Yo yo yo, peeps. It’s the pre-day-job hours here in the pdog Underground Lair (basement). I can hear the dishwasher working away upstairs and the youngest just left for school (cue the super base THROB that announces her comings and goings), so let’s tap off some dark roast (cream is for the weak) and discuss briefly just a few things.
Racing is All in the Family — The esteemed Peter M. De Lorenzo popped off a magnum opus (like I should talk about column inches) Monday that focuses on the family business nature of NASCAR, to wit its ability and willingness to make unilateral decisions. The most recent machinations at Chicagoland, post Richmond, served as his case in point.
That means France has the last word in NASCAR and Hulman George’s have kind of the first word in IndyCar. France makes his decision, and if a team doesn’t like it they will be unceremoniously cut out of the NASCAR profit gravy train. The Hulman George family has to build consensus or teams may say “screw you” and just go away because there isn’t nearly the financial incentive to stick around. I’d the teams that hang in there are more motivated by some version of “we love open-wheel racing” and the IndyCar series is pretty much the only place to do that here in America.
But I give NASCAR big credit for awareness — much bigger than IndyCar — of where their money comes from, and it ain’t the teams. Not even the sponsors. NASCAR understands that the fans who buy tickets and watch on TV are the ultimate source of revenue for everyone involved in the sport, and they are loath to disappoint fans.
So, when France saw fan reaction to the stuff that went on at Richmond — and sponsor reaction based on fan reaction — the “oh shit” light went off and he made moves in a hurry. Yes, NASCAR is very profit motivated and that had a lot to do with their actions last week. But what’s wrong with being profit motivated? Racing isn’t like a rare art form (classical music, ballet, sculpture, painting) that needs to be preserved for the good of the culture. Buzzer. It’s a business, and running it like a business is a great thing. Maybe NASCAR errs in going a bit over the top in their efforts to attract and retain customers. But it’s better to make changes and fail than to keep the status quo and blame the customer for not buying.
Also, NASCAR actively consults its customers (fans) on what they like, dislike, want and don’t want. I plan a fuller post on this for later, but Chicagoland president Scott Paddock said NASCAR formed a strategic plan based on thousands of hours of interviews with fans about what NASCAR does right and wrong. Sinking big resources into professional research on what keeps customers happy — as opposed to asking five fans and a few relatives or whatever —is an incredibly smart business move.
Juan Pablo Montoya — The Jet Dryer Killer will be back in IndyCar next year, driving for Penske. Insert a series of giddy news conferences and announcements here. (USA Today story here.) All positive response from the IndyCar super fans (as far as I have seen, but I admit I didn’t pay super close attention). I don’t know much about Montoya. He romped through CART, F1 and the Indy 500 when I was not paying attention. Been a pretty big non-factor in NASCAR since he joined up there in 2007.
Sounds like Montoya is coming over as the black hat — people love to hate him. Sometimes you get some outcry about someone like Montoya filling a seat that Driver A, B, C and D “deserve,” but not this time. The phenom Kyle Larson will replace Montoya on the Chippy NASCAR squad. Story.
Sponsors Bolting -- We heard that Nationwide insurance will stop being the “entitlement” sponsor for the NASCAR triple A league after 2014. Story. Allegedly they will invest more in NASCAR Sprint Cup. Also, The AP’s Jena Fryer reported that IZOD is on its way out as “entitlement” sponsor for IndyCar. I couldn’t be more surprised if I woke up with my head sewn to the carpet* on the IZOD news. (*Denotes sarcasm.)
Although the make a nice golf shirt, one of which I own, I don’t think IZOD’s association with IndyCar moved much product at all, despite the “WE’RE SEEING AWESOME ROI!!!” claims after the first year of the deal. In an article from just before the 2011 Indy 500:
“Phillips-Van Heusen (which owns the IZOD brand) chief marketing officer Mike Kelly said the company is putting more than $10 million of IZOD's $30 million annual media spend behind the IndyCar Series, with a good chunk of that going toward the iconic Indy 500.” Read it all here.
The excitement of that article seems incongruous to the rapidly diminishing involvement IZOD has had since then. IZOD has been largely MIA in 2013. IndyCar has even started putting just plain INDYCAR on their apparel with no mention of IZOD. If they were seeing AWESOME ROI I think that IZOD would be more active. Just a crazy guess on my part. Either that or Phillips-Van Heusen just isn’t smart enough to ride a great ROI vehicle for all it’s worth.
