Monday, September 17, 2012

Growing An Iconic Finale

Still amazed at how much went down last Saturday night in Fontana.  Many other bloggers have opined on how great it was, so there is no need to do so here.  One thought that came to mind immediately after the race ended was this: This race, at this venue, at this distance needs to be the finale every year.

Seems the scuttlebutt on the 2013 season places the parking lot race in Houston later into October while keeping Fontana in the same time slot.  Mistake. 
One thing we have heard from IndyCar management is the need to have an Iconic finale, and as it had been originally pondered, a finale that IndyCar owned as its own.  Indeed the Vegas experiment was exactly that, a bold foray into a series created race that would be an Iconic jewel to close the season.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.
I tend to believe that Rome wasn’t built in a day, some things need time to come into their own, but you still have to be observant enough to spot potential, and wise enough to nurture it.  The race at Fontana for 500 miles has the potential to be everything IndyCar could ever dream of for a finale.  Fast, with multiple grooves at a locale not too far removed from some sexy real estate and at a race distance that lets storylines play out and harkens back memories of the sport’s most important event.
But as great as the race was, some things need some improvement, and primarily that begins in the stands.  The crowd, estimated at 25-30k by the LATimes looked miniscule in the massive grandstands that ring the main straightaway.  While that crowd at Iowa would look huge, it looked pretty lonely at Fontana.  The truth is you can’t claim something is a big deal if the house is more than half empty.
Unlike Homestead where you never really had optimism that more people would ever show up no matter what effort might be tried or Vegas that seemed to pin expectations for a crowd on tourists purchasing plane tickets, Fontana has the second largest US DMA at hand.  The people are already there.  But getting them to come is the challenge.
And In Typical JP Style (No Bitching w/o positive suggestions)…Here’s some thoughts towards filling those red and yellow seats:

Capitalizing on Positive word of mouth.  I tend to believe that Product trumps Promotion.  Recommendation weighs more than hype.  At the day job, I have been exposed to some of the thinking that goes into movie promotion and some of it applies here.  If a studio believes they have a dog on their hands they will over promote a movie to get everyone out to see it the first weekend of release before consumers all start talking to each other and realize what a rotten tomato it was.  When a studio thinks they have gold on their hands, they promote enough to gain awareness and then trust that when the first viewers see it, their positive reaction to it and the positive word of mouth they spread will manifest itself in box office gains in subsequent weekends.  I have to imagine people in the stands were entertained as much as we were at home.  For those who bought tickets, offer a renewal package that features discount pricing for additional seats purchased for next year’s race, help them share the fun with friends.

Cross Promote with Long Beach.  The second biggest event on the IndyCar schedule happens an hour and fifteen minutes to your west.  Get both promoters in the room and get a plan together to promote a ticket plan that includes admission to BOTH events.  Perhaps a buy one event and get General Admission to the other for an additional $20.  Let this deal reciprocate Long Beach into Fontana, and then Fontana into Long Beach the following year.

Tinker with the date.  If it’s 105 degrees on September 15 and you aren’t up against a Fall Cup date at the same track, run this thing when it cools down a bit.  The week after Houston would be ideal.  The newly available mid September date gives you another chance to fit another Oval into the schedule.  Kentucky or Michigan?  Perhaps Gateway, Memphis or Rockingham if you are looking for a smaller house to fill.  Kentucky, Michigan or Gateway could potentially be paired with a ticket promotion tied to Indy 500 tickets in the same way as I suggest pairing Long Beach and Fontana.

Find a Mexican Driver.  Ponder what Toronto would be without James Hinchcliffe…If you are not familiar with the Demographics of Southern California…A Mexican driver would move the needle here.  Perhaps Memo Rojas in the vacant car at G2 or perhaps someone give Esteban Gutierrez’s GP2 backers a call.  Neither of these guys are schleps.  Rojas is a series champion from Grand Am and Gutierrez won the GP2 sprint race at Hungary earlier this summer.  If you are a multicultural series, then use that multiculturalism to grow the scope and size of your fan base.

Apply the Pizzaz.  Throw a car Parade in the OC, Hold a party in Hollywood, persuade some A -listers to make the trip.  These ideas are nothing new, they have been used at Long Beach and Vegas in the Past.  They could have an impact here. 
50,000 in short order is not out of the question here.  Commitment and dedication to the cause will drive the bus and build an iconic event.


  1. JP is on the right track with ways to improve the Fontana race!

    As a transplant to the West Coast from Indy, there are some insights I can share that may concurr with JP's comments.

    - The word of mouth will have an impact as SoCal has a nice tradition of open wheel racing. It will take time but there are some unique situations like no NFL to compete against in the fall. Just avoid direct competition with the Lakers, USC football and maybe MLS, then it has a chance.

    - The date needs to move later in the season as it can still be pretty warm even in September. Sounds like Fontana promoters are already working with IRL on a later date!

    - However, a heads up that GP of Long Beach and Fontana may not have that significant crossover marketing potential. Long Beach is an event and a spectacle. The typical fans still think Formula 1 cars still race there. Whether it is F1, CART, or IRL, they don't seem to notice or care what cars are racing or who the drivers are. It is all about the party, Hollywood celebrities, mucho mucho Tecate, sexy people and interestingly the car convention that is happening in the nearby auditorium.

    - JP is starting to sound like Bernie as Mexican drivers may have an impact on filling the stands but don't count on too much of an impact. Even though it is SoCal, Fontana's "culture" is more meat & potatoes and country music then burritos and mariachi.

    I remember when USGP was in Indy, couple of thousand Columbians would come to IMS to cheer on Montoya in the years he raced there. Let's see if Sergio Perez can get Mexican fans to cross over for the Austin F1 race later this year. That might be an excellent test case to validate.

    SoCal and Fontana hold the key to a lucrative fan base but it takes time. You need to compete hard for these fans. Star power will eventually need to be part of this equation but like a chicken and the egg scenario, this race needs to show some staying power to get stars to come.

    Like JP, I am hopeful for brighter days ahead.

  2. so 50K is your ultimate attendance goal?
    is that full-price-ticket PAID attendance?
    if 30K is 'more than half empty', won't 50K
    look like just-plain-old-half-empty?

    going with the no bitch without JP-style suggestions.....
    here's mine:
    best option: IndyCar should sell out to NASCAR. yes. really.
    plan B: if the France Family won't pay, try one of these...
    1. free samples. no-charge, general public tickets. one race.
    2. pay to play. IndyCar pays for TV. like infomercials.
    nothing new here. it's been done before. time to do it now.


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