Thursday, January 28, 2010

JR and JP Team up in Ad Campaign for Potbelly Sandwich Works

Potbelly Sandwich Works Restaurant ( announced the launch of a new nationwide television ad campaign featuring Izod IndyCar driver JR Hildebrand and semi prominent race blogger JP.

The commercial which will begin airing during the Superbowl will begin by showing Hildebrand at the conclusion of the 2009 season winning the Firestone Indy Lights title. The commercial will then show JR wandering into a Potbelly Sandwich Works location and then discovering the warm tasty delight of a Potbelly sandwich. The Commercial will flash forward 4 months to the beginning of the 2010 season. JP (appearing as JR) wearing an undersized driver suit and helmet will then try to hopelessly squeeze himself into JR’s Potbelly Sandwich Express Racecar. The commercial will end with a voiced over tagline “Potbelly Sandwich Works, Good….Maybe a Little TOO Good”.

When asked what she thought of the new advertising and promotional campaign Melinda Ludack, Potbelly Franchisee from Ashland, Wisconsin was quoted as saying, “Ya hey we’rrre excited to have the promoootion and all don’t cha kno”. In addition to the additional advertising support, Potbelly franchisees will have the opportunity to win a ride with JR in the Izod IndyCar Series two seater before one of the series events. “Oooooo That’d be fast” offered Ludack. The winning Franchisee would also win a visit to their franchise by JP. “Chching!!” exclaimed Ludack.

When asked to comment on the likelihood of success for the new campaign, Adam Distassio of the marketing research company InsideExpress commented “Man that ad tested well, it blew all of our norms away”

Kevin Shill of Magic Marker, the advertising agency involved with the campaign, was quoted as saying “this is a great campaign that we could not have done without JR or the Izod IndyCar Series. We thought about using nascar and one of their drivers, but then we realized that no matter how many Whoppers Tony Stewart eats, he’d still fit inside one of those tanks, err, race cars. It just wouldn’t be nearly as funny”

Hildebrand, who was bestowed with the nickname "Captain America" by his AFS team, was quoted as saying “I am really excited to have this relationship with Potbelly I think we have some great promotional opportunities and activities set up to reward their franchisees. Whenever I fly home I make sure to have a connection at Midway airport so I can score my Potbelly fix. I wish they had locations in Indianapolis.”

Editor's note - YES This is a Humor spot, but Potbelly is good stuff and is JP and JR approved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Three Strikes and You’re Out.

The prospects of a new car spec for the 2012 season has been an intriguing topic to follow for those of us who are IICS junkies. Mentions of the ho hum (ie Dallara 3.0), to the creative folly of the Art student’s project images that started making their way from blog to blog, to HVM’s open solicitation of what the car should look like to rumors of a radical new future being secretly developed by team owners sequestered away in Area 51 code named “The Delta Wing”. Reporting and Commentary has ranged from the simple need for a new car, the virtues of evolution vs revolution to recent spoof and satire. All this has, however, been a good thing – the project has captured the attention and engaged the fan base.

Recent reporting as of late has begun to cast a more ominous tone across the effort. Robin Miller in a couple mailbags has used words such as “Battle” and “War” in describing the growing the rift between conservative league officials and team owners that are behind the Delta Wing project. Then this week the clearest delineation of the battle shaping up came to light. John Oreovitz reported that Brian Barnhart may have to make a choice between keeping Honda, the life support system for the league the past number of years, happy and the stalwart Target Chip Ganassi team, primary sponsor of the Delta Wing.

Of course I thought to myself “I’ve seen this movie before” then “Not every series needs to be a trilogy”. Hanging by a thread – that’s where both Champ Car and the IRL stood three years ago. After two splits in the sport pitting owners vs sanctioning bodies the fall from grace into oblivion for the sport was nearly complete. Car counts for both leagues were sub 20, and a third to half of those participating, were getting fat substinance checks from under funded leagues to keep going. The merger came as a life preserver to both sets of participants, and the recent cash infusions from Izod and the Brazil race have been a tow line pulling the league to safer waters. But, if this battle over the new car escalates into another split, it will serve as finale fatale for the previous 1979 and 1995 episodes of pettiness over prosperity. American based Open Wheel Racing will be done. Three strikes kids – You’re out.

During the late nineties I walked away from the sport, the stupidity of the whole thing disgusted me. Keeping both halves of what you currently have engaged in at least one half of a split product is hopeful thinking, many will walk and bail. Even if that doesn’t happen, what little fan base there is, split in two, would not measure as enough audience to round a TV rating up from zero to anything. What little sponsors there are, gone. The only drama would be to see which side sold out to ISC or SMI first. (for reasons best left to another pondering – ISC NEEDS an open wheel series in their portfolio – but I digress) The point is that half of next to nothing – is well - nothing.

