Is it or is it not all about fans? -- That’s the central question here. I say it is; others say “that’s too simplistic.” I say “I am seriously sick of this debate,” yet I keep getting into it.
Let’s recap. Last week we heard that Dreyer and Reinbold Racing would cease operations — they hope temporarily — after the Indy 500. Then, last night, Jenna Fryer tweeted: “I know of at least 1 other #IndyCar owner grumbling of scaling back after #Indy500 because of sponsorship. This is a problem, @markdmiles53 (IMS CEO Mark Miles)”
People on Twitter know this feeling: when you type out a Tweet and you KNOW you shouldn’t send it, or that sending it would open a whole big can of worms, and you send it anyway and SHOCKER, it opens a whole big can of worms. Bad pressdog, bad bad pressdog. I should have known better.
So this big Twitter thing ensued wherein we had the same argument about what IndyCar needs to do to grow. Same exact argument we’ve had at least 30 times since 2005 when I started blogging about IndyCar. Last night was just 75 more slugs fired into the dead horse. And really, the net take away, is almost always “stop your bitching you negative Nelly!”
The question is why are DRR and maybe another team going to shut down or scale way back after the Indy 500?
Rush right now to iTunes or www.1070thefan.com/trackside and listen to the podcast for the April 30 Trackside broadcast. Right at the front of the show hosts Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee talk to Robbie Buhl, co-owner of DRR. It’s a great, focused interview. Props to Curt, Kevin and Robbie. I just listened to it myself. During the interview, Robbie says...
”Based on sponsor and partner revenue coming in for us right now it’s not enough to get us through the year the way you want, the way we want, the way you have to compete at the level in IndyCar these days because the competition is fantastic.”
Not a news flash. As expected, the reason for the shutdown is lack of sponsor dollars to continue. The $69 zillion dollar question is, “what brings in more sponsor dollars?” I say it’s 97% based on fan numbers, and since sponsors ultimately want to reach fans, more fans bring in more sponsors. Other say “it’s more than just fans.” I’m seriously open to hearing what the league needs beyond more fans. I swear. But I either I’m forgetting or I don’t see any more detailed offered on what is needed to find and keep sponsors. There is a lot of discussion around HOW to bring in more fans to be sure (lose the spec nature of the series, get off NBC Sports Network, etc. etc.), but not a ton of non-fan-number-based theory commentary.
In the Trackside interview, Robbie also said:
“It’s real money that puts these cars on the race track and makes them go ‘round, so again, as we bring partners in and we talk to folks that are interested and want to help out we have to provide them a return for what they are getting and sometimes that doesn’t always match up.”
Return on investment, aka ROI. That’s the ticket. But what generates that return for sponsors? Is 97% of ROI driven by the number of fan eyeballs on the sport, both in person and on TV, or am I missing something? I honestly would love to know. In this article from Nate Ryan in USA Today, Mark Miles seems to agree raising TV ratings (which is driven by the number of human eyeballs watching the TV) would lift a lot of boats.
“Miles said the report indicated that an average ratings increase of a single point, putting IndyCar in the ballpark with NASCAR's Nationwide circuit, would result in millions of extra sponsorship dollars for teams and tracks.”
Obviously, it’s easy to say “IndyCar needs more fans watching in person and on TV.” The extremely difficult part actually growing the fan base. At no time have I ever said that would be easy. In fact I’ve repeatedly said that will be brutally difficult. But (prepare for odious racing saying) it is what it is.
So whenever I say “IndyCar needs more fans” I almost always get “they’re already doing A, B, C, D and E, what more can they do?” Then a bunch of people jump in with ideas, many of them we’ve heard many times before, and we all get huffy and eventually move on to other stuff, like getting up at 4:30 a.m. to write this, yet another post about what ails IndyCar. Here’s a compilation of some of ideas from the past, just to be on record.
My main thought is, if fan growth is Life-and-Death Priority 1, then all of IndyCar — teams and the league — should make it their Life-and-Death Priority 1 and work together to build and execute a plan, together, that will attract more fans. Everyone in a sinking lifeboat, even if they hate each other, should be pretty motivated to help bail water (it seems to me). But that doesn’t happen if half the people in the boat are in denial that it’s taking on water.
So while you’re forming a competition committee, form a Fan Attraction Committee with reps from EVERY team to collectively get focused on working together to attract fans. Maybe that is happening now. I hope so, but I’m unaware of it.
But, if I’m full of shit and just being simplistic (which are definite possibilities), IndyCar should proceed in a different direction. I have no idea what that would be, but the status quo isn’t working. Ratings are flat as a pancake for the last few years, unless you’d like to quibble about 10% growth on 0.30 TV ratings.
