teams and drivers, and, of course, APEX Brasil. Promotion does cost money, after all.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

IndyCar Maxim #6

Roggespierre's Maxim #6
Courtesy of Ken Homa, Georgetown University McDonough School of Business

Remedial would be Kind

At which stage would say that Terry Angstadt and Brian Barnhart operate? I would argue that they presently reside at top of Professor Homa's list and at the bottom of the motorsports management heap. Not all of the problems are their fault, of course. Unfortunately, their proposed solutions are not really solutions at all.

Note that I do not include Tony Cotman in my analysis of IRL management because his responsibilities and authority are unclear to me.

IRL management is Reactionary in almost every conceivable way. The league is indeed fighting to survive. To that end, we have ample and compelling evidence.

  1. Pursuing arbitraged sponsorships that are intended to preserve the status quo despite the absence of demonstrated demand for the racing product.

  2. Establishing a race promotion contract with the publicly subsidized promoter of the undersized Barber Motorsports Park.

  3. Attempting to convince the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland to subsidize a 2011 street race.

  4. Renewing a Honda engine and sponsorship arrangement that forces IndyCar teams to work with a rent-seeking supplier that is bleeding the IndyCar enterprise of much needed cash.

  5. Attempting to secure robust financing in exchange for a non-strategic race in Brazil.

  6. Seeking corporate dollars rather than consumer acceptance.

  7. Allowing powerful teams disproportionate influence with regard to selection of the new specs that are to be introduced in 2012.

  8. Failing to realign IndyCar TEAM so that it might improve the IndyCar product to achieve market acceptance.

  9. Chasing short-term pay days rather than establishing a sustainable cost structure that might lead to a more salable product and increased U.S. television ratings.

  10. Choosing to believe that it is incapable of competing with the dominant market leader.

  11. Turning its back to virtually all empirical data and pursuing a market position that has very limited upside, at best.

  12. Attempting to force a demonstrably unwanted product on the market, rather than recognizing and adapting to consumer demand.

Toward a Market Competitive IndyCar Series: Fell the House of France!

I would like to see an IRL management team that might reside at the bottom of Professor Homa's list and the top of the U.S. motorsports market. The IndyCar Series needs Revolutionary managers! However, leadership of that type will require expertise in fields that have little or nothing to do with either sales or racing operations. I believe in all sincerity that the future of the great Indianapolis 500 Mile Race depends on it.

Acquiring such a management team is in the interest of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Board of Directors. Now that the 2009 IndyCar Series season is nearly complete, I hope in earnest that the Board will commence with the job at once.


Rio Mayor: IndyCar event costs too Much

If the IndyCar Series races in Brazil in 2010, then it will not be in Rio de Janeiro. The mayor of the host city of the 2016 Olympic Games made that clear in an interview. The link (in Portuguese) is here.

...the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, said that the city will not
compete to be the Brazilian home of the IndyCar Series.
IRL Commercial Division President Terry Angstadt has spent a significant portion of the past month in Brazil. He is attempting to land a season opening race for 2010 and, more importantly, financing that might sustain the series and its teams.

I think that we can anticipate the likely excuses that we should expect in the event that Angstadt fails to deliver either the money or the race in Brazil.

  1. The 2016 Olympics foiled everything.

  2. There was just not enough time to find a suitable racing venue.

  3. The global economic recovery did not begin soon enough.

The more likely reasons for Angstadt's South American struggles are almost certainly very similar to the primary obstacle that is preventing IndyCar from competing in the North American marketplace.

The product costs much more than it is worth.

The following is a paraphrased version of a direct translation from

"We saw the costs and decided to step away from IndyCar. It is a very
costly event." - Eduardo Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro

It is possible that Angstadt already has a deal in place at another Brazilian location. Perhaps we shall learn more from Homestead-Miami this week.
For What it's Worth
Earlier, I described a APEX Brasil ticket giveaway at Sedano's Supermarkets for the Homestead-Miami race. For those who are interested, a new press release and photograph of the event is here.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Meira, Piquet Test Trucks + More IndyCar Freebies!

Two-time Indianapolis 500 runner-up Vitor Meira and former F1 Renault driver Nelson Piquet, Jr. will test with Red Horse Racing of the NASCAR (sans-culottes!) Camping World Truck Series. The one-day test is scheduled for October 12.

"We look forward to helping Vitor Meira and Nelson Piquet make the transition into NASCAR." - Tom DeLoach, Owner of Red Horse Racing
This is strange for several reasons. For one, Meira was one of several IndyCar drivers promoting the IndyCar finale at Macy's in Miami October 2. Incidentally, IZOD and APEX Brasil used the event to give away 50 free tickets to the race. The freebie count is steadily climbing.

Returning to the matter at hand, A.J. Foyt confirmed last week that Meira would return to the cockpit of the ABC Supply Co./AJ Foyt Racing Dallara in 2010. Why, then, is Meira participating in a Camping World Trucks test next week? I suppose that he could just be looking to run a few Truck races in addition to his 2010 IndyCar schedule. However, given the desperate economic straits of the IndyCar Series, I do wonder about Foyt's sponsorship commitments for next season.