In a previous post, I have stated that I think revolution over evolution might be the best strategic move for the league, distancing itself from both nascar and F1, while re—engaging the imagination of the motorsport world. But truthfully – I would prefer either as a direction for the future over another split that leads to the death of open wheel racing in America. My guess –most of the fan base agrees with me. Should this post past the eyes of any who is an active part of the discussion, tread lightly friends. The wrong decision about a car is not fatal – but a third split, born from ego and obstinance, is.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

When Marty and Milka are Ready but Simona and John aren’t…

We have a problem.

Robin Miller mentioned it in a recent mailbag and Curt Cavin confirmed it Friday, Izod IndyCar officials have told Simona DeSivlestra (2 season participant and 4 time winner in the Atlantics series) that she is not ready for a full time IICS ride. The reason they site is her lack of experience on ovals. Presumably the same critique applies to John Edwards, the current Atlantics Champion, whose Newman Wachs team has decided to transition over to an IICS property for next year.

Of course the first initial gut reaction is WTH? No wonder people want Brian Barnhart’s head on a pike. The reasons why this decision is being made fall into one of two buckets, merit based or political.

On first pass, for historically referenced merit based criteria, the decision looks to be a complete piece of idiocy. SO Milka and Marty were “ready” and the Swiss Miss isn’t? If you have followed AOW enough to have stumbled on this site you know how silly this question is and I won’t go into the background. Based on the precedent set for M&M, there is no justification whatever for keeping the Atlantics drivers off the track.

Something to keep in mind here however, unlike when Milka and Marty showed up, Simona and John would likely be the 25th to 28th cars on the track. When M&M showed up they were cars 17 to 19. It is easier to have principals when series survival is more comfortably at hand.

Of course the larger number of cars also means that there will be more traffic on the course for new drivers to acclimate to and navigate around. But other than the short course ovals, of which only Iowa remains on the current schedule, the issue is diluted on the larger tracks.

If merit is the basis for the decision, then my guess the league is referencing a different precedent. I call it the Curious Case of Mike Conway (the same principle is at work with Viso and Moraes first two seasons also just fewer merger related extenuating circumstances). Mike Conway showed up as a rookie last year after an upbringing in British F3, a series not unlike the Atlantics series. Similarly spec’ed cars running exclusively on road courses, but probably with superior competitive fields than Atlantics can boast.

Once he started racing last season we discovered two things for Mike. First he was generally quick, second that it apparently came as quite the surprise that a heavier car takes longer to slow for a corner that those lighter F3 cars. If Mike crashing out on a road course was common, Mike introducing himself to the walls of an oval was a certainty. My guess the league is looking at Mike and saying, “One year in Indy Lights would have made a big difference in this young man’s transition.”

If the decision is political, then the obvious first inclination is to assume that the IICS is looking to put the kill shot out on the Atlantics series. The Atlantics series currently sits as a vestige and reminder of a conflict since resolved (sort of like all those American Army bases in Germany). Champ Car and the IRL have found their peace, building towards a bigger and better IICS for the future, but both their feeder series remain.

The IRL has spent a fair amount of time linking and stringing together a ladder series for driver development. F2000 to Star Mazda to Firestone IndyLights to the Izod IndyCar series itself. As long as Atlantics exists, it will draw teams, drivers and sponsors away from the IRL sanctioned properties. By saying Atlantics is not adequate preparation for the IICS, the IRL is telling aspiring drivers that time in Atlantics is wasted and better spent in one of our series. Is it hardball? Yes. But when you consider that the IRL faces even harsher tactics from ISC/nascar, you can’t blame the IRL for wanting to vanquish their own little competitive nuisances.

The other political nuance that comes into play here is the JR Hildebrand factor. At this point officially, JR does not have an IICS ride for next season and neither does Ana Beatriz (two time winner in FIL). It would be more than a slight embarrassment to the league if Edwards and Simona get inked into the IICS before any FIL drivers do this year.

With Coyne’s announcement of running a second car this year to support an educational partnership with the Boy Scouts of America – it certainly looks like there is a tailored seat waiting for JR. The hold up is getting sponsor ink on the contract to support the educational program. Likewise, with the opening race of the 2010 series being in her home town of So Paolo, the situation should be favourable for Ana to land at least a partial season ride with a Brazilian sponsor (those Brazilian sponsors take a long time to sign contracts don’t they!)

