Will IndyCar Maximize The Offseason?

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When I wrote about the significance of winning the Verizon IndyCar championship on Wednesday, long-time reader and commenter Ron Ford of the Milwaukee area had a very astute observation that brought up a very good question. How will IndyCar capitalize on this latest championship?

When Ryan Hunter-Reay won the championship in 2012, it was celebrated as the first American IndyCar championship since Sam Hornish in 2006. Unlike Hornish, Hunter-Reay was a marketer’s dream. He was likeable, articulate, good-looking and had a great personality for promoting the series. There was only one problem – nothing happened.

This wasn’t Hunter-Reay’s fault. From what I understand, he made himself available at all times – just like he did after winning the Indianapolis 500 this past May. I’m not quite sure who dropped the ball, but someone did. Granted, this was about the same time that former CEO Randy Bernard found himself in the crosshairs of the owners. Just a little more than a month after Hunter-Reay won the championship, Randy Bernard was unceremoniously dumped.

While a marketing strategy should have been being executed, the higher-ups at IndyCar were doing their best to circle the wagons amidst all the uncertainty and turmoil. This was also about the time that it was becoming painfully clear that IZOD was just going to wait out their contract and do only what was required. Even though Hunter-Reay was the face of their company at one time, they showed no interest in doing anything to promote the series.

In the meantime, we had a fresh-faced American champion that pretty much went unpublicized throughout the offseason.

There is no such excuse this time. Mark Miles will have been on board for two years this coming December. He has had his marketing team in place for almost a year now. Surely they have developed a plan to utilize Will Power’s ties to Verizon, who is in the unique position of being the champion’s sponsor as well as the title sponsor of the series.

While I have been short on praise for Mark Miles in a lot of areas, let’s give praise where it is due. While everyone assumed that the series would go unsponsored for 2014, he got the Verizon deal done very quickly. Some would say it was almost too quick, considering how little Verizon merchandise was available at Indianapolis this past May. But after being on board as title sponsor for six months, it is my hope that an active marketing plan has been evolving during that time.

As Ron Ford pointed out, the only thing we fans have been made aware of is that Will Power was to be on David Letterman last night. After that, we can only hope that something is in the works besides seeing a few pictures of Will Power making the rounds next Spring before the opening race.

Mark Miles has been coming under more fire recently, perhaps rightfully so. His insistence of ending next season by Labor Day has put the Fontana race in jeopardy, even though MAV TV has already renewed to be the race sponsor for another two years. If Fontana does return, you can bet it won’t be on Labor Day weekend. He rubbed many the wrong way by missing Qualifying weekend at Indianapolis because he was in Atlanta spearheading a failed Super Bowl bid for Indianapolis. Some feel that he has been more reactive than proactive in setting up the 2015 schedule. After being told that 2014 was to be a transition year, many feel that 2015 isn’t looking much different.

Being the head of open-wheel racing is a thankless job. Just ask Bill Stokkan, Andrew Craig, Bobby Rahal, Joe Heitzler, Chris Pook, Randy Bernard or even Tony George for that matter. No one has come out the other end alive. If Mark Miles wants to re-write history and end that trend, he needs to have a productive offseason. Seeing the new champion being relentlessly promoted would be a good start.

What does that entail? I don’t know. I’m not that smart. If I were, I would have applied for the job. But Mark Miles is a smart man, as is the team he has assembled around him. I’m hoping they have the most productive offseason in history. The clock has started.

George Phillips

Please Note: Sometimes real life creeps into this site. Susan and I have guests in from out-of-town this weekend and I also have a very important project due for work on Monday. Therefore, there will be no post here on Monday Sep 8, but I will return on Wed Sep 10. – GP

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18 Responses to “Will IndyCar Maximize The Offseason?”

  1. While my memory is unreliable and I refuse to stand by any statement I make, it seems like a year or so ago there were
    more people agreeing that Indycar shouldn’t compete with football.

    The Indycar champ gets about as much airtime and attention as the NCAA Lacrosse Champions. Maybe less. I think the window of opportunity is gone for this years champ–maybe next year.

  2. They don’t promote their races. Why would they promote their champion? Plus it starts with the races. If people don’t care about the races, guess what, the champion means nothing.

    It starts with finally getting a fairly set schedule. About 25 races. Half ovals, half road/street courses. Make them work. Keep consistent dates and let the races begin to build a “tradition” of their own. Then people might pay attention to the champion. I guess I’m saying they have a lot more issues to handle before they worry about promoting the champion. Starting with promoting their own races.

