New Year’s Resolutions For Mark Miles
After a nice break for Christmas and New Year’s, it’s always good to get back to normal. Part of normal for me is getting back to the routine of posting here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The offseason always seems to grind to a halt around the holidays, but now that we are into the new year – I expect things to pick up quickly. After all, just two months from today will be the first day of practice for the opening race in Brasilia.
But while we are still recovering from the past couple of weeks, I thought it would be appropriate to exploit one last holiday theme. I’m talking New Year’s resolutions. But not for me or other fans; but for someone who could probably stand to change a few things – IndyCar CEO Mark Miles.
I don’t pretend to know Mark Miles. I’m sure he is a good and decent man to know personally. Professionally, we know he did a great job spearheading the Super Bowl in Indianapolis a few years ago and he had a superb track record while heading up the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). On paper, Miles looked like an ideal choice to succeed Randy Bernard, who was unceremoniously kicked to the curb in the fall of 2012.
But the two years that have made up the Mark Miles tenure have been filled with curious moves and a return to the bunker mentality that marked the Tony George era. With helping to improve his image among fans in mind, here is a list of resolutions that Mr. Miles may want to consider posting up on his wall to serve as a guidepost for 2015. This is very unscientific, in no particular order and is based strictly on my opinion. Feel free to chime in with your own.
Stop the gimmicks – During the Miles era, we have seen an unnecessary revamp of the Indianapolis 500 qualification system, a convoluted points system stemming from the revamped qualifying format and double-points awarded at various races. All the while, fans are living in fear that a NASCAR-style “chase” format is right around the corner. Stop it, already!
Attendance and ratings are way down, but instilling silly gimmicks will do nothing but alienate the hard-core fans and not draw in any new ones. There isn’t much wrong with the current on-track product. What’s wrong is the long-term approach to promotion and marketing. It does no good to have close and exciting races if no one knows or cares about them. Manufactured and contrived drama is nothing more than putting a band aid on a severed artery. This is a more complex problem than double points at Sonoma can solve.
Discontinue the double-duty – When Mark Miles was originally appointed Chairman of the Board of Hulman & Company, it was thought that he would bring in a new CEO of IndyCar that would report to him – just as Randy Bernard reported to Jeff Belskus. Ultimately, Miles decided that he was the best man for the job at IndyCar as well as being Chairman of the Board. In my mind, that sets up a scenario of split loyalties.
Doug Boles is President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and does a very good job of it. Every fiber of his being is geared toward making every event at IMS profitable, while being a great experience for the fans. He reports directly to Mark Miles and the board. He is the layer that separates IMS from the board. He seems to be given carte blanche to do things as he sees fit, so long as he ultimately turns a substantial profit.
With Miles doing double-duty as Chairman of the Board as well as IndyCar CEO, there is no buffer. Miles is the board. There is no eye on making a great fan experience. Both eyes are on the bottom line. It seems that Mark Miles is so focused on doing things on the cheap, that the fans are the least of his concerns.
Mark Miles needs to step aside and serve solely as Chairman of the Board and hire a separate CEO for IndyCar. If he had another Doug Boles running IndyCar that reported to him, I have an idea that fans would be moved up in the list of priorities. If the new CEO went crazy with the budget, it would be up to Miles and the board to throttle things back. The way it stands now, Miles can be the voice of “No” before anything even gets tried.
Let the new-hires do their job – Fourteen months ago, it was announced that the Mark Miles “dream team” of Jay Frye and CJ O’Donnell was finally in place. Maybe my ear isn’t close enough to the ground, but it doesn’t seem that we’ve heard much from either of them since they came on board. Miles is the one who seems to always be in the forefront and at least appears to make all the decisions.
Both of these gentlemen came to IndyCar with outstanding credentials. Maybe they do their best work behind the scenes and choose to take no credit for their efforts. But fans have seen no evidence that Mark Miles is confident in turning the keys over to his team and delegating the authority that they need to effectively do their job. Running the Verizon IndyCar Series is a very demanding job, that no one person is capable of doing alone. Miles needs to realize that.
Listen to the fans and give them a voice – This may be the biggest shortcoming of all that has marked the Mark Miles era with IndyCar. One reason why Randy Bernard was so popular with fans was that he actually listened to fans and understood that with no fans, there was ultimately no series.
Please indulge me while I get on my personal soapbox for a moment. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the number of IndyCar blogs has dwindled dramatically since Mark Miles took over. Randy Bernard (or his staff) made a point to read the blogs to get a true perspective of what the fans thought and wanted. He sought out and embraced the bloggers, because he felt that they spoke for the hard-core fans of the series. The IMS Media Center had three full rows of bloggers in 2011. Just three years later this past May, three rows had dwindled to half of a row. Is that a function of bloggers being frustrated and quitting because they are no longer heard? It’s quite possible that that’s at least part of it, but that’s pure speculation on my part.
But there is no denying that the series no longer listens to fans first. Randy Bernard didn’t listen just to the wants of drivers or owners. He listened to the fans, too. Some of the things the fans wanted were good, some weren’t. But he was willing to try new ideas with the fans in mind. Standing starts and double-file restarts were just two of Bernard’s ideas. Since his ouster, everything that Randy Bernard tried has been undone due to the cries of owners and drivers. These have been replaced by playing freely with the points system. Now that the owners and drivers have their way, the buzz among fans is gone.
One prominent trait of the Tony George/Brian Barnhart regime was the arrogance shown toward the fans. They seemed to operate on the principal that this would be a great series if we didn’t have all of these fans to deal with. They operated from a bunker mentality that everything was a secret and the fans should be kept in the dark until the last possible minute. Randy Bernard removed the veil of secrecy and operated with true transparency. Sometimes that backfired, but we always knew what was going on.
This is not a “we want Randy back” rant. That ship has sailed. He is now living in Nashville and is much happier essentially serving as manager to Garth Brooks. But it serves as an illustration on how and how not to treat fans. If Mark Miles changes nothing else in his approach as to how to do his job, he needs to change his approach to fans.
Fans are not happy. They are not happy with the direction Mark Miles is taking this series. Fans feel like they are not being heard. They express their opinions on blogs, message boards, social media and other outlets; but the series keeps going in a direction that most fans don’t like – yet Mark Miles acts as if every move he makes is done with the fans in mind.
As big a fan as I am of Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee; they no longer take calls from fans. Kevin will read selected tweets and e-mails on the air, but several years ago they used to take the occasional call from fans. I would like to see them go back to maybe just one segment per week be devoted to unscreened calls from fans. Somehow, the voice of the fan needs to be heard at the top.
So, it seems I’ve started 2015 out on a contentious note. All through the holidays, I kept pondering what I would come back from my break with. When I thought about the upcoming Verizon IndyCar Series season, I kept thinking about things that need to change and how those things can only change at the top. Will Mark Miles ever see this list? No, and I wouldn’t expect him to. But I think the series would be better off if he made some changes in his approach to his job. There’s no better time for him to start than at the beginning of the new year.