My take is that the league’s stance will soften towards Simona once JR has a full season ride inked in place and Ana is on the grid in for Brazil. There’s no reason that if a team wants to put Simona in a car for the twisties, that they should not allow her to be there. In recent off season testing she bested the times of Rahal and Mutoh (different days maybe different conditions) and Viso had to bust out with a balls out run to just barely best Simona in the same session.

A plan will probably be concocted to get her experience in a mixture of FIL and IICS cars on ovals in preseason testing and early oval races. Practice time in both cars and participation in the FIL race at Kansas. (wouldn’t it be nice to have another oval in the schedule before Indy? Phoenix and a retooled Milwaukee would be nice fits for this very reason)

I would love to see her in the field at Indy, but with the condensed schedule it becomes a challenge. Based off a good result at Kansas you might simply say she is ready and take her down a 500 only program in May. Or you could plan for her to run both FIL and 500 programs and then if she qualifies for the field of 33 and her Freedom 100 results are competent, allow her to race the 500. The team could line up a replacement driver for the 500 if need be.

With Edwards being only 19, there may not be any great rush to get him into IICS. The league probably would love to space his and JR’s debuts out over successive seasons to build some momentum and make a case that there is a home for talented American drivers in the series. From what I have seen, Edwards is a couple up on current FIL drivers Kimball and Herrington in the running for the “Young American to Watch” title in the FIL. A showcase year in FIL will allow the IICS and teams to build a sponsor based opportunity for him in 2011.

As you may have read in a previous post, I am really looking forward to the day when all the four drivers mentioned in this article are in the series. The future of the series resides with drivers who are under 30. The seeds for star power are planted when drivers are 19 and 20. Politics, should not enter the question.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Manning Out as Colts QB for Upcoming 2010 Season

Editor's Note: If you are a Colts fan looking for information about your team and have very little experience watching IndyCar Racing, this is not the site for you. You are encouraged to seek NFL related information from your usual information sources. If you would like to learn more about the Izod IndyCar series, the new Season begins in March and will be televised on Versus and ABC. It promises to be a great season, feel free to join us.

Peyton Manning is out as Colts starting QB for 2010 season, as announced in a press conference at Colts headquarters on 56th street. He will be replaced by Curtis Painter for the upcoming 2010 season. “The situation came down to funding” said Colts president Bill Polian. “We really like Peyton as a QB and he has done a fine job for us in the past, but Curtis has the ability to put together a more favorable funding package for the team.”

Manning’s on the field problems stem from issues with his off the field sponsor endorsements. Recently Mastercard announced that it is pulling the plug on its “priceless” campaign. Company spokesmen indicated that the new advertising campaign rolling out in 2010 was not a good fit for Peyton’s persona and Image.

Painter is supported by a financial commitment from the PEZ candy company. Boyle R Maker, the creator of the PEZ dispenser and owner of the company was quoted as saying “We really believe in Curtis and wanted to see another Purdue guy starting in the NFL.”

Commenting on the change at QB Colts Owner Jim Irsay was quoted as saying “I think this is a great day for the team and the league. PEZ is going to do some exciting cross merchandising featuring the Colts and their players. Right now at a factory in China PEZ has already started to create 376 million dispensers featuring Curtis wearing a Colts Helmet. That sort of sponsor activation is priceless and is a real boost for our league”

Colts fans rioting outside the 56th street team practice facility were visibly shaken, many vowing to never support or watch the Colts or the League again. “This sucks, we’ll never win again” screamed an angry Kevin Lee who brought with him a Bill Pollian effigy that he planned to douse with gasoline and burn.

Though controversial, the “Pay to Play” business model is nothing new in sport. It began in Auto racing decades ago and has since spread into all major league team sports. Proponents say it keeps teams and leagues on firmer financial footing, helping to increase the number of teams and games that each league can field or stage. Critics suggest that it distorts competitive balance ultimately creating weaker leagues that lack connection, buy in or support from their fans. They site lazy owners who simply want to push the responsibility of financing their ventures onto the athletes themselves.

Indianapolis’ other professional franchise completed their transition to a Pay to Play business model back in 2005 when their last merit player, Reggie Miller, retired. Larry Bird, team general manager for the Pacers acknowledged that the transition was a difficult one, but pointed out that today he believes his team is an outstanding study in sustainability and stability, pointing to a half filled arena and a sub 500 team record and as a model of success. “While it is true that we won more games and had more fans back in the nineties before we switched to a pay to play model, the truth is that we are more profitable now than we ever have been.

When asked what he thought of the team, fan in the stands, Robin Miller, was quoted as saying “I probably had more fun back in the 90’s when the team was good, but the tickets these days are really cheap. I really like the new outfits the Pacemeats are wearing” referring to the one piece thong bottomed costumes the dance team adopted this year at the request of fans.