When it’s all said and done, after bawling about lack of fan outreach/attraction since probably 2007, I’m over it. I’ve participated in the debate 35 times, minimum, made the same points, got the same response. Either I’m wrong or I’m well on record (possibly both). Either way, it’s time to shut up about it. I’m going to leave this one to the people who have skin in the game, that being the teams and the league, and focus on enjoying what I enjoy and not get knotted up over the future of IndyCar. My bad in not having the self discipline to SHUT MY CAKE HOLE on twitter about these issues. Lesson (re)learned.
British Women — Good news for two Women of pressdog Brits this week. First, Pippa Mann, pride of Ipswich, Suffolk, England, announced she will be joining Dale Coyne Racing and attempt to qualify for her second Indy 500. I’m a friend and fan of Pippa, so I had to take a moment when I found out she had achieved her passionate goal of getting a ride for the Indy 500.
Nobody has worked it harder than Pippa to try to find sponsorship. There are a lot of fan-focused drivers out there, but none more so than Pippa. She lives in Indy and is at every fan event she’s invited to. She’s everywhere. She’s tweeting and posting diaries. My viewing of the Indy 500 will be greatly enhanced via Pippa’s participation. Zach Houton captured it well over at IndyCar Advocate here http://www.indycaradvocate.com/2013/05/pippas-persistence-personality-valuable.html
I also talked to Katherine Legge, who is from Haslemere, Surrey, England, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haslemere on Saturday. I admit being fascinated with Katherine who remains a bit of an enigma (wrapped in a riddle surrounded by a mystery). I think it’s her kindred introverted spirit that does it for me.
“I am very introverted person,” she said Saturday when I asked her if my Fellow Introvert Radar was correct. “I always have been. But at the same time, to make it in this sport you have to do the meet and greets. I honestly don’t mind doing it. I enjoy doing it. I enjoy meeting the people, but the at-home Katherine isn’t very gregarious or anything like that. I have a very small, very close circle of friends and family. I guess there are two Katherine maybe.”
That’s the definition of introvert. We can and often do enjoy interacting with others, but we use solitude to sort of recharge the batteries. Extroverts are the opposite. They can enjoy solitude, but they need interpersonal interaction to recharge. Nobody is 100% introvert or extrovert, so there are elements of both in everyone. I, for example, after a day alone in the Underground Lair will need to go to a store or something just to get out and see other people.
I have no idea what Katherine is like day-to-day, or like to work with, or any of that, but there’s something about her schwerve … Anyway, we talked about her experience driving the DeltaWing and her experiences after being pitched out of her IndyCar ride in February. She’s not letting go of her legal action against Dragon and former sponsor TrueCar, both of which say they are Not Guilty of any wrongdoing. We’ll all just have to wait and see how the court case plays out, if it plays out.
Katherine still holds hope for getting a ride for Indy, but the odds are long. That doesn’t mean she’s giving up. It might mean she is eventually defeated. Those are two different things. Katherine has been defeated before, but she says she’s never given up on anything ever, and I tend to believe her. She has also broadened her focus in finding a race car to drive in a wider set of series, including sports cars, etc. and not just holding out for an IndyCar. Wise move, given all of the above. I have long been an advocate for drivers taking the best available job that appeals to them, regardless of what the vehicle is (IndyCar, sports car, NASCAR, DeltaWing, motorcycle, sprint car, whatever).
Talladega — the Love/Hate 499 at 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway is upon us. I say love/hate because that’s what I hear about Talladega. There are a lot of people out there saying “DEGA, BABY!!” and clearly stoked about the race. There are also a lot who say “ristsrictor plate racing is a menace and will get people killed!!” It’s a fascinating dichotomy. We love the pack … but we hate it. It’s exciting … but then again so are near-death experiences.
Talladega seems to share the whole “it’s an event, not just a race” vibe with the Indy 500 and Daytona. I think the popularity and buzz caused by Talladega is good for NASCAR for a lot of reasons, one less obvious one is it helps keep balance in the schedule. Having a few HUGE races is a good thing compared to having one HUGE HUGE (Indianapolis) race and a bunch of smaller ones. It’s kind of an “eggs not all in one basket” kind of vibe I’m talking about here.
Not a lot of pre-Talladega buzz happening that I am aware of, aside from the NASCAR Penske penalties being upheld by the tribunal yesterday. (Story) Penske will appeal so the NASCAR media (and they are legion) will get to hold another stakeout for that verdict. Danica Patrick will drive in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races at Talladega. Insert 87 stories about that here.
So the weekend racing situation is this:
- NASCAR Nationwide from Talladega, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN
- NASCAR Sprint Cup from Talladega, Sunday, 1 p.m. Eastern, FOX
- IndyCar from Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, 11 a.m. Eastern NBC Sports Network
Gotta go. Have a good one. And remember … kittens and rainbows and don’t harsh your own mellow via tedious arguments.