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Archive for the tag “Firestone”

Truth in advertising: how to market IndyCar

The (your name here) IndyCar Series, by whatever name you want to call it, has a checkered past when it comes to marketing acumen.  In recent years the Indy Racing League and its scion, the (your name here) IndyCar Series, have been second-rate at best in the selling of the series.  The folding of the series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway sales and marketing departments into a single entity called Hulman Racing will hopefully end years of internecine battles for sponsorship and sales.  Mark Miles smartly hired C.J. O’Donnell as chief marketing officer and Jay Frye as chief revenue officer to work not only for Hulman Racing but for him.  Their marching orders are simple: make us visible and make us money.

Of course the marketing bar for both the series and the Indianapolis 500 have never been set very high.  If not for marketing partners Firestone, Honda, and IZOD, the series would have had no advertising of note in the last few years.  And the Indianapolis 500 has always sold itself in odd ways.  The Gene Simmons “I am Indy” experiment should never have been let out of the laboratory, and last year’s #Indy500orBust Twitter campaign, while trendy, probably did not increase attendance to any great degree.  As a long-time sell out, the 500 never really had to market extensively.  When attendance waned after the split, the 500 found itself having to market a race that was once a guaranteed full house.  I just want to let C.J. O’Donnell knows that New Track Record is here to help.  Allow me to offer some new marketing slogans that highlight the truth about IndyCar racing.

IndyCar – No title sponsor needed.  Just embrace the reality.  This series can stand on its own.  Let people know that pride and history are all that are needed.

The IndyCar Series – Now condensed into a shorter season.  Don’t hide from the fact that the series is afraid to go head-to-head with NASCAR, college football, and the NFL.  Sell that decision as somehow benefiting the race fan by freeing them up to watch other programming.  IndyCar is the series that cares about all of your teams.

The IndyCar Series – You don’t have to worry about what to wear after Labor Day.  IndyCar can position itself as a cutting edge pop culture icon by appealing to the female fan’s interest in fashion.  No longer will someone have to decide if white is acceptable at a race after Labor Day.  The IndyCar Series will make that decision for you.

IndyCar – Quite possibly an international series.  Remember, you can sell not only what is, but the possibility of what may be.  IndyCar wants to be international.  We can just leave it at that.

The IndyCar Series – Family owned and operated.  Markets often use the “plain folks” sales technique.  This appeals to the small town person inside us all.  A family owned and operated business always means folksy advice and values.  We just won’t mention provincialism, shortsightedness, family squabbles, and soap opera stars masquerading as celebrities at the 500.

The IndyCar Series – It’s all about the month of May.  Don’t hide the fact that the series takes a back seat to the Indianapolis 500; embrace it.  I’m sure the glitter of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing will sprinkle the pixie dust of success on the series.

IndyCar – What we lack in innovation, we make up for in dysfunction.  If you can’t sell what you want to have, then sell what you do have.  The series has a car that allows little team innovation.  Every garage has the same car and looks the same.  If you can’t sell the tech, sell the screwed-up relationships among the owners, drivers, officials, and the series.  And go ahead and add the fans in the mix.  They’re crazy, too.

IndyCar – Where innovation and technology don’t exactly go hand-in-hand but kind of walk together, not like friends but more like acquaintances or people you know at work.  OK, this one needs a little work.  There’s a kernel of truth in that sentence somewhere, but it might need a little editing.

There you go.  I want C.J. O’Donnell to know he can use any of these.  Consider them my gift to the (your name here) IndyCar Series.  Of course, my marketing slogans may be a little too truthful.  The marketing team at Hulman Racing may have another direction in mind.  At least I hope they do.

As the Firestone turns: why this and why now?

It’s an understatement to say that I was surprised when Gordon Kirby of MotorSport quoted  Bridgestone/Firestone Racing’s Al Speyer discussing the rumor that INDYCAR had already reached an agreement with another tire company to supply the racing rubber for INDYCAR when Firestone’s contract expires after the 2014 season (see here).  The silly season always seems to spawn crazy rumors, but to have them voiced by Al Speyer caught me off guard.  Whether it’s real or not is secondary to the fact that Al Speyer thinks it’s real.  That’s news.