  3. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    To answer the question posed by the title of your entry, I’d be silly to not bet on ‘No’. Hoping to be wrong though. Time will tell. Wish in one hand…

  4. They should indeed make the best out of their long off-season. Like celebrate the arrival of each aero kit publicly with the involvement of as many sponsors as possible, and in the respective sponsor’s outlets as well.

    An exhibition race during the testing period would be cool but it’s debatable if the teams would be up for it since they reportedly are laying off most of their staff until the start of the new season. Of course, the only place in which such an exhibition race could draw a crowd would be IMS itself. Maybe make it 150 miles, run it in early October and maybe try out a new broadcasting partner for it if NBCSN does not want it. Or would that be too early as far as the testing progress is concerned?

    I suppose it’s too late for that now due to the production cycle of hte aero kits. Yet, fans can have some crazy ideas 😉

  5. Others have hit on it. It’s a supply and demand situation. You can’t just roll up to the Today show and say “HERE’S THE INDYCAR CHAMPION, WE’RE COMING ON YOUR SHOW TODAY!” They’d say “the what? IndyCar? Huh?” Likewise if you call the New York Times or Sports Illustrated and say “you should do a massive feature on the IndyCar Champion” they’d say “why?” SI covers about 10 other sports with 2x the fans IndyCar has. I see tweets about IndyCar PR taking Willy P to NYC for a media tour. Not sure what more they could do without actually investing money in marketing (as opposed to public relations). When 400,000 people reliably watch your races on TV, you ARE on the Lacrosse Champion level. That’s just free-enterprise MURICA at work. Once again, it all comes back to building the fan base. Slowly, methodically over the years and decades something IndyCar is really really poor at doing.

    • Actually, ‘dog, the TV numbers from this year largely indicate that that last sentence (“building the fan base…slowly, methodically”) indicate that IndyCar gets that that’s their goal, and that is what is going on. Are we back up to 1994 or even 2004 TV numbers? Oh, lord no. But things are going in the right direction right now, by most measurable metrics. Yes, there were some blips in the wrong direction (Fontana’s TV number, crowds at a few of the events, for a variety of reasons), but just because the last number we saw (TV rating and attendance at the last event) were down doesn’t mean that every positive number we saw for the season is negated and that IndyCar is totally lost again.

      People have gotta have some patience here. Yeah, there are a couple thousand of us who sit on Twitter for chunks of the day, refreshing their feed every 30 seconds in the hopes that there’s some bombshell of good news that means that 1.5-2.0 TV ratings are just around the corner, but stuff doesn’t work like that. It feels like it’s taking eons for things to turn around, but that’s just because we care so much. In the grand scheme of things, rebuilding from rock bottom (you could call that 2009 or 2011 or whatever other year, depending on your particular point of view) has only been going on for a couple of years now. Ask Audi how long it took them to rebuild their image after the “unintended acceleration” fiasco. Ask the NHL how long it took a huge chunk of America to give a crap about the regular season again after their lockout. That level of rebuilding doesn’t happen in a year or two, or even three or four. People have gotta have patience with the new “Mark Miles business plan”. People have gotta have patience with the schedule continuing to evolve until there’s a slate of 15-18 races with stable dates, increasing public presence and increasing appeal to sponsors. People have gotta have patience with their neighbors and coworkers figuring out that Scott Dixon, Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay are the names of IndyCar’s stars instead of the names of lacrosse players. It all takes time. We just ain’t there yet.

      • Respect your opinions, often agree, yes, some measures are up, but “have patience” has been the message since, ah, 2009-ish. IndyCar does what it does. I’m not happy, sad, mad or angry about their efforts. They are what they are. IndyCar is just one of many entertainment/sports options that is competing for my time and attention these days. It’s not winning my time and attention nearly as often as it did, but that’s life.

        • Phil Kaiser Says:

          Actually, ‘Dog, it’s been the mantra since the Split in ’94-’95; it’s getting old for us 40+ year fans of IndyCar….

  6. Thanks George. I don’t think anyone has described me as being astute before, so I may print and frame this.

    On behalf of everyone in Wisconsin, we apologize to those of you who may have expected the Packers to show up against Seattle.

    I would like to put in a plug for the Road America vintage festival next weekend. In additon to the on-track racing, on Saturday about 100 vintage race cars parade through the original street course running through and around Elkhart Lake. Along with Watkins Glen, these roads are the only sets of roads listed as a National Historic Monument. The cars then park downtown for fans to look at and enjoy. Drooling on the cars is not permitted and beer spills on the cars will get you escorted out of town.

