Friday, June 25, 2010

Yankee Go Home: USF1 Banned... Forever!

The United States takes great pride in being the Land of Opportunity. Despite growing cynicism, we remain a nation of dreamers.

The Old World harbors a less romanticized disposition.

The USF1 dream died a humiliatingly public death today at the hand of the World Motorsports Council. Apparently, these guys don't take kindly to vaporware.

If IndyCar were to operate in this manner, then we would see heads rolling across Gasoline Alley as a matter of course. This is the series, after all, in which talented and accomplished foreign ride buyers, let alone American dreamers, are unable to land a seat.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

IndyCar's Bernard talks Sense

Take a look at the new Associated Press interview with IndyCar Supremo Randy Bernard from the Sports Illustrated website.

The good news is that the chief executive continues to say things that make a lot of sense. The bad news, of course, is that the devil is embedded in details that remain to be seen.

We must keep our television numbers up... Sponsors buy off television... I
think the television number determines the future of the sport. - Randy

This is a direct hit. Nothing can create revenue-generating leverage like good television ratings. That Bernard recognizes that poor TV ratings are much more than an unfortunate inconvenience is very good news for IndyCar fans.

Dan Ochs, manager of programming and acquisitions at ESPN, then chimes in with this gem.

We need to determine what's causing viewership to fall off. - Dan

The Indy 500 has established historic statistical lows in consecutive years for the following:

  1. Television Rating
  2. American Drivers

Might there be a causal relationship?

Anyway, let's return to Bernard.

We haven't changed the product, and until we change the product, we have to
be very realistic on this. - Randy Bernard

Mr. Bernard shall get no argument from me. IndyCar has never seriously attempted to manage its product. If it were to do so in a strategically advantageous way, then it might just be able to become a viable competitor in the marketplace.

That, of course, is where those devilish details enter the picture. The product is much more than chassis and engines. The IndyCar "whole product" includes drivers, racing circuits, television broadcasts, and more. A new spec in and of itself could represent nothing more than added cost.

Much more important are those things that the new specs might allow IndyCar to do. Appealing to the present group of true believers will not be sufficient.

I thank Mr. Bernard for providing encouragement and wish him well as he attempts to deduce specific solutions.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Can IndyCar Sell at New Hampshire?

It is no secret that the IZOD IndyCar Series will announce this weekend that it will return to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2011.

There are elements of this move that I like very much. NHMS promoter Jerry Gappens hails from the Rust Belt town where I completed my undergraduate studies, the same town that produced John Paul, Jr. Gappens is passionate about IndyCar racing. He has wanted a race date for more than a year.

I also respect Gappens for having been openly critical of the notion of IndyCar staging a race in the parking lot at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

But Can It Work?

I will admit that I attended the IRL race at what was then New Hampshire International Speedway in 1997. I was joined in the grandstands by approximately a dozen of my closest friends.

The race was fantastic. It was won by the handsome young man to the left, Robbie Buhl, who edged former F1 driver Vincenzo Sospiri at the finish line. The win was undoubtedly sweet for Buhl, a former CART Indy Lights champion whose reward had been a part-time ride in Dale Coyne's s#*$box. He then stood on the sidelines while guys like Andre Ribeiro and Carlos Guerrero landed quality rides in CART. Sound familiar, J.R. Hildebrand?

So, yes, Buhl's win was warmly received. Unfortunately, there were virtually no fans there to receive it.

Incidentally, if you do go to the NHMS race next year, allow me to recommend that you include a quick jaunt to Portsmouth, New Hampshire while you're there. It has a great, authentic New England atmosphere without the great, authentic East Coast prices.


Fans who supported CART during the split will no doubt recall that their favorite series drew fine crowds at New Hampshire. Unfortunately, The Split was not all that happened in the 1990s. There was also the unprecedented mainstream rise of a series called NASCAR Cup. NHMS was expanded to make room for all of those NASCAR fans.

One could argue that today's IndyCar Series is effectively a poor imitation of CART, one that features slower, less interesting spec cars and a whole lot less money from tobacco companies and arbitraged supply chains. Can this product draw a respectable crowd at a facility that has added capacity to accommodate NASCAR Cup?

And let's not forget that racing is a tough sell in New England.

Having seen the market breakdown for the 2009 Indianapolis 500 television ratings, I can tell you that the three local markets that had the lowest ratings were Boston, Providence and New York. Yes, there are racing fans in New England, but they tend to like NASCAR, Mods, and Supers. Will they want to watch an international road racing product at New Hampshire Motor Speedway?

As much as I want to see IndyCar succeed at oval tracks, I have serious reservations about this.

If Jerry Gappens can sell this bunch in New England, then he's one helluva race promoter. I wish him good luck and fear that he'll need it.


Monday, June 21, 2010

IndyCar notes from the back of a hotel Napkin

Vacation is a wonderful thing. If you ever have an opportunity to visit Coronado, California, then I strongly suggest that you do it. What a great place!


I am pleased to let you know that the Mario Andretti Honda commercial ran on the local ABC affiliate in San Diego immediately following the Los Angeles Lakers' Game 7 win over the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.

Pressdog reports that attendance at Iowa fell this year. Losing 5,000 paying customers is never good news, but is particularly troubling when that amount is equal to more than a 14% year-over-year decrease. The erosion of IndyCar's oval fan base continues unabated, it seems. IndyCar can't blame ISC and its unbundled NASCAR Cup tickets for this one.

That said, a crowd of 35,000 - that's 105,000 in 3-day attendance parlance - at Toronto would likely be hailed as a huge success.

Cranking the Mill

From the rumor mill, I am hearing that Randy Bernard is now consistently turning to Robin Miller for advice. If this is true, then I think it is a troubling turn of events. Bernard is supposed to be a marketing genius, after all.

Full Disclosure - I like Robin Miller very much. He is candid, smart and very entertaining. He has always treated me well personally. Nevertheless, I have vehemently disagreed with Robin regarding certain subjects at various points in time. Regardless, I have never doubted that he genuinely believes in everything that he writes. He also happens to care about the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar racing more than many of the sport's participants.

That said, Robin is representative of no one but himself. He is not a marketer. He is a nostalgic fan and quasi-insider who, like many of us, yearns for the good old days. The problem is that those who long for a return to glory tend to disagree about the causes and effects of the growth and the subsequent decline of IndyCar racing. Therefore, Robin is no more an authority than any other fan.