IndyCar: How Can We Improve It


On Friday afternoon the Associated Press received a copy of the Boston Consulting Group’s report on IndyCar and IMS’ future. The report suggested that the Hulman-George family should not sell IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The group suggested many things. I am going to give a run down of the topics then save my opinions for the end.

Suggestion 1 from BCG: — IndyCar should split the schedule into two seasons — a 15-race U.S. calendar from April to August and an international series during the offseason. The championship would be decided during the U.S. season, and the hypothetical schedule proposed by BCG included seven cities not currently visited by IndyCar. It opened at Houston, then Phoenix, the Indy 500, Miami, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Pocono, Toronto, Seattle, Sonoma and Fontana. The “playoffs” portion included Texas, Long Beach and the Indy road course. BCG argued for a playoff because “the current IndyCar schedule lacks consequence and the television ratings are at the lowest at the end of the season because the series does not have a mechanism to create suspense.”

Suggestion 2 from BCG: -One television partner, preferably ABC/ESPN, or placing as many races as possible on ABC. The report also suggested the NBC Sports Network may be in violation of its contract with IndyCar if it promotes any other motorsports series more than IndyCar. NBCSN will broadcast Formula One this year, but the promotional clause in the contract pertains only to the cable channel and not network television. The report said NBCSN has indicated it would “release the series from the deal” because the rights fees increase from $5.5 million this year to $10 million in 2018 when the contract expires. But NBCSN has indicated it’s happy with the IndyCar deal and wasn’t interested in ending the relationship early.

Suggestion 3 from BCG:  IndyCar should reduce the Leaders’ Circle subsidy payments to teams and redirect the funds into a weekly purse based on performance. Under the current model, the league is giving teams a $1.1 million subsidy and race winners are earning just $35,000 per victory. BCG offered several different models, including one that shifted half of Leader’s Circle money into prize money and upped the race winner payout to a minimum $240,000 per victory.

Suggestion 4 from BCG: — Using Indianapolis Motor Speedway more. BCG Found that of the 132 days the track was used in 2012, only 21 were considered major revenue-generating events. By using the speedway for an IndyCar race on the road course, BCG found IMS had the potential to generate a $4.3 million profit.

Suggestion 5 from BCG: — Resetting ticket price tiers: BCG found that IMS didn’t really differentiate between high-end and low-end ticket pricing. The report targets Indy 500 ticketing, suggesting penthouse and deck tickets should be raised from $150 to $200, paddock seats from $90 to $150. Other seats should drop anywhere from $5-$20 and sometimes more.

Well, now its into my opinions section of this post, I am going to break this down like a scientific lab report.

Problem: How can we get IndyCar back on the map again?

Observations: After reading the Boston Consulting Group’s report on IndyCar, I have to say I am less than pleased with it. First off, lets start out with the report itself. Why on earth would Mr. Mark Miles hire this consulting company to do a report on IndyCar when they have minimal knowledge on what the sport has been through since the 2008 unification and healing process from making ends meet? I understand that Mr. Miles is trying to run the company but let’s also be reasonable. Instead maybe let’s have the top IndyCar insiders such as: Robin Miller, John Oreovicz, Curt Cavin, David Malsher and Gordon Kirby, to name a few, sit down and write a report on that subject of how to improve IndyCar and the IMS. I believe that if a few other car owners such as: Foyt, Penske, Andretti, Vasser and Ganassi get in on their opinions this could also help.

Let’s discuss the topics of what the Boston Consulting Group studied. First off, they said that IndyCar was ” the best pure racing motorsports league in the United States… but the series suffers from lack of awareness.”  Also the group listed five major suggestions, they are listed above.

The BCG report listed that it would be more effective for the series to have all of their races on ABC or get as many races on ABC. Wait, what about NBC and NBC Sports Network’s contract that goes to 2018? Well, according to the report NBC Sports Network violated its contract with IndyCar by adding Formula One for the next four seasons. Supposedly NBC Sports is willing to release IndyCar from it’s current contract but NBCSN has said it is very happy with the contract.

I’m going to be very honest when I say this, the TV ratings on NBC Sports Network are terrible. When Comcast and NBC Sports merged I expected bigger and better things from IndyCar and NBC Sports. What other sports does NBC have other than golf and hockey during the summer and spring before Notre Dame football and their home games pick up the main coverage? The answer is nothing. With F1 having three or four races on NBC this could really help IndyCar. If you could put four or five races that NBC SN has on NBC the TV ratings for those few races. ABC averages in between a 0.8-1.1 for race ratings with the Indy 500 around 3 (estimate). While ABC has the NBA and the NBA playoffs in the spring, they schedule the races they televise around that schedule and this helps drastically. The races for local channels (NBC and ABC) have to be in big markets for Milwaukee, Fontana, Long Beach and Toronto to name a few. Milwaukee was an ABC race last year now its NBC SN for 2013, the ratings will decrease for such a legendary event and this would probably lead to removal off the schedule depending on attendance. If you cannot get the rest of the races on ABC/NBC get the races on the newly formed Fox Sports 1 or ESPN. Remember, NASCAR re-upped with FOX until 2022 while TNT and ESPN’s deals end in 2014. This could be a window for opportunity for IndyCar to get back with ESPN. The single most biggest thing we have to do on the TV side is promote!

One of the other things the BCG discussed was using the Indianapolis Motor Speedway more and lowering ticket prices. First off, no race on the road course at the IMS. The eight years Formula One were there it was terrible. While Grand-Am is there for the Indy Super Weekend with NASCAR for the Brickyard 400 and Moto GP is there for the Red Bull United States Grand Prix, it is important to get more events at Indianapolis or mix things up with the events that are currently slated at the speedway.