    With all due respect to PR folks, after Letterman possibilities quickly drop off. I imagine it would be difficult getting Will Power on Duck Dynasty.

  7. This is only sort of on topic (I did most of my spleen venting on George’s topic of the day in my above reply to Pressdog’s comment), but this is something that’s been sticking in my craw a bit, reading Twitter and comments about how long and interminable this offseason looks.

    Length of the 2013-2014 offseason (from Fontana to St. Pete): 22 weeks (that’s the number of off-weekends between those two events).

    Possible length of the 2014-2015 season (from Fontana to the supposed event in Dubai, if the rumors can be believed): 23 off-weekends.

    If we all survived last year’s off-season, I’m thinking that we can all survive one week more than that.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    Perhaps it would be preaching to the choir (or rather, existing race fans), having the Indycar champion race in other disciplines during the offseason is one way to keep his name in the news. “Indycar champion Will Power is racing at Petit LeMans/Martinsville/Chili Bowl/Pomona this weekend.”
    There would be (probably too) many obstacles to hurdle; Is the driver interested? Who pays for all this? Will sponsors/team owners refuse to allow it? Etc… but it would be interesting and would generate more media interest than anything done with the Indycar champion in recent memory.

    On a slightly related note, those who watch last night’s NFL opener may have noticed the commercial featuring Sam Schmidt and the Arrow Electronics-prepared Corvette he drove at IMS earlier this year. It was very cool.

  9. I have noticed at least a dozen media engagements that will power has done already. Letterman, interview with forbes, going to the us open and being recognized on the broadcast, etc. etc. The only people that were miffed by miles missing one single day in may, in which very little to nothing happened, are people that had made up their mind on him long ago. And as far as the off season is concerned, speedgeek showed above, THIS OFF SEASON IS ALMOST EXACTLY THE SAME AS LAST YEAR, and if you factor in the media will power is doing, than this off season will be shorter. That is the problem all the “anti-long off season” folks have right? not being in the media spotlight?

  10. […] recently read George Philips’ Oilpressure blog where he championed the value of the IndyCar series crown. The value of the championship to drivers, teams and many sponsors is high he stated, which I […]

  11. Yeah Indycar needs to do more to get interest. Like get their drivers on tv shows, try and get a reality tv show, ect. Indycar’s not super popular but that is fine for getting on a “celebrity” reality show, where most of the celebrities are 2nd tier stars at best. I think some sort of tie in with the X-Games and Global Rallycross would be ideal, or tie in somehow with Supercross, or really with anything being watched by people under 40 and that is exciting. One thing Indycar has sort of done well is get Indycar into video games, but even so they are not always great at connecting that to the actual series.

  12. IndyCar’s business model focuses entirely on short term profitability to recover past losses, thus the high sanctioning fees etc. It is not looking toward the long term health of the series. If COTA offered them a race date contingent on the waiver of the sanctioning fee they would turn down the offer even though racing at a venue also used by F1 would bolster its credibility and long term viability. IndyCar would opt for a street course in Dawson Alaska in December if they paid the sanctioning fee.

  13. we can only hope he figures out that carts formula like this didn’t workthen and wont now . 6 months off is way to long to be out of the current fans mind set. even robin miller agrees with this. he needs to get the seris back into places like phoenix, Kentucky and Elkhart lake. most people wouldn’t give a salt lick about Dubai. sponsers included. just picture these guys in an indy car starting lineup . karam, clauson, daly and bobby east or tanner swanson. to go along with most of current stars of the seris. want to bet there be more more butts in the seats and better tv ratings? they couldn’t sell a very spoken American driver in rh rheay how will they sell a winey foreign driver in will power? well only time will tell.

  14. I don’t think it should be just the champ promoting the series. Every driver, especially the younger ones, should be out and about. Forget the big time shows, IndyCar just doesn’t have the power to wiggle into those, go to store openings, local festivals, send a couple drivers to each state we race in every couple weeks and hype up the series. I know of several drivers who work their butts off working to bring the series forward and a few more that would be happy to if prompted. Those drivers realize that it promotes the series and themselves, the more fans you have the more support you have both financially and vocally.

  15. Maximize the offseason? One year you fire Barnard, and now this year you drive Barfield so crazy with ‘random rule enforcement by committee’ that he quits?????

    Wonderful. Now you have the brain dead Barnhart running the show. Again.

    Here are my toes. Blam, Blam, Blam, Blam, Blam, Blam, Blam, Blam, Blam, Blam, Blam …… An extra one for whatever goodwill has been built up thus far.

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