Robin Miller at Speed.com got a response (sort of ) from INDYCAR (see here) that did nothing to quell the rumor.  INDYCAR issued a statement from Randy Bernard that was standard business-speak.  Basically, it said the contract is up in 2014, and Firestone is one of the suppliers to whom they will talk.  It should be noted that Randy Bernard is almost always willing to go on the record with Robin Miller and other journalists.  That press release was done to prevent any off-message comment.  It was cold and calculated.  Something’s up.

Al Speyer and Bridgestone/Firestone played a very public game of hardball in 2011.  They wanted more money to keep supplying the series.  I have no problem with that.  The R.O.I. (return on investment) of being the sole supplier of IndyCar had most certainly suffered as IndyCar’s TV ratings lagged.  In other words, Bridgestone/Firestone had leverage and used it.  That’s business.  The fact is that IndyCar as a series is secondary in value to the Indianapolis 500.  Firestone gets more mileage (sorry) from the iconic “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” than they do from all the other races in the series.  And they got a little fat and sassy.  Working leverage can do that to you.  Once you win, you assume you will always win.

And Firestone still has leverage, which Al Speyer has already started to use to bend INDYCAR to its will.  We are going to hear a few things in the near future:

  • Firestone is safe.  That’s true.  They have not had a catastrophic failure at a superspeedway.  NOTHING should trump the safety of the drivers.
  • The teams are happy with the tires.  They are not real happy with IndyCar or Firestone in regards to the cost of the tires, though.  The teams accepted the cost because the tire is great.
  • The drivers are happy with the tires.  They don’t fail at speed.  If you were a driver what tire would you want?
  • Firestone has a 100 year history with the Indy 500.  They are a good corporate partner and a brand that is as iconic as the Indianapolis 500.   The 500 is a very valuable asset.

I can guarantee your that the blogs, forums, and Twitter will absolutely BLOW UP over this.  Randy Bernard will be crucified and excoriated over something that hasn’t happened yet.  In other words, it will be business as usual.  But it does beg the question: why would Randy Bernard and INDYCAR consider dumping Firestone as the tire supplier for the IZOD IndyCar Series?  Randy Bernard reminds me of coach Norman Dale in Hoosiers when the character of Opal Fleener tells him, “Sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass everyday, but mister, you ain’t seen a ray of light since you got here.”  That’s Randy Bernard.  He didn’t have the right pedigree in racing.  He personally promoted a race that ended in tragedy.  He has endured a rebellion of owners that would cause most people to get the hell out of town.  A tweet of his started a firestorm.  His schedule fell apart in mid-season, as did the track in Detroit.  Is this another gaffe?  I think we are going to meet a different Randy Bernard here.  Just like Norman Dale in Hoosiers, nobody is going to “hide-strap (his) ass to a pine rail and send (him) up the Monon Line!”

I can see no benefit to playing hard ball with Firestone to get a better deal, particularly playing hard ball in public.  Firestone, with Al Speyer, knows something is afoot.  Losing the Indy 500 would be losing face for a Japanese company.  They want Indy.  They want iconic.  That’s why they went on the PR offensive.  So what’s up?  It just doesn’t make sense for INDYCAR to dump Firestone to save the owners some money.  The bad PR on that is not worth it, nor is the safety risk.  Here’s my take: Randy Bernard has a BIG ace up his sleeve, just like a cowboy sitting in some Western saloon.  I think Randy Bernard and INDYCAR have a tire supplier who wants to make a big splash.  IZOD wants out of IndyCar and is stuck with a contract to sponsor the IZOD IndyCar Series.  My completely uninformed conjecture is that a tire manufacturer is waiting to not only provide the series with racing tires, but to become the title sponsor of the IndyCar Series.  The ancillary benefit to this manufacturer is that little race at 16th and Georgetown and the history and credibility that comes with it.  Maybe Randy Bernard is preparing to screw the pooch on this.  Maybe he is looking for an exit strategy where the board at IMS has no choice but to fire him.  I don’t think so.  I think he is ready to go all-in on his biggest bet as the CEO of INDYCAR.  Would INDYCAR dump the safety, reliability, and history of Firestone to secure the long-term viability of the series?  Would they be willing to weather the firestorm of criticism that would surely follow such a decision?  In the culture of corporate America, does money trump everything else?  We know the answers, don’t we.

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