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Archive for the month “April, 2014”

Figures lie: IndyCar, golf, and sponsorship

The week when the Verizon IndyCar Series races at Barber Motorsports Park in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is the chance for writers to channel their inner Herbert Warren Wind¹ and wax poetic about the verdant greenways, majestic views, and oddball sculptures of the facility  Some even say it is the Augusta National of the racing world.  High praise, indeed.  Of course, in the racing world, any green grass seems like Augusta National when compared to the asphalt and concrete of a city street course or the dead brown of Sonoma.  Kudos to Iowa for the corn, though.  Not quite Augusta-like but it does have a certain waving-in-the-wind grandeur.

In any case, a compelling storyline exists with the relationship of televised golf and its sponsors and what IndyCar may be trying to do to milk value from what, by any definition, is a small television audience.  Golf succeeds for more reasons than just television advertisers.  The sport has deep-pocketed event sponsors who pay millions to host a single event.  According to an article by Patrick Rishe in Forbes, all 42 PGA Tour events are sponsored for between $6 million to $12 million annually with sponsor FedEx re-upping for $35 million annually to sponsor the FedEx Cup.  Nice numbers, huh?  And that doesn’t include TV money.  The PGA does have the advantage of being on four days in a row each week, but, other than the majors, it does not routinely knock the ball out of the park.  The recent Texas Open final round had a 1.6 U.S. rating the week before the Masters on NBC.  Why does the PGA tour continue to rake in dough from well-heeled advertisers?  In a word, demographics.

The sponsors of the PGA tour read like a who’s who of high end living: BMW, Cadillac, Audi, Bridgestone, CDW, Charles Schwab, Citi, MetLife, Rolex, Mercedes, etc.  Why do these companies pay so much to advertise and sponsor a sport that gets relatively low ratings?  Why don’t they go to NASCAR and the WWE, two properties that regularly ring up much higher numbers?  Simple.  The 1% does not ordinarily watch those shows.  They watch golf.  Numbers may not lie, but they can certainly mislead.  High end advertisers want to go to where the viewers have the most money, not necessarily to the event with the most eyeballs.

What does this mean for IndyCar?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe everything.  If you are promoting a niche sport, which IndyCar racing is right now, you need to appeal to an audience that spends the most money.  Glamping at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway anyone?  Want to listen to Hardwell in the corporate Snake Pit with VIP access?  All you need is disposable income.  IndyCar can grow as a property without beating NASCAR’s numbers as long as the right kind of viewers are attracted.  Can IndyCar attract those fans to the races and the television?  The devil is in the details, they say.  City street courses are certainly closer to the high end consumer, which is a great reason to keep them on the schedule.  It would seem to make sense that people who invest money to attend races are the same people who become invested as viewers of the series.  IndyCar and its easy access paddock and personable drivers are a great way to capture the interest, and the hearts, of its fans.

If the answer to creating a successful and financially viable series was simple, it would have been done by now.  The current brain trust at IndyCar/IMS is taking a measured approach to building the series, as it should.  Have they identified their target demographic?  I hope so.  If not, then maybe the PGA tour is interested in coming back to a Pete Dye designed course at 16th and Georgetown in Speedway.  There will be plenty of room for parking.

1.  Herbert Warren Wind was a golf writer who coined the phrase Amen Corner for holes 11, 12, and 13 at Augusta National, home of the Masters.

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IndyCar edgy at Long Beach

The Verizon IndyCar Series has taken on a country club feel in recent years.  The drivers are all buddies. Before the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, James Hinchliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay even joked on camera about flipping a coin to see who was going to lead the first lap.  I wonder if those two still had their senses of humor after the race.

Humor is nothing new in IndyCar.  Eddie Sachs was known as “the clown prince of racing” in the 60’s.  Bobby Unser was not only shockingly honest as a racer and an announcer, he was also a born storyteller.  Still is.  A.J. Foyt’s humor was always sharp and biting.  Still is.  So it is nothing new that today’s racers are funny.  What’s different is the politically correct way they interact.  The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach certainly changed all that.

To spice up the broadcast, NBCSN brought in Paul Tracy, four-time Long Beach winner and notorious truth-teller.  Everyone just knew he would stir the pot a little bit.  Sadly, PT was just another talking head, saying nothing controversial.  Sigh.  I am sure he will get the message to go find the real Paul Tracy.

This all leads us to how a pretty good race became an entertaining one.  Bad moves led to bad feelings, sheepish honesty, and a few apologies that may or may not have been accepted.  Hopefully, it will lead to a little ill will.  Then maybe Paul Tracy can get on board and put the hammer down on some people.