First thing I would like to see is the Grand-Am race get moved to night with the IMS’ renovation plans to put in lights at the speedway. This idea makes sense for Grand-Am because with the merger of the American Le Mans Series and Grand Am in 2014, it would be important to put in a Triple Crown of long endurance races with the 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring then the 12 hours of Indianapolis. This makes a lot of sense, especially if you merge the event with the World Endurance Championship because of the agreements that ALMS has with the ACO and the FIA.

Second thing I would like to see is have Tony Cotman and his NZR Consulting group re-design the IMS road course. The current layout lacks straightaways and areas to pass and one of my ideas is have the road course re-join on the backstraightaway after the first couple of turns. This would create a great layout for the motorcycles and the sports cars.

Third thing I would like to see is move the NASCAR Nationwide Series back to O’Reilly Raceway Park the night before the Brickyard 400 because let’s face it the crowd at the 250 mile race they had at IMS was lackluster last year. This would help tickets for the Brickyard 400. What the IMS and NASCAR could do for compensation is if you buy a ticket for the Brickyard 400 you can get in for free at ORP for the Nationwide race.

Lastly, the IMS should move Indianapolis 500 qualifying to night and eliminate Bump Day by giving the teams only one attempt at four laps to qualify this would eliminate an extra day and more hours that are being filled up by garage coverage on TV because no one goes in line until the very end. This system would create a lot of drama in qualifying for the 500 and this is what the series needs to do.

Let’s talk about prize money for a brief time, the IndyCar Series’ prize money is an absolute joke. Let’s promote around the Triple Crown and make that a lot of money to win all three races. Possibly create an IndyCar Grand-Slam in addition to that (yes Mr. Miles I am using a tennis event, please listen up.) With the grand slam have races at Milwaukee, Indy, Long Beach and Mid Ohio worth a grand total of 10 million dollars for winning all four races and two million for winning one race. What you could possibly do is have a separate point standings for that race instead and have the winner of the Grand Slam championship get an extra few million dollars. This would be in addition to the Triple Crown of Ovals. What is the point of the Grand Slam? The point is test the drivers abilities on all four discipline so to say- short oval, big oval, street course and road course. Why did I choose the four venues listed above? I chose them because they all have history behind the race just like Tennis’ Grand Slam.

Now let’s talk schedule. The preliminary report from the BCG listed a 15 race schedule from April to August and have a three race playoff at Texas, Long Beach, and IMS road course to determine the championship. Then have an international championship from September to March.

First thing is first, IndyCar is in NO POSITION to pull off an international series separately. Brazil is enough for an international stop. Look Mr. Miles at how unsuccessful China and Japan were for the series and how terrible the races internationally were bad for TV ratings and fans to watch it. Let’s use a bit of common sense here, shall we Hulman and George company, jeez?

Second thing, the season SHOULDN’T start LATER it should start EARLIER. Starting in April is terrible, we need events that start in between the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500 with a race at an oval. My opinion on this is go down to Walt Disney World Speedway and have a race down there when ESPN has its destination weekend. This would attract many fans that don’t know that much about the product. Televise the race on ABC and you could have a big bang for the buck.

Thirdly, no street races in Boston, Atlanta, Seattle. Boston is a good market to be in but you have Watkins Glen a great road course and Loudon an amazing 1 mile oval that are near that market. As for Seattle, say it with me PORTLAND! Atlanta you have Road Atlanta.

One thing the BCG is screwing up with this report is with there fantasy schedule they dump Iowa and Milwaukee two races that NEED TO BE ON THE SCHEDULE!

As for playoffs, just no. The championship has been close for the past several years and a playoff system will screw it up.

IndyCar needs to get away from street circuits, and start going back to the ovals that started the tradition of IndyCar racing such as Michigan, Chicagoland, Kentucky to name a few.

I am now going to list a schedule that could work for IndyCar for future years.

 

  1. Walt Disney World Speedway-oval- February
  2. Streets of Surfers Paradise, Australia- February
  3. Homestead Miami- oval- March
  4. St. Petersburg- street course-March
  5. Barber-road course-April
  6. Long Beach, CA- street course-April
  7. Phoenix-oval-April
  8. Indianapolis-oval- May
  9. Texas-oval-June
  10. Milwaukee-oval-June
  11. Belle Isle (Detroit)-street course-June
  12. Iowa-oval-June
  13. Pocono-July
  14. Toronto-July
  15. Cleveland-July
  16. Mid Ohio-August
  17. Sonoma-August
  18. Road America-August
  19. Chicagoland-August
  20. Baltimore-September
  21. Kentucky- September
  22. Houston-September
  23. Fontana-October

This schedule covers all the major markets Mr. Miles wants to be in. Since, he will listen to the Boston Consulting Group’s report.

Another thing IndyCar needs to do is merge Firestone Indy Lights with Pro Mazda. This will increase the ladder series field size immensely.

Conclusion: If IndyCar can get their TV situation worked out in a decent matter, fix the prize money payouts, IMS doing the things I listed and fixing the schedule to incorporate history while hitting all the markets they want we will be in good shape. Mr. Mark Miles, I ask you as a younger fan, please listen to the fans. I understand you aren’t Randy Bernard but fans are the things that make the series’ thrive and you have to listen to them in order to be successful. Also, listen to the team owners that were drivers and owners that know money. This is all I ask, Please get IndyCar back to the way it was in the 1990s before the “Split”. You are the right man for this job you just have to listen to fans, journalists, and partners.

Thank you!

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