I put these questions to John Lewis, VP Marketing & League Development, IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights.
Props to John for getting back to me very quickly, and to Amy Konrath, IndyCar PR Czarina for rigging the whole deal.
pressdog:A while ago you were on Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee and talked about surveying the fan base, gathering fan/viewer opinions, etc. Can you give us a recap of what IndyCar has done in the last year or so to talk to fans and learn what they like, dislike, etc.
Lewis:We use several avenues to gage fan interest. As the world focus evolves towards more of a “social networking” platform, it makes it easier to get real time opinions. Here are a few specific sources we currently use for fan data:
- Foresite Research – We have pre and post unification data that was independently surveyed by Foresite. Everything from sponsor awareness, what tracks are fan favorites, to what kind of engine fans want to see in the next generation IndyCar.
- Marketing Informatics – A company focused more on trends and psychological data. They break down their data by gender, frequency, sociological class etc. A great source of data to project what fans expect next and who’s consuming the product.
- IndyCar.com / IndyCar Nation – we post and monitor chats and strings important to the fan base.
- IndyCar DownForce – We have both a website forum for communication as well as a rotating ‘advisory board’. These are our most passionate fans that consume IndyCar racing at a higher frequency.
- Focus groups – last winter we sat alongside VERSUS and surveyed six focus groups. Three groups in Indianapolis and three groups in Dallas, TX. These fans were asked primarily about TV coverage and what they like and don’t like about traditional IndyCar broadcasting practices.
- Online / Exit Surveys – Both at track and online polls have been conducted randomly the past 36 months (when I took the VP of Marketing position)
- Simmons–Experian – They are a top 3 data provider in the country. Their specialty is consumer market research.
pressdog: What are your plans to survey fans in the 2010 season?
Lewis: This plan is currently being developed. We most likely will assemble a blend of online, third party and focus group testing. Simmons-Experian is new to IndyCar and will be used to validate various other independent surveys and consumer trends.
pressdog: What have fans been saying? What are the top few concerns that seem to current IndyCar product?
Lewis: Typical off-season anxiety:
- How many cars will race in 2010?
- What driver changes are happening in the off season?
- Any new sponsors coming on for 2010?
- What will IZOD do in 2010 to promote the sport?
- How many fans do you expect to attend the Brazil race?
- What chassis/engines will be chosen for the 2012 season?
pressdog: What do they seem to like most about IndyCar racing; what do fans see as your strengths?
Lewis: Without question, the most popular attribute of IndyCar racing liked by the fans is speed. By far the most common response.
pressdog: Do you see NASCAR as you biggest competitor for the attention and disposable income of the fans, or is it something else (or a combo of something elses)?
Lewis: Since you’re asking a personal opinion question, I’ll give you a person opinion response. Perception is our biggest challenge. For 15 years we’ve been hosting the best racing available. The IRL has redefined the standard for open wheel racing expectations. Whether it be oval races finishing at less than one second apart, to now the most competitive street and road racing. Too much cynicism and negativity follows this sport.
Do your research and see what standard is expected now from open wheel racing. Entire starting fields will qualify in less than a half second on some ovals and more than 15 cars finish on the lead lap. I remember races in the early nineties when one car would finish on the lead lap and 3 seconds would separate qualifying in the first 5 positions. We need to do a better job telling our story. We have a lot of positive things to share. NASCAR has done a phenomenal job promoting their sport and I harbor no ill will towards them. All sports and entertainment choices are competition to our brand of racing. We focus on providing the most compelling race product available. We have a long journey ahead, but we like the story we have to tell.
pressdog: Is there anything, positive or negative, that popped up in fan comments that surprised you?
Lewis: Most recently the fan response to the new chassis designs. I didn’t have a preconceived opinion as to which direction fans would want the 2012 IndyCar to look like, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be so polarizing. I think polarizing is healthy. Indifference is what scares me.
pressdog: Without getting into the specific car concepts, did fans give you general feedback on what they want to see in a car?
Lewis: Similar to my answers to the question just above. Most fan feedback was about the racing ‘product’. They’ve come to expect close, fast racing. As long as the car delivers good results. The car appearance feedback varied greatly, but the constant was the racing.
pressdog: Do you have plans to seek input or thoughts on the 2012 car concepts?
Lewis: That’s being done already through the various social media platforms. As soon as indycar.com released the car proposals, opinions were submitted and monitored. Even going back to the Design School of Pasadena and Art Center of Detroit renderings, fans had a voice and we listened.
pressdog: What's the best way for fans who have an idea, comment etc. to make that known to IndyCar leaders?
Lewis: Email. I get comments and questions daily through the ‘comments’ section of indycar.com. We do pay attention. (Send your comments in HERE.)
pressdog: Do you find IndyCar fans to be a passionate group? Talk about the level of enthusiasm you encounter.
Lewis: Without question a very passionate group. We’re lucky to have the passionate fans that we have. Most IndyCar fans are evangelists. We need to continue to build more critical mass.
pressdog: What do you hear about the mix of circuits that the series runs?
Lewis: At first I believe it was a stumbling block. But with the passage of time and the quality number of events we’ve been fortunate to inherit, I think it adds great diversity to our brand. I too think this had to do with perception. Some fans long for the side-by-side racing at Texas, and others like the intricate turns of St. Pete. I have my opinions too, but coming up in this organization for 15 years, I’ve learned to appreciate both. I would hope our fan base does as well.
pressdog: Is there a vision of an ideal IndyCar series that seems to be held by most fans? In other words, in a perfect world, fans would love to have ..
Lewis: The common denominator is ‘health’. Our fans want more races, more cars and more drivers.
pressdog: What does the league do with the input it gets with fans? How is it used?
Lewis: We process all data we receive. Whether it be a complaint or a compliment, we listen to them all. We have a strong group of leaders here at the IRL that dedicate every day served to making IndyCar racing better. Relationships are important in all facets of business, and the fan relationship is no exception. Sometimes fans don’t understand decisions the League must make, be we hope they can appreciate that we don’t make them lightly.
pressdog: Anything else you'd like fans to know? Free shot ...
Lewis: Our fans need to know they’re important. Actions speak louder than words…so I would rather show fans we care, not just tell them.