Hello, Mrs JP here again. In addition to hitting the Speedway Museum so we could stock up on Sarah Fisher gear for me to wear during the upcoming season. This weekend, JP finally got around to writing his letter to Randy Bernard. I thought you might like to see it....
I would like to first start by welcoming you to Indianapolis and to the leadership of the Izod IndyCar series. As I am sure you will soon come to realize, the 500 in these parts is a vital part of the social and cultural fabric that defines being a “Hoosier”. It is within that context you should seek to understand the fanaticism you will encounter over the next few months. The health, direction and future of both the 500 and the IICS is important to so many for this reason.
As I am sure you have already realized, the first thing that you will need to work on is the sustainability of the economic model that currently supports the series. Currently there is a gap between operating budgets, TEAM funds and sponsorship revenue that leads to smallish car counts and distortion in the meritocracy of driver selection. I understand that these are not easy issues to quickly remedy. I thought I might make a suggestion regarding the TEAM program. This is an important program that benefits the league and its teams. One of the ways the league can help the participating teams is to continue to expand this program via league wide sponsorship and revenue opportunities. I will outline several below, but first I want to talk abut the structure of the program.
As currently constituted the TEAM program distributes an equal amount of funding to all teams able to compete in a minimum number of races per year. It is very egalitarian in a sport that is decidedly aristocratic. Perhaps the TEAM program should be rethought with a goal of becoming more progressive to a selected group of drivers. If drivers are assets, then it is easy enough to make the leap that not all assets are equally valuable. Drivers who have accomplished great feats on the track, made connections with fans off it or who are young and have the opportunity to do so in the future should be more valued than the journeyman driver with a career of 9th place finishes to their name. The TEAM program money should be reallocated in a way that rewards teams that employ more valuable driver assets.
Currently there are ~25 team allocations of $1.3M for a total of about $32.5M in the program. Suppose these funds were not simply given out at 1 team, 1 portion. Imagine a scenario where these funds were paid relative to a point system based on the attractiveness of the driver employed by the team. Points could be assigned to specific drivers based on a fixed profile. A 500 winner – 1 point. A prior series champ (OR 10 career wins) – 1 point, Under 28 yrs old – 1 point. Past 5 year FIL Champ (OR 5 FIL Career wins) – 1 point. Using these definitions and going through the current field of drivers yields about 37 points. Set aside 6 more discretionary points (discussed later) and you have a total of 43 points where each point would represent about $750,000 of team money. So a three point driver would get ~$2.25M from the league, a two point driver $1.5m and a single point driver $750k. A driver with no points brings no TEAM $ to the team employing them.
If you play with the list there are definite winners and losers, and in some cases the losers are still assets to the league. Suppose there is a popular driver like Sarah Fisher, who should be rewarded for having built a connection with fans. This is where those 6 discretionary points come in. During the off season, 3 additional points could be awarded as “Voted on by the Fans” to drivers (who currently had 1 or 0 standard points). Perhaps a sponsorship for the Vote could be sold to finance those additional TEAM allocations and that sponsor would be an associate sponsor for the “Fan Favorites”. Likewise, two additional team points could be given to two “Driver’s Drivers” voted on by all drivers with at least 1 standard point, which might benefit respected veterans like Oriol Servia or Paul Tracy. Finally, there would be 1 final “President’s Point” allocated to someone deemed valuable to the league but currently unable to close out a full year program (Ryan Hunter Reay last year for example).
Overall, this type of an allocation of TEAM dollars rewards teams who hire drivers who have proven their worth over time or who have future potential star power the league should nurture. It would not be perfect, but would direct team $ into driver assets relatively more important to the league.
Something else I am sure you have received feedback from fans on is the schedule, some wanting more ovals, and some more road circuits. Ultimately, the fine line here to keep fans from both sides of the split least agitated is around 50% ovals and 50% twisties. Overall as an aspriational goal, a total of 24 race weekends should be sanctioned and run, 12 ovals and 12 twisties. On top of this, the selection of courses must be well thought out.
While I understand the potential gains in sanctioning fees and DMA targeting associated with temporary street circuits, these courses must be though out and well planned to insure that the opportunity exists for good racing. At places like Belle Island we have seen what does not work and at places like Cleveland we have seen what has worked. Lessons should be noted going forward and the potential for quality racing must come into the decision to sanction a temporary circuit.
Likewise, ovals should be selected with some variety in mind. Four cookie cutter mile and a half ovals where one team figures out the formula and copies it to their cars at other nearly identical tracks does not bring the variety of winners that fans may hope for. The schedule currently does not have any flat 1 mile ovals, paperclip (Milwaukee or New Hampshire), tri ovals (Phoenix) or warped (Gateway) in the mix. Likewise there are no 2 mile super speedways like Michigan or oddities like Pocono on the schedule. Every week should be a different challenge.
Scheduling also represents opportunities for additional sponsorship partnerships. For example, with an equal split in circuit type there is the potential to award “Discipline” championships. Similar to the Green and Polka Dotted Jerseys in the Tour De France, twisty and oval champions can be crowned and trophy sponsors secured.
We all understand the importance of the 500, but there should be other races of “elevated” importance on the schedule that can be distributed to a larger TV network (the ABC races), associated with larger purses or tied to a sponsored “Triple Crown” or “Grand Slam” series with progressive bonus payouts for winners of multiple events. Focusing on events such as the 500, Long Beach (the second longest running event in the series), a late summer classic at Road America or Watkins Glen would allow the series to pace and re-focus media coverage over the course of the season.
Each season within a season can take on the character of its focal race. The early season can take on the “Sunny Places and Beautiful Faces” theme leading up to the Star Studded visit to Hollywood and Long Beach. The “Road to Indy” could be an old school barnstorming romp through the Midwest with stops at Kansas, Gateway and Milwaukee before the May classic. The “Super Summer of Speed” would put the skills of the drivers on display leading up to the ultimate challenge of the country’s greatest road course (Road America or Watkin’s Glen). Then the season would “crescendo to a coronation” and the crowning of a champion at Homestead or Vegas. Pacing the season towards multiple season highlights keeps fans more engaged week to week and ultimately over the course of the year.
Finally, a few words about something else that I am sure is on your radar. The Car. I have written on my blog (www.jpindycarthoughts.blogspot.com) about the 2012 car. So I will spare you my opinions here. I would strongly recommend that you look at the car from the standpoint of two fan bases - present fans and potential fans. Doing research with the former is easy with resources currently at your disposal (the Downforce Panel and site polls), but do not skimp on the need to do research with Potential fans. While this research may be more expensive, if the car is selected without insight towards the conversion of new fans into the sport, all will be lost.
Overall, I am very optimistic that the IICS has the potential to regain its popularity and capture a unique and desireable demographic audience that will drive future sponsorship into a very bright future. I look forward to your Stewardship to take up there. Welcome aboard and Good Luck!