Two NFL organizations that seem to buck the P2P trend and cling to their throw back “merit based” approach to team staffing are the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers. Between them they have won 12 out of the last 10 Super Bowls. This season they have won their games by an average of 97 points per game. Dan Rooney, Steelers Owner pointed out “That we really have no problems finding sponsors or fans to support the team. A winner is an easy thing for these stakeholders to get behind and support.”

When asked if he thought that he would have as much success and such an easy time finding this support if the league had 32 merit based teams instead of two, Rooney stated “That’s not anything I have to worry about, the other teams are broke and will never have the funds to catch back up” Asked if he was concerned that while fan and sponsor support was strong for his team, support and ratings seemed to be dropping for league, Rooney was quoted as saying “As long as we beat those Damned Patriots I don’t care”

One owner not happy about the current situation is Dolphins owner George Antonson. The Dolphin franchise hosts the Super Bowl and has lamented the loss of prestige the game commanded as the P2P system has crept into the league. “It really bothered me last year watching the Superbowl when the Steelers beat the Bears 127 – 3. Look at the Bears Line up, a 97 pound nose tackle named Wi So Wee. Their Quarterback, Dunna Milko had never even played football until a week before the first game of the season”. Antonson has admitted the thought of taking action and creating a new league comprised of merit based teams, but acknowledged that a split in the sport would be “Suicidal”.

“There’s no easy fix to the situation” said George Phillips, Senior Professor of Football History at Nashville College of Sports Administration. “The owners took it pretty bad during the NFL/AFL split. They spent so much money keeping both leagues afloat, that they have to make the sport pay now. It’s no longer just an expensive hobby”

When asked what could improve the situation, Phillips offered, “Changes to the cost structure as mandated by the league would certainly help. Are $25K carbon fibre helmets really necessary? Perhaps, because safety should be valued, but things like Teflon uniforms that teams like the Steelers and Patriots use to gain an advantage could be mandated away. The League has postponed changes to shoulder pad specs so that the less well funded teams can delay having to purchase new ones. But this is all meaningless if the owners simply pocket the savings for themselves. These changes have to allow talented but marginally funded players into the league.”

Recently the P2P system has created strange migrations of players across leagues and sports. Based on demands from agents and sponsors, Colts Defensive End Dwight Freeney has recently begun playing Hockey part time during the football offseason. Freeney who will play the Defenseman position with the Toledo Storm of the ECHL was quoted as saying “It really is no different, I just have to hit people hard. The shoes are a little different, cleats vs skates but I am sure I will adapt quickly”.

Another example of sponsor based player migration occurred when Wrangler became the Official casual wear supplier to the League. In signing the deal, Wrangler planned to build its marketing campaign around fan favorite Brett Favre, only to have Favre’s Packers team pull the plug on him when Aaron Rogers offered a better financial package to the team. The league was left in the situation of finding an owner willing to play Favre at QB for the 2008 season or elicit the ire from their new sponsor. Wrangler has since become the official league sponsor and has supported Farve financially to find a home with the Vikings for the 2009 season.

Perhaps the players affected by the P2P system the most, are young, up and coming players such as MIT All American Quarterback RJ Brandehild. Brandehild, who many league scouts acknowledge as the best QB prospect since Manning came out 12 years ago, is having a hard time finding a home in the NFL. He has not been able to put together a financial package to obtain a starting QB position in the NFL.

Brandehild’s struggles have not gone unnoticed by the NFL fanbase. Season Ticket holder and DirectTV League Pass purchaser Jeff Iannicci commented, “What’s the point of even having a college game expecting the fans to support it if a player so superior to his rivals can’t make the jump to the big leagues. It makes me question my support for the league in general.”

People everywhere have pitched in to help Brandehild out, John Pemberton, a third grader at Robert Moorehead elementary on the Indianapolis east side has given up drinking milk with his lunches and now saves his milk token money for the RJ4QB fund he has started. So far he and his classmates have saved $87.36 to support RJ. Pemberton was quoted as saying “We think RJ is cool!”

Brandehild admitted his frustration “Sure it sucks, but what can I do? I complain too loudly and I will be blackballed by the team owners”. For now, “Unless the stars align” Brandehild plans to keep sharp by playing in a semi pro league organized at the local YMCA.

As for Manning, what does his future hold? “I’m not sure. I can take my Sony endorsement and get the back up position with the Lions. We are working on something a little better, we are waiting on a final decision from a sponsor that might get us the starting position at the Bills”.

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