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.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Some Thoughts on Twisty Double Headers

And no, that is not code for some sort of kinky sexual encounter….
Randy Bernard has mentioned in recent weeks the potential for the 2013 IndyCar season to feature double headers at select Road/Street (hereafter referred to as “twisties”) circuits next year and predictably this has the Pollyanna optimists out doing the “Yippee! More Racing! What a Great Idea!” dance.  Meanwhile the IndyCar Pessimist society is out calling this the “Final gimmicky straw that will once again kill off IndyCar and the 500 forever”. 
To be clear, this is not a rehashing of the Texas plan last year that took one race and broke it in two.  Two half distance, half point events broken up by an ill conceived game show, scheduled as intermission to set the starting grid for the second half.  Nor is this the typical double header seen in European feeder series where a feature is run on Day 1 and then Day 2 offers a shortened sprint race with a portion of the field inverted.  We are talking two full blown races, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.
SO will this actually happen?  Potentially…Maybe…and as with most things in life, depends on the situation.  You can rule out it happening at every twisty event.  Things like this have trial runs before becoming standard issue.  But which events and where might this be tried first?
Instead of using the “OOOHHHH that would be cool” criteria most fans employ, I am going to try to break this down by following the money and base my speculation off that.  In reality, just because something sounds cool, it is not going to happen unless it can be monetized for the benefit of the powers that be. 
Money can be summarized by two monetary amounts:  The first is the incremental gate that the Saturday race will draw over and above what the existing activities would have drawn.  This is the gain in event revenue.  The second is the incremental sanctioning fee that IndyCar would charge a promoter.  This is probably the largest part of the additional costs a promoter would incur.  The revenue gain must be larger than the additional sanctioning fee for a promoter to consider this arrangement for their event.
Word on the street is that IndyCar sanctioning fees average in the neighborhood of $2m for the first race.  IndyCar probably can’t get that twice for the second event since the second event is almost certainly not going to double any event’s gate.  But, since the circus is already in town, it wouldn’t cost IndyCar double to stage the second event so the second race could come at a discount, a “Buy one get the second half off” opportunity.  What IndyCar decides to charge for a doubleheader will determine how many of these we see and at what kind race weekends.
Typically a race weekend is made up of three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Three days for a track or promoter to make some green.  Under most circumstances Friday is a friends and family only affair, which means Saturday and Sunday must pay the bills.  If you watch races only on TV, it might surprise you that many IndyCar events share weekends with another series.  On ovals, it is usually the nascar truck series, on twisties it is one of the Sportscar series; GrandAm or ALMS.  In most cases these races draw a pretty good crowd, with somewhere between half to 80% of the fans of the headline act. 
IndyCar, as a standalone act, is notoriously bad at getting fans to show up on the off days.  So the prime events I would think about as candidates for a twisty doubleheader are the stand alone events. 
After that, it gets harder to make a case for double headers since we are talking about events with existing Saturday features.  In this case the IndyCar event is either an add on for the existing sports car race or a replacement for it. 
Having been to events at Mid Ohio, Long Beach and Barber that featured SportsCars on Saturday, I see limited opportunities to grow the Saturday attendance since it is pretty good to begin with.  In these cases, the incremental sanctioning fee would have to be pretty low.  Probably to a point where IndyCar would feel their product was being undervalued.
A doubleheader as a replacement for a sports car event may have more potential, particularly given the recent merger of series in the sports car world.  The merger is certain to have an impact on schedules as this is likely to be an area where 2 + 2 does not equal 4.  Merger aside, there is always the possibility that an IndyCar double header is more lucrative than a mixed event, but again that depends on the size of the sports car sanctioning fee and what the IndyCar double header fee would be.
Let’s take a quick glance through the IndyCar list of twisty events and size them up for potential.  We’ll thrown in a couple what if events to spice things up as well.  Rating each by *, where **** means the most potential, and * means the Least.
  • New Orleans *** - Not currently on the actual schedule, but bandied about for a potential event in years to come.  New Sports Car dates will be harder to come by in the future given the ALMS/GA merger, so none may be available for a new track.  What makes this double intriguing is that the 4 mile course reportedly can be broken into two smaller tracks, meaning that it wouldn’t have to be the same race twice.
  • St Petersburg *** - This event used to be accompanied by a sports car event that was dropped a few years ago.  If St Pete remains your season opener, then you could really spice the event up by having the double header to kick off your season.
  • Barber * - with Grand Am already here, no chance…
  • Long Beach ** - Will the Long Beach Sports Car crowd buy into Grand Am after having ALMS for all these years?  How that question is answered is key.
  • Brazil **** - Slam Dunk on this one.  The Sunday crowd is huge and Band TV Gets a huge TV number for the single day broadcast.  I am not aware of what racing series are available as support series in Brazil (other than this really "interesting" truck stuff), but I suspect there is room for more IndyCar here.  If you are a going to fly to the southern hemisphere you might as well squeeze in all the activity  and revenue generation you can.
  • Detroit * - Please Dear God, NO!
  • Toronto ** - Seems to me like it would make sense, just doubt it would be tried here first.
  • Edmonton ** -  Ditto from above.  Without an event sponsor and more local support via the purchase of hospitality suites, the existing event is already in enough peril.
  • Mid Ohio  This one is very interesting…* for 2013, *** for 2014.  Both ALMS and GrandAm have dates at MO.  That is certain to change.  The ALMS date is currently shared with IndyCar  while GA is stand alone.  Does MO simply drop the GA stand alone date?  If they do then that is a weekend where the track makes no money.  If they choose to leave the sports car event as a stand alone, they need something to insure that the IndyCar event does not become a day trip for it’s fans.  MO makes a fair amount of money selling camping spots to overnighters for this event, those fans may need a reason to spend the night other than Quals, Indy Lights and tent mingling after getting all liquored up…Or perhaps they don’t.
  • Cleveland *** Not that this is on the schedule either, but I still would love to see the Oval/twisty double proposed by Mike Lanigan a couple of years ago…
  • Sonoma **** Since the Sonoma Event really doesn’t have a Saturday show other than quals, it would seem to make perfect sense here.  But then this is one of Bruton Smith’s tracks, so who the hell knows…
  • Houston **** New event – no sportscar date is likely to be available.  But ponder this…IndyCar has been very lucky for several years now.  Unlike Cup where the points format combined with the chase makes it nearly impossible for the championship to be determined before the final event.  The IndyCar points system has closed out the Lights Championship before the final race 3 of the last 4 years.  JR had it sewn up at the prior event, fairly certain the same was true for JK Vernay and Josef Newgarden only had to turn a lap at Vegas last year and claim last place points to secure the championship.  The same could have and probably should have happened more often in IndyCar.  Running a double header to close out your season gives the event a bigger feel and greatly reduces the chances the series title is locked up before the final weekend.  If by chance, it gets wrapped up after race 1, there could always be a “Win them Both” bonus that could be in place to spice things up for the Sunday show.
Anyway, that's that for now.  Get back to work before your boss catches you doing this instead of what you are supposed to be doing...

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