IndyCar: the off season decisions that need to be made

It is looming large on the horizon like a big black flag – IndyCar’s interminable off-season. Aside from being hugely frustrating for fans, there is genuine concern it will undo the good work done this season as IndyCar’s management sit on their hands. So here are our suggestions on the top 4 things IndyCar should be doing after Labor Day this year.

Speak to Red Bull

Whilst Red Bull has become synonymous with developing new sporting attractions to promote their brand, they are also getting a reputation for energizing (pun fully intended) tired products.

Rallycross was to all intents and purposes dead until Red Bull injected life with their Global Rallycross series. A category of motor sport that appeared to have had its heyday in the 1980s is attracting increasing attention, growing crowds and benefitting greatly from Red Bull’s in-house media, production and broadcast services. Global Rallycross has a few legitimate superstar drivers along with partial manufacturer involvement and attractive venues.

logo-red-bull-global-rallycross-small

The success of Red Bull’s owns series has made the FIA – the world governing body for motor sport – sit up and take notice. The original World Rallycross championship is suddenly back on their radar after languishing behind everything from F1 and rallying to endurance racing and Formula E. Tying up with rival energy drinks brand Monster is a clear statement of intent by the FIA to try and quell this noisy upstart.

Similarly, Red Bull’s media division could yet be the savior of the World Rally Championship as broadcast rights holder. For a sport that could do no wrong in the 1980s and 1990s, it has lost it’s way badly and Red Bull are seen as the best hope of reviving it as, somewhat ironically, products like Red Bull’s own Global Rallycross have grown in popularity.

Admittedly IndyCar’s current fan base is unlikely to match with Red Bull’s target audience particularly closely. The flip side is that they are unlikely to find another form of motor sport in the USA with more extremes – 200mph plus speeds, drivers pulling 5g at certain circuits, cars that are spectacular when they crash. For the series there is access to millions of fans, followers, brand ambassadors, networks and media opportunities. Dialogue with these guys would be far more valuable than anything included in Mark Miles’ precious Boston Consulting Group report.

Fix the schedule (and not just for 2016)

IndyCar has enjoyed the support for several years of a number of circuits that have not necessarily received reciprocal treatment. Rumblings from the likes of Auto Club Speedway suggest that this good will is all but spent for a series that has foisted almost perpetual date changes upon their partners. The concept of date equity has been bandied about for years but we are at the stage where it has been superseded by almost a form of date survival.

A good use of the off-season would be agreeing on a suitable season length and outline schedule for not just 2016 but 2017 and 2018. The series is making life more difficult for itself and circuits/promoters with a year-by-year approach to scheduling.

Without giving races a semi-permanent date, no one can really assess whether the promotion has been poor, the circuit is poor or fans just aren’t interested anymore. Tracks, city authorities and promoters are critically important to the series. The current attitude to scheduling leaves them working with one hand tied behind their back and a nagging doubt if it is all worth the time and money.

N.B. – since publishing this article, Mark Miles was interviewed by Robin Miller pre-race at Mid-Ohio and confirmed a longer 2016 season plus somewhere between 2 and 4 ‘new’ tracks. The ‘new’ tracks potentially being circuits IndyCar has raced on in previous guises – Road America and possibly Phoenix International Raceway. A good start…

Tie down Honda and Chevrolet

Easy to say, difficult to do but then nothing worth doing is. Yes the previous ‘administration’ pushed for the new regulations and aero-kits but IndyCar has subscribed to this and has to see it through. Part of that process is managing, sweet-talking, encouraging and incentivizing Honda and Chevrolet to stick around.

Logic dictates that next year’s 100th Indy 500 will be a big deal for both manufacturer, and the 101st not so much. Thus maintaining their interest beyond 2016 is essential. Neither is likely to stick around for long if the other disappears and the technology drive the series is now committed to cannot survive without manufacturer involvement. Furthermore, if IndyCar can really work with the manufacturers there is scope to access their marketing and media resources. Be in no doubt, neither manufacturer has properly activated their involvement in the series in the US.

Look at digital engagement for fans

All forms of entertainment and sport are focusing much of their effort these days on customer engagement. Social media platforms have opened up all manner of ways to enhance the customer experience and differentiate your product from all the other ways people can spend their disposal income and time. Gone are the days when it was enough to open the gates, put on a race and be comfortable fans would keep lapping it up. Fans want to be part of the action to as much an extent as possible and that goes for attracting the new generation of ‘millenials’ who the researchers argue prefer the digital world to the real one.

Digital lights indycar

Push to pass is a ready-made way of doing that for IndyCar. It’s not a unique idea – Formula E has utilized the ‘Fan Boost’ concept where fans can vote pre-race for a driver to receive further electrical power to use during the race. Modifying push to pass to create a similar opportunity like an additional push to pass for those drivers voted for by fans is a relatively straightforward opportunity to massively ramp up fan engagement.

Why stop at that: roll it out to afford one driver an additional push to pass voted for during the race. With that comes more fan engagement, more promotion for the series on social media and fantastic commercial opportunities for sponsorship of the voting process. Further options could include an extra set of tires in practice or deciding the pit box order. Of course any system would need to be managed carefully and the kinks worked out – the relative fan bases of each driver could skew a result badly and potential abuses planned for.

The bottom line for the series is that since we are stuck with a 6 month layoff this year, it has to be well used and productive. Failure to do so would undermine all the gains achieved this season.


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