Rambling Thoughts On The BCG Report
By now, most fans of the IZOD IndyCar Series have heard about the report of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG); the consulting firm hired by the Hulman & Company board last year to examine every aspect of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They have released a 115-page report and there has been a multitude of opinions and analysis on many websites for the past several days. Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee also did a good job of dissecting it piece-by-piece last night on Trackside. I took some well-deserved time off from here on Monday, so by now it is old news. I won’t break down the report item by item; but I will offer my thoughts on a few points.
First of all, I was glad to see that BCG felt that the Hulman-George should not sell IMS or INDYCAR. I am a big believer that there needs to be an ownership connection between IMS and the series based around it. I also think that the traditions surrounding the Speedway are too important to its longtime fans, to be handed over to some conglomerate that cares only for the bottom line. The Hulman-George family has owned IMS for almost seventy years. While we may not agree on everything that has transpired over the last two decades, I am a strong proponent of leaving the facility in their hands.
I am also in agreement that the series needs to always be on one network. The question is – which one? The ESPN family of networks offers the greatest opportunity for visibility, but in the past – it has appeared that the series was not treated as a valued property. NBCSN has provided better coverage overall, but no one knows where to find them. The series has been locked into a long-term ten-year cable deal with NBCSN (Versus) since 2009. Although the production quality has been high, ratings have been abysmal – and falling.
BCG has determined that NBCSN may be in violation of their contract by carrying Formula One races this season. As much as I like the production of NBCSN and all of the on-air talent, I just don’t think they have the ability or desire to promote the races effectively enough to grow the series as quickly as needed. I’ve always said if the production of NBCSN could be carried over to the marketing machine of ESPN/ABC – the series could grow at a much quicker rate. With better talent in the booth (translated: dump Marty Reid) and an assurance that ESPN would promote INDYCAR with the same fervor as they do for the NBA, MLB or some of their other properties – there is no telling how the ratings would grow.
Another good idea was to reduce the Leader’s Circle payments to teams and redirect that money into larger purses. As Robin Miller said on Wind Tunnel Sunday night – the $35,000 purses for the winners are a joke. As Miller pointed out, the “start and park” cars in NASCAR earn more than that each week.
Some of BCG’s ideas sound like nothing more than the brainstorming session that Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee had on Trackside last week. One was the running of a second race at IMS in the fall on the road course. That was discussed at length here last Friday. The overwhelming response here and other sites has been that it is a bad idea.
Another idea that I don’t agree with is running a fifteen race season over nineteen weeks for races in the US, then an international series in the offseason. Bad idea. I’ve always argued that the IndyCar season should end on the Labor Day weekend, in order to avoid competing head-to-head with the NFL. They almost accomplished this last season by ending the season in mid-September at Fontana. But in order to do this, they need to start the season earlier than the last weekend in March – a lot earlier. Randy Bernard was in favor of starting the IndyCar season before the Daytona 500. I saw one person suggest that they run the week before Daytona. That’s not a bad idea – all they would be going up against would be regular season college basketball and Daytona qualifying
The problem with the current starting date is that NASCAR will be into its fifth race weekend and Formula One into its second by the time IndyCar gets going. The current offseason has seemed incredibly long. By the time the green flag drops in St. Petersburg, it will have been over six months since IndyCar turned a lap in competition. That is simply too long. By comparison, NASCAR’s offseason is barely three months. Running until a week before Thanksgiving then starting back in mid-February is a little extreme the other way, but the offseason needs to be shortened. Having a season that spans only nineteen weeks, means that there would be a thirty-three week offseason. As far as the international season in the offseason, would even the die-hards watch? In the middle of football season – I’m not so sure I would.
There also needs to be more US races – not fewer. The report indicated that the diversity of the tracks made the series attractive. Some translated this to mean that ovals didn’t matter. Baloney. I still think Randy Bernard’s goal of a 50-50 split between ovals and non-ovals was ideal. He had a long-term eye on reaching that goal when he was fired in October.
Then there is the item that has already been discussed at length – a playoff format similar to the "chase" now followed by NASCAR. The format suggested by BCG would be to hold twelve "regular season" races, followed by three "playoff" races – another bad idea. As Curt Cavin pointed out last night, season-ending drama and suspense is not IndyCar’s problem. Not since 2004 has a champion been crowned before the last race of the season. You have to wonder if any of these people were paying attention as IndyCar headed into the season-finale at Fontana. The situation did not lack drama.
There was one aspect that has been unpopular, that I don’t really have a problem with. Although my wallet wouldn’t be for it, it makes sense to raise ticket prices for the Indianapolis 500. Before moving across the track this year, I had seats in the Pit Road Terrace for ten years. In 2003, the seats cost $80 apiece. For 2013, the seats are still $80. What else costs the same today as it did ten years ago? I certainly wouldn’t blame the board or the Hulman-George family if they raised ticket prices significantly for 2014. I know the costs for running IMS is more today than in 2003.
The thing is – a consulting firm offers multiple suggestions and recommendations. They have no power to implement changes. Now, it would be foolish to spend $1.2 million to not follow any of their suggestions and blindly follow the same path that has led them to the current point of stagnation. That’s like hiring an attorney to guide you through a legal minefield and then ignoring every bit of advice they give you. Some of these ideas are good, some are at least worth considering and some are just plain asinine – like moving Long Beach to August. But the board and the Hulman-George family have the final say. I’m willing to wait to see their reaction and the path they choose, before piling on.