If you read business books about companies in crisis (or headed there), you kind of say to yourself, "IndyCar." At least I do. Symptoms: a recent history of flailing about for strategies, switching course often, unclear brand, employees going in 19 different directions.
Not saying it's OVER for IndyCar by any stretch, but everyone involved needs to realize that they're in a knife fight for survival and govern themselves accordingly.
What happens a lot is big companies get successful, think it's all about them, spend tons of time considering their own awesomeness and getting caught up in the minutia (like nine vice presidents spending five hours each sweating over a detail that might make the company $53, maybe), treat customers like crap, act like they are a monopoly and they're doing customers/fans a HUGE favor by taking their money.
Then, customers realize we really have all the power in this deal (in the American free enterprise system as a whole, really) and say F YOU! and take their money to a hungry, customer-focused competitor. IBM, meet Apple in 1984. And then these displaced customers tell their friends and associates how shitty they were treated by the offending company (insert social media here).
The business is subsequently shocked ... SHOCKED ... that sales/revenue/profits are in the shitter. HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN? They scream. We're so awesome!! Customers should realize how lucky they were to have us to give their money to! They'll come crawling back. You wait and see.
That's a LETHAL attitude in any business, and racing is a business. Witness NASCAR. Cruising along, thinking they were The Shit, then sponsorship did a wingover into the crappper in 2008. Suddenly NASCAR couldn't just show up and get big companies to pelt them with million-dollar checks, because they had to compete for marketing budgets with a zillion other competitors and show some return on investment potential. What drives return on sponsor investment?
F-yeah! You and me. We got the powah. Insert the song "The Power" from Snap! We got the POWAH. You can ... wait for it ... turn the TV off. BAM. YOU have the ultimate nuclear weapon for any TV program -- pulling the plug. BOOM goes the thermal-nuclear weapon. I can pull the plug, and Bob Johnson, mighty media CEO, even though he takes a Leer Jet to the grocery store and brushes his teeth with $302-per-bottle single malt, can't to JACK SHIT about it. You aren't the boss of me, Bob. You can bail from this post. You can go outside and play golf instead of watching IndyCar. And nobody in the world can stop you.
The RAW beauty of the American free enterprise system is that the consumers got ALL the POWAH. The power NOT to buy, view, do something. And nothing, nothing, nothing gets change in America like customers leaving/not buying. And that is most brutally true on TV. No audience, no show. Successful TV networks have no mercy when it comes to shows that consumers don't watch. BAM. GONE.
Conversely, you got the POWAH to encourage stuff with your purchase decisions. Basically putting your money where your mouth/heart are. Love recylcing? Buy products made with recycled stuff. Guess what? If more people vote similarly with their dollars there will soon be TONS of products made with recycled materials. Walmart now sells lots of organic food. Why? 'Cause they love the earth? Nope. Because their customers want it. WHAM. Smart businesses find customer demands and meet them and ... wait for it again .. make ass loads of money. Love IndyCar? Watch every race. Get your friends to watch too.
SO, back to NASCAR. Suddenly after sponsors decided they wanted to see some ROI evidence, NASCAR drivers seemed to say, "OH SHIT, we need fans!" Insert huge exclamation points coming off their heads here.
I think/hope/pray IndyCar is at that point. You can't cash alibis and excuses for crappy TV ratings and poor attendance at the bank. That's just an economic reality. Nothing personal. Randy Bernard definitely gets this notion of Fans Are Everything. The latest evidence is here in George's Phillips' excellent two-part interview with Bernard at Oilpressure.com.
Top three priorities: customer, customer, customer. Everything else comes fourth or lower. Including drivers, teams, sponsors, bloggers, etc. etc. etc. Here's hoping everyone who makes a living or gets to drive race cars in IndyCar because fans show up understands that.