Just Who Is The IndyCar Demographic?
A couple of weeks ago, Robin Miller caused a justifiable stir when he answered a letter in his weekly mailbag on Racer.com. A reader had suggested that IndyCar should fund a car or cars in the Chili Bowl, which took place this past weekend.
For those that don’t know, the Chili Bowl is an indoor midget racing event that has taken place annually since 1987. It pulls from all midget associations and usually features a Who’s Who in USAC-type racing. It is run each January in the Tulsa Expo Center and is one of the more coveted trophies in racing. Each night is packed with around 15,000 open wheel race fans that are hungry to see racing in January. For the record, this past Saturday night, Rico Abreu won his second straight Chili Bowl title.
Miller’s response was that he had made the exact same suggestion to IndyCar a couple of months earlier, but was told that “…the Chili Bowl crowd didn’t really meet IndyCar’s demographics, so they were going to pass”. He points out that most of those in attendance are rabid midget fans, but they don’t watch IndyCar because they don’t give a flip about the drivers.
I’ll be completely honest. I don’t really follow the Chili Bowl. It doesn’t really interest me. I know some would consider that heresy and that I should turn in my racing man card, but it just doesn’t really do it for me. I enjoy midget and sprint racing whenever I see it on television, but more as a novelty than something to be really passionate about. In 2003, we went to what was then Indianapolis Raceway Park for the “Night Before the 500” and had a ball, but I didn’t know many of the names because I don’t follow it regularly. It was sort of like going to a Triple-A baseball game. There were some stars of the future and older names that I recognized, but it was mostly just a fun event to attend…once. I’m glad I did it thirteen years ago, but I’ve never really been compelled to go back.
But I also know that my opinion on watching sprints and midgets are just that – my opinion. I recognize that there are many IndyCar fans out there that are just as passionate about the Chili Bowl and the “Night Before the 500” as they are about the Verizon IndyCar Series. This is where I think Mark Miles and IndyCar are missing the mark. More specifically, I’m not sure they even know where the mark is.
In the early nineties, I saw a marketing report from CART that I now cannot find or identify, so I’m going strictly from memory – which is a scary thing. But from what I can recall, it stated that CART shared a lot of the same desired demographic as the NFL – adults, mid-thirties, slightly higher than average income and slightly more educated. I think the demographic for the NFL has shifted significantly since then, and of course – there is no more CART.
But what about today’s IndyCar? What is their target market? What is their desired demographic? Who exactly are they marketing to? Do they even know?
Most fans are in agreement that of all the problems facing the Verizon IndyCar Series, their marketing approach (or lack thereof) is most concerning. I’m not sure they know who their target is, nor the best way to go about marketing to them.
It may be that they have a clear and concise marketing plan and they are following it to the letter, but with the bunker mentality that has existed within IndyCar since Mark Miles took over – we’d never know it. My hope is that now that Jay Frye has been elevated to President of Competition and Operations, we may get more of a peek behind the curtain and get a better idea of what is going on with marketing and promotion of the series.
We may not all care for the marketing approach that IMS is taking, but at least they seem to be a little more consistent. I don’t go to Carb Day for the bands, I go because there is track activity going on regarding the Indianapolis 500. It would suit me fine if Carb Day was just about the racing. But I recognize that I’m in the minority there as well. The choices of bands for the last few years of Journey, 38 Special, Sammy Hagar, Poison, Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top would indicate that they are trying to go after someone closer to my age group, than the affluent thirty-something. We may not agree with that, but they are consistent.
But IMS is headed up by Doug Boles, who is much more in touch with fans. Boles ultimately reports to Mark Miles; and Miles is more directly involved with the IndyCar side. That’s there where the target becomes more nebulous and hard to pin down.
But getting back to Robin Miller’s Mailbag, why on earth would IndyCar purposely snub the Chili Bowl demographic? Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m thinking it’s easier to convert a NASCAR, USAC, IMSA or Formula One fan to become an IndyCar fan than it is to snag the occasional channel-surfer and convert him or her into a die-hard IndyCar fan. It can happen and perhaps some reading this had it happen to them. But if you like one form of racing, chances are that you’ll like another form if you are courted and made to feel you are welcome.
But to purposely snub a large segment of the motorsports fan base seems like marketing malpractice to me. This is why IndyCar is considered a sport of elitists and they have a wine-and-cheese reputation. Most IndyCar fans are fans of other forms of racing to some extent. Wouldn’t it make sense to apply that logic to the fans of other sports? Maybe I’m simplifying it too much or maybe it just makes too much sense for IndyCar to do it.
My degree is in marketing. Have I ever really used it? No, and I certainly don’t now in my current occupation. But you don’t really need a degree in marketing to recognize what should be a common sense approach. I think it’s high time that IndyCar started using some common sense to define a clear marketing objective and stop relying on consulting groups to build your business model.