Piquet had been rumored to be looking at Eric Bachelart's Conquest Racing team in IndyCar. But you can't blame the son of the former world champion for checking out a NASCAR opportunity. The Truck Series is not only less costly than IndyCar, but also more popular, typically beating IndyCar's television ratings by about 45%.

NASCAR suddenly finds itself struggling with declining Cup ratings and attendance amid a still sluggish economy. The TV ratings decrease is most important because it devalues the NASCAR product at the firm level rather than the systemic level. We are therefore likely to see ride buyers migrate to NASCAR because it is still a much better deal than IndyCar.

I was told a few years ago that Vitor Meira brought no money to the table. I have no reason to believe that is not still true. However, if those who are driver-financiers go away, then how will the IRL sustain its overpriced and unwanted product?


IndyCar: APEX Brasil Flexes its Fuel (and Moraes)

APEX Brasil is getting pretty generous with the free tickets to the IndyCar finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend. I already alerted readers here to the ticket giveaway in exchange for sampling free Brazilian foods at South Florida supermarkets.

Now, we learn that the first 50 customers that fill-up with E85 at Midway U-Gas in Miami will each receive two free tickets to the penultimate IndyCar race of 2009.

Is it possible that the three-way shootout among Dixon, Franchitti and Briscoe has not brought a crush of race fans to the ticket windows at Homestead-Miami? Terry Angstadt and Company can't sell these guys, so they've enlisted APEX Brasil to buy tickets and then give them away.

Strange Incentives
The E85 customers will get the fuel for $0.85 per gallon, courtesy of the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association, no doubt a member of APEX Brasil. That's a great deal even if the lucky fuel buyers don't use the tickets.

Cheap fuel is a sure crowd pleaser at any location in the United States. IndyCar driver and team financier Mario Moraes is not. Therefore, having Moraes sign autographs for those who seek cheap fill-ups is a shrewd move. The IRL will be able to tout the hundreds, perhaps thousands, who showed up to get Moraes's autograph.

Of course, few if any of those folks will be in the stands this weekend to watch Mario drive his car. But, thanks to APEX Brasil's ticket purchases, that's not a problem. Everybody gets paid, anyway!

This is how you prop up* a product that consumers have rejected. Why are the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Board and IRL management allowing this to happen to the series that races at the Indianapolis 500?


*Originally, this line read, "This is how you prop up a lie, a product that...." BC argued that my choice of words was inappropriate. Reading it again, I agree. IndyCar racing is not a lie. It is a product that has been rejected. The latter wording suffices and is not needlessly inflammatory. Thanks to BC for rightly suggesting that I rethink my original language.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

IndyCar: We have seen the Enemy...

The product is the problem. That part is easy. The solutions are not.

Some have asked why I dedicate so much of The Indy Idea to analysis of television ratings. This is a good question that warrants a serious answer. I shall do my best to provide one here.

I believe it is important that IndyCar participants recognize how bad things have become. They do not want to believe it. That is why they prefer racing venues such as Toronto, where the urban backdrop allows for a "major league" feel and a crowd consisting of 30,000 to 40,000 spectators looks good enough. That is also why they will be very excited about "phenomenal" fan turnout at Barber Motorsports Park, never mind the fact that the place can only hold approximately 30,000 spectators.

The Barber race would not exist if not for government subsidies. Toronto might be similarly subsidized, although I freely admit that I do not have evidence of it. Nevertheless, these events allow IndyCar participants to fool themselves into thinking that they are part of something that is cool and popular.

The IndyCar Series will not make the changes that must be made until those in power have no choice but to admit that change is necessary. They tend to like the dream world that they currently occupy. They want to keep it intact for as long as it is possible.

Many in IndyCar do not want to lower themselves to the point of serving an audience. IndyCar racing has no history of purposely serving anybody except for a very small group of insiders. Those insiders still exist and exert significant influence over the Indy Racing League and its feckless managers.

That is why IndyCar always blames others - race promoters, television partners, NASCAR, International Speedway Corporation, and sponsors that do not execute grand activation strategies on IndyCar's behalf. Versus is only the latest in a long line of pariahs. IndyCar participants like what they do and believe that others should, too. Any evidence to the contrary must therefore be the fault of someone else.

One of my goals here is to turn a mirror to those who are destroying this once great sport. Serious economic analysis leaves no doubt that IndyCar has failed in the competitive marketplace. I want the participants to know that they are not only not cool, but also not relevant. They act more like spoiled brats, having inherited market acceptance and then thrown it away so that they could spend what they want to spend and do what they want to do.

No more!

IndyCar's failure is directly attributable to those who have exercised power over the sport for more than 30 years. They refuse to believe it. My goal is to leave them no other alternative. The time for truth and reckoning is now.

Beginning Monday, October 14, I intend to begin looking to the future. The off-season at The Indy Idea shall be all about what IndyCar racing could and should become. It will be subject to economic discipline. Otherwise, I invite your thoughts about how IndyCar might become competitive in the marketplace. We shall continue, "As If."

Currently, IndyCar racing ranks fifth in the competition among auto racing series in the United States. NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Grand National are the undisputed Number One and Number Two players. The National Hot Rod Association and the NASCAR Truck Series are third and fourth. IndyCar is fifth, followed by ALMS.

Together, we can work to improve IndyCar's competitive positioning. I hope that you will contribute your good ideas, dispassionate analysis, and constructive debate.