No one should be surprised at the recent announcement that INDYCAR has entered into an agreement with USA Today Sports Media Group as a preferred marketing partner. It seems that the bosses at INDYCAR and Hulman Motorsports have decided to control a little more of the message leaving the confines of 16th and Georgetown in Indianapolis. The hard core fans wanted action, right? Here is is.
Since Mark Miles took over at Human & Company, change has been the reality for INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The board of the company has changed, leaving the family with decidedly less power to act on whim, misinformation, or provincial politics. The entire structure of racing has been reformed as Hulman Motorsports, putting both INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway under the authority of Mark Miles, as well as consolidating many of the duplicate jobs of both the series and the Speedway. C. J. O’Donnell was brought in as the Chief Marketing Officer of Hulman Motorsports and Jay Fry was brought on board as the Chief Revenue Officer. In other words, the series and the Speedway are essentially one entity now being run by motorsport professionals. Derrick Walker brought a racing background to the series as the Director of Competition. Allison Melangton, the leader of the Indiana Sports Corp team that brought Indy the Super Bowl, is now Senior VP of Events. Even though this is all old news, it is mentioned to note that the leadership team is now in place.
Now the new game has started. In recent years the series and its leadership have been ignored and bullied in the media. The Indy 500 aside, news organizations have not followed the Verizon IndyCar Series on a national level. Other than as a sidebar or in agate type, news about the series and its races was difficult to find and impossible to promote. What made it worse was, other than the Indianapolis Star, only online sources followed the series on a regular basis. Every fault was magnified and every mistake dissected in a quest for clicks. All the series could do was grin and bear it. At least until they were ready to act.
The announcement last week was the act. By teaming with USA Today Sports Media Group, INDYCAR just swung for the fences. Yes, it is going to cost INDYCAR some folding money to do this, but the possible return on investment is enormous. Cogitate on these numbers. Gannett Company, Inc., the parent group of USA Today, has 81 publishing groups with both print and digital coverage. They own 46 TV stations. Gannett’s domestic internet audience is 65 million unique visitors a month. USA Today has 6.6 million readers daily across its platforms. The team at INDYCAR finally has the audience to market the series. The ball is rolling.
The team at Hulman Racing is built with some pretty smart boys and girls. They knew a quick-fix was not an option. It seems they turned down the volume on the digital naysayers and opted to have a plan and stick with it. It is agreed that the schedule is a thorn in their side. They have to know that, and Mark Miles’ recent comments that he did not make himself clear on how the series wants 20 races with a late winter start certainly seems to be an acknowledgement of the fact that sponsors, partners, and teams want a longer season to market themselves. Smart people learn from their mistakes.
The series will not forget its hard core followers. These fans will most certainly appreciate a growing series with more media visibility. And they will always have the digital websites, message boards, and social media to vent their anger and discuss the minutia of the series they love to hate and hate to love. They just won’t be as loud.
Will this work to build the series? Who knows? It certainly is INDYCAR flexing its muscles and finding a media partner who will help to promote it, not constantly castigate it. IndyCar fans have certainly been conditioned to hope for the best but expect the worst. Hopefully, this new partnership is the beginning of the momentum the series needs.