What I think happened (and this is just yanking stuff of my ass) is that a new head guy came into IZOD replacing Kelly, took a look at the numbers and said, “ah, yeah, right.” More and more these decisions are very numbers driven, and not about what the CMO himself or herself personally likes. Chief Marketing Officers are responsible for return on investment (not always sales numbers, sometimes the more subjective brand equity building kind of thing). Woman of pressdog Cameron Haven, the IZOD Trophy Girl, is long gone and it appears IZOD is out the door as well. But, it could be that the new guy thinks, personally, that IndyCar racing is goofy. But I highly doubt it was a personal decision.I also think a lot of people like to think it's a decision based on personal taste, because if that is true then it's not because IndyCar's ROI was rubbish.
Also, just today, NAPA announced it was ditching Michael Waltrip Racing via a Facebook post:
"After thorough consideration, NAPA has made the difficult decision to end its sponsorship arrangement with Michael Waltrip Racing effective December 31, 2013. NAPA believes in fair play and does not condone actions such as those that led to the penalties assessed by NASCAR. We remain supportive of the millions of NASCAR fans and will evaluate our future position in motorsports."
Two things. One, I called it, sort of (here). As I said, pissing off fans and creating a "cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater vibe about your brand is way way way more damaging than just not making the Chase.
Second, NAPA has already had an estimated 182 calls from other teams looking to pick up it's sponsorship.
Who knows why Nationwide is bailing as the title sponsor of NASCAR’s top minor league system. You’ll only get a lot of marketing speak about “maximizing revenues in other avenues.” But they were the top sponsor for seven years and certainly activated the shit out of it with TV ads, etc. I know without looking that there are “Danica’s sponsors are leaving her!” stretch from Nationwide leaving NASCAR No. 2. Whatever.Speaking of Danica — Under the radar cluttered with the Richmond Sandbagging Debacle, Danica Patrick had a good race at Chicagoland. She started P23 and finished 20th and had good, clean race. Having virtually everyone distracted by the reaction to Richmond let Danica get on with it. It seems like she’s been consciously (and sometimes audibly) managing her own expectations.
From her post-race news release:
“I thought it was all right,” said Patrick, who made her 37th Sprint Cup start and her second at Chicago. “We weren’t the fastest car out there, but we were decent and relatively consistent. At the beginning of the year, top-20s were the goal based on last year and we had to readjust that a bit, but now that’s kind of where we’re falling in with things. The cars are getting better, and I’m learning things. It’s going in the right direction. I’d like it to go further, but I’ll take any progress. Overall, it was a good night for the GoDaddy team. The pit crew was great once again, and it was a positive night for us.” Read it all here.
Danica continues to do a lot of high-profile stuff away from the track, like winning an athlete’s version of the Food Network’s Chopped (story here.) She’ll be co-hosting the 4th Annual American Country Awards with Trace Adkins which will air on December 10 on FOX. News release. It’s all good for NASCAR as well as Danica, because she’s always introduced as a NASCAR driver/star whatever. Throw some video of her in her car up there and you dramatically increase NASCAR’s exposure. Plus, these extra gigs show the big power of the Danistar brand is still in effect.
Testing, testing -- Many (if not all) teams are heading out to California Speedway on Sept. 24 for a test. Details. IndyCar had to do something about these yawning empty spots toward the end of their schedule. Three weeks between Mid Ohio and Sonoma, FIVE weeks between Baltimore and Houston (Sept.) 11 to Oct. 5 holy momentum destroyer.
I also saw some cryptic tweets about Road America and IndyCar in 2014. Lots of bag breathing (excitement) over that. The chorus of "IndyCar should run Road America" has been loud and long. The Chicagoland Speedway president said last weekend he would gladly welcome IndyCar back to his track, but it seemed clear that the cost structure was the issue. No track will host a race event and LOSE money. So, although nobody said nothing to me, I would bet a lot of money that the issue between IndyCar and Chicagoland is the sanctioning fee IndyCar wants. Chicagoland wants it to be low or zero, of course, and IndyCar doesn't want to go race somewhere and lose money either. Chicagoland also clearly wants a multi-year commitment.
Hey, lots of spewage. Better do the day job. NASCAR at New Hampshire this week, and then then Kansas next week. I'll be at Kansas live and in person.
Check out a few photos from my trip to Chicagoland here. So ... let's go make some money today! Peace out ...