Something this amazing is causing me to break my 14-day IndyCar hiatus.
The evidence is pretty clear to me, based on Marshall Pruett's two-part article on Randy Bernard's ouster, that the majority of IndyCar still does not get how important fans are. And, frankly, we've about had enough.
But the part that really communicates that vast sections of IndyCar don't understand that fans ultimately -- directly or indirectly -- provide all the revenue for the series, came in Part 2, when Pruett recounts a driver's reaction to fans' outrage that Bernard had been forced out. Pruett writes:
As one driver told me, a public uproar over losing a CEO, rather than an equal or greater uproar to solve IndyCar’s problems or promote its drivers, has been troubling.
“Can you imagine NASCAR fans getting pissed because [NASCAR president] Mike Helton was fired? They wouldn't give a damn as long as Dale Jr., Jimmie Johnson and the rest are out racing on Sunday.
“Maybe the drivers need Randy's PR machine because I don't remember this much backlash when even a top IndyCar driver lost his job.”
Pruett was clearly talking to a person who does not understand what fans want, or what drives fans to care. What's needed to get fans to care is not a "PR machine." Let's examine that premise. Randy's PR Machine. What was that? What was this Big PR Effort that Randy Bernard allegedly mounted, that drivers really need, according to this person?
Here it is. Brace for it. I went to college, so don't beat yourself up that you couldn't figure it out for yourself .... Randy interacted with fans. BOOM. The Big PR Machine is REVEALED. All Randy did, was ask fans what they think. That, all by itself, was something incredibly new in IndyCar. Invite fan input? LUNACY. Bernard gave out his email address and .. this is critical ... respond to fan emails. He had conversations with fans.Of course he did not agree with fans all the time. Of course he did not just blindly do what fans wanted. Nobody expected him to. People just like to know their ideas are being considered. No rational fan expects their every idea to be adopted. We all know that sometimes we're wrong or have dumb ideas. All we care about is that someone 1) wants our input and 2) gives us consideration and 3) replies. That's creating a dialog, and it is not rocket science.
That was the bulk of his Big PR Machine. CLEARLY that is too much for teams and drivers to do without the aid of a team of 19 PR reps. I mean, how can drivers be expected to interact with fans on Twitter for say, a savagely long 45 minutes a day? How can drivers be expected to respond to some fan emails now and then or actively update their fan Facebook pages? How can drivers be expected to carve 30 minutes out of their jam-packed race weekends to do a Q&A in the fan zone or just mingle? It's INSANITY to suggest those things because drivers and team owners are clearly non-stop busy around the clock 24/7 with no time for side issues like building relationships with fans.
You'll get no argument from me that Randy Bernard had flaws aplenty and made big mistakes, and handled some things poorly, and had missteps throughout his career as IndyCar CEO, and was rough around the edges. This was far from a perfect man. And yet, he was very popular with hard-core fans. Why?
Simply because he cared what the fans thought. That's the secret sauce. The Big PR Machine. He also made himself available to the media at every race. Every single race that I am aware of Bernard made an informal appearance in the media center and took whatever questions the media had. That drove stories, which fans read, and they said "at least this guy is telling us what's going on."
The fact that all it took for Bernard to become very popular with very invested fans was to talk to them via social media and email, and make himself available for 30 minutes in the media center at every race, and give interviews to whoever asked for them tells you how attention starved IndyCar fans have become.
But the fact that building these simple relationships with fans is what makes someone popular with said fans is lost on the quoted driver -- and it seams most (but by no means all) of IndyCar is the most telling evidence that IndyCar just ... does not ... get it. Free tip: Make finding and keeping the kind of fans you want your first priority, and everyone makes ass-loads of cash. And it doesn't take a Big PR Machine. A small one will do fine.
IndyCar should not try to appeal to everyone, just as all businesses don't chase everyone as a customer. Some customers can actually cost you money. A huge toilet paper wholesaler doesn't want my consumer business. They want to sell to Target. Likewise IndyCar does not want to try to appeal to every consumer. They can't appeal to fans who want bashing and wrecks and festivals of flying cars. So don't chase those customers. Chase the ones who like road and street racing and non-contact oval racing. Figure out what customer you want, figure out what those customers want from you, give it to them, build relationships with them, make lots of money. This seriously Business 101. And the most infuriating thing for me is that I've been saying this -- to the level I get accused of repeating myself and whining -- for literally years.
And every time I run through this fans-first strategy, I think "I have to sound like a preachy prick here. Surely they know this stuff." So I'm done urging IndyCar to put fans first. God knows I'm well on record.
If I were IndyCar (that includes league, owners, drivers, boards of directors) I'd move quickly to get beyond platitudes posted on IndyCar.com and left to sit there for four months with no action. Fans (who share my attitude) are sick of this crap, frankly, and we want you to SHOW us the love (you figure out how to do that), not just tell us you love us, because we are pissed off and tired of being taken for granted. There are lots of competitors out there that want our money, from NASCAR to F1 to Knoxville Raceway and other sports on TV and movies at the cinemaplex. We can't spend our money in two places or watch two things on TV at once, so convince us we should spend and watch with you, or we're walking.
Run the fact that your audience is leaving en masse by Firestone, IZOD, Target, etc. etc. etc. and see what they say. Then get back to us about "core constituencies."