One of the best products of the close racing in IndyCar is the fact that anyone can win.  The spec chassis and similar power plants mean the shoestring budgets can hold their own with the deep-pocketed teams.  You just know this small budget competition chafes the big dogs.  The best part of the close racing is that Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson can call out Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon; SFHR’s Josef Newgarden can place the blame on Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay; and SPHM’s Simon Pagenaud can mock the apology of Penske Racing’s Will Power.  Now THAT’S parity.  The Verizon IndyCar Series needs to have this kind of close racing though the pack every week..  TV does not do it justice.

The irony in the series is delicious right now.  The top dogs were forced to act like contrite backmarkers. Scott Dixon apologized for pushing Justin Wilson into the wall and the apology was UNACCEPTED.  Will Power apologized for punting Simon Pagenaud with his usual it’s-my-fault-that-it’s-your-fault line and the apology was UNACCEPTED.  Ryan Hunter-Reay apologized by saying a real racer goes for it when he sees the chance at exactly the wrong spot and his apology was UNACCEPTED.  I just love to see the shifty-eyed apologies of schoolboys caught in the act without a plausible story to tell.  Not ironically, Graham Rahal was his usual self and refused to accept any blame for anything.  Never change, Graham.  Both Michael Andretti and James Hinchcliffe were less than pleased with Hunter-Reay’s antics.

Simmering feuds, unaccepted apologies, and possibly a little bit of hate await us at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.  Barber is narrow, twisty, and just not conducive to the type of racing that the IndyCars are capable of right now.  The boys in back are not going to move over for reputation alone any longer.  In fact, when push comes to shove – and it will – the little guys are going to flex their muscles and push and shove back.  And consider this: Juan Pablo Montoya has not had a problem with anyone in two races.  Wait until that happens!  It’s good to see some of the politically correct veneer come off the series.  This is the racing and these are the racers people want to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The confusion of being an IndyCar fan

The Verizon IndyCar Series put on a pretty good show at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.  There was a great pass for the lead that viewers saw on TV, and many passes for position that fans only knew if they listened to the IMS Radio Network or read post-race media releases.  Even if you were in attendance at the race, you only knew about in-pack action if you actually saw the pass or listened to a scanner or radio.  And since the series is hoping that the TV audience will eventually supersede the spectators at the race, it’s incumbent on both the series and television to, you know, kind of get things right for the viewers.  That was not the case at St. Pete.

Television, whether it is ABC or NBC Sports, simply cannot show everything on a street course; there is just too much going on in too many places.  Both networks do as well as they can under the circumstances, I guess.  It would be a Herculean effort to pick out the most interesting battles and find time to show them.  All the fans really ask is for the broadcast to be accurate.  Therein lies my issue with the ABC booth at St. Pete.

Up to Will Power’s restart kerfuffle/gamesmanship/screw-up, the booth of Allen Bestwick, Eddie Cheever, and Scott Goodyear had been acceptable.  Bestwick brought enthusiasm and certainly seemed prepared.  The scenario should go like this: Bestwick tells the audience what just happened and Cheever and Goodyear explain why it happened and the consequences of it happening.  The fans only ask that they be given accurate information and commentary.  This did not happen on the lap 82 restart after Charlie Kimball’s spin.

Will Power, as everyone watching the race knows, brought the single-file field around for the restart very slowly and waited until the acceleration zone to, you know, accelerate.  Even though this was, according to Verizon IndyCar Series president of operations and competition Derrick Walker, exactly how the drivers were instructed to restart, ABC’s Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear vilified Will Power, comparing the start to something you see in go-carts and placing the blame for drivers in the rear of the field laying back and accelerating to pass on the lead driver doing what he was instructed to do.

It was the new play-by-play guy Bestwick who knew that Power had not reached the acceleration zone.  This begs the question of the preparation of both Cheever and Goodyear.  The viewers want to know both facts and opinions on those facts.  The color guys need to know what the play-by-play guy knows.  Shouldn’t both Cheever and Goodyear know what the drivers have been told?  Fans don’t need to be confused; they need to be enlightened.  Uninformed knee-jerk commentary does not help achieve that goal.

To top it off, on the next restart Power accelerated much earlier, and Cheever lauded him by saying, “That’s how you’re supposed to do it.”  Really?  Derrick Walker later said that Power received a warning on the second restart for accelerating too early.  Confusing, huh?

Gamesmanship will always a subject of debate on restarts.  Power did admit to lifting on the first restart to keep his teammate Helio Castroneves in line.  But according to the IndyCar rulebook as explained by Derrick Walker, no rules were broken.  I liked the enthusiasm of both Cheever and Goodyear, but do the fans a favor announcers: know the rules and tell us when they are broken or when they are followed.  Maybe Cheever and Goodyear visited the Dali museum inside the track at St. Pete and were inspired by Salvador Dali himself, who said, “What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.”  If that’s the case, then carry on.

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