Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Free Lunch and a Chicken in Every Pot.

A few random thoughts:

I was a little peeved when Curt Cavin reported as a tag along to the NH announcement that Randy Bernard was on record as saying the number of races this season would remain at 17. If you have read this blog enough, then you know that I am a big proponent of the 24 race schedule as an ultimate goal for the series. Initially I chalked it up to Curt's eternally skeptical and conservative reporting tendencies. I now think 17 is the story for 2011.

Here's another couple tidbits to consider - when discussing the amount of money that Andretti Autosport needed to continue field RHR for the rest of the season, the number quoted was ~$400k per race (I think - exact amounts do not diminish the point). So instead of growth to 18 or 19 races we have 17. The number that has also been floating around is what the expected ticket price for a new 2012 car would be. $400k to $500k is the ball park bandied about.

I recently handed over the Outback to MrsJP and I am driving a 10 year old Mazda Protege returned back to me by a nephew who didn't enjoy driving stick as much as I do. Each month I drive it represents a car payment NOT made which allows me to save up for the Black Subaru WRX sti Hatch that is the current fancy of an impending midlife crisis. Sometimes you cut corners today to have something you really fancy tomorrow.

Yeah, yeah you will all shoot holes in this idea but here's one...What if in addition to competition for engine manufacturers we allowed competition for fuel providers? Allow teams to choose whether they want to run on Brazillian Sugar Cane Ethanol or US Corn Based ethanol. While neither by themselves would pay what Sugar Cane ethanol is paying the league now, perhaps individual team sponsorships from both combined would add up to a little more overall. The league could test the fuels provided race to race to make sure that no one was getting a little extra. Just a spec free, competition welcoming thought.

Three separate young, currently rideless Amercian drivers are optimistic about something. Perhaps these are unrelated instances of hopefulness, perhaps not. I wonder if a bittersweet "wow" moment could be on the horizon for the JP household.

I originally commented this on Dylan's Tripleleagueracing site, but I like the idea so much I'll put it on my site too! Once a race, with more than a fuel stint's worth of laps remaining, the league is allowed to throw a yellow for no other reason than to sweep up the marbles. No excuses are neccessary, TV cameramen don't need to do an exhaustive sweep of the track to find an otherwise innocent visor tear off or hotdog wrapper to point the finger at. All the league has to say is "hey, we're sweeping the marbles" no questions asked, but do try to avoid throwing the flag right before Danica goes a lap down. Marbles = Debris. Marbles reduce the number of racing lines, limit competition and invariably result in accidents, potentially with injuries (or burns) - kind of like debris, NO?

Absolutely great news about New Hampshire, have any doubts? Click HERE. Watch the telemetry shots in particular, very very educational on what's wrong with oval racing today and how the league could manage to hide Milka on 1.5'ers for the majority of here career w/o consequence. The story broke this weekend because apparently the announcement will be made formally when Dario takes the 10 TCGR car out for some exhibition hot laps before the Cup race on Sunday. Here's a suggestion for Chip. Take two cars, I am sure you can find someone else willing to hop into the other one, and up in his luxury suite Bruton will break out with a $20M smile.

Let the Connor Daly watch begin. He's now 18, graduated High School and is legal to drive an IndyLights Car. No doubt he has a stranglehold on the StarMazda championship this year, so why not run some lights races in order widen his 2011 options to include the IICS itself?

ehh it's getting late going to bed. Later.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

IMS Selling GA Tickets at the Brickyard

How far we have come, from deliberately not selling GA tix to make sure that the Brickyard 400 never oversold the 500 to the point where GA tickets are being sold to keep the 400 alive. It is clear where the hearts of most hoosiers are.

Here's a quick thought, If ISC doesn't play ball with IMS and SMI to make the Memorial Day Double happen, then why couldn't IMS create a "Double" that looks after #1 first? Offer $20M to a driver if they can win both the 500 and the 400? Probably would not get the born and bred chase contending nascar driver to participate, but you still might get the Sam, Robbie and JPM interested. Getting an indy based 500 winner from red and white team into one of their cup cars would be feasible. The 500 winner in racing in the 400 would sell more tix for the brickyard meaning more $$$ for IMS and IICS to use for themselves.

Just a thought - feel free to beat it with a stick....

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

So How “American” Exactly Does the IndyCar Series Need to Be?

Quoting what Graham Rahal might possibly say “Obviously more than it is now”. But how much more? The economic situation of 18 months ago that affected the financial and budgetary decisions made a year ago which then created a situation this year where we have seen the fewest number of American drivers on the IRL side during the post split era and this has created a fair amount of angst, not necessarily by the current fans of the sport, but by mainstream media and fence sitting fans looking for excuses to not involve themselves in the sport and a hellaciously long run on sentence.

Others will cite a number of reasons as to why there needs to be more Americans in the series and I don’t disagree with them particularly as it pertains to expanding the fan base. As for the current fans, at this point the league probably has me, and many of you hooked already. We have grown to know and like or dislike the current drivers irregardless from where they were born. My favorite driver in the league is Vitor Meira, RHR and Will Power also keep my attention as well. The concern here has to do with others who could be watching the series.

I think there are two really important threshold numbers that the series needs to manage and within the past year it has had brushes with both of them. The first is 50%. This number references the % of events on the schedule that should be ovals. The second is 30%, the number of drivers that are Americans. In the case of the 50% deviation either way from that number is a bad thing as you invariably offend some contingent of the delicate coalition that comprises the fan base.

The 30% number is a minimum, suggesting that the league is going to have problems if there are fewer than 9 of 27 American participants contesting for the title or 11 of 33 contesting the 500. The league was down on both of those this year. If 30% is a minimum, does it imply that more is better? Initially yes, but is there a point at which there are diminishing returns? Yes there is. Not from a standpoint that more Americans are a bad deal unto themselves, but rather, if the mix goes too far in the other direction, it closes off a potential positioning and marketing strategy available to the league.

Nascar has the monopoly on the “All American” racing series in the current list of sports media properties. The initial fatal flaw of the old school IRL is that it tried to compete directly with a 900 pound gorilla that already owned the market for the “All American/ all ovals” racing series.

But here’s the flaw with nascar and that positioning: Exclusive, restrictive bigotry only goes so far. Americans are proud and happy to be Americans but ultimately for that to mean anything, our merits and abilities need to be tested against an adversary. A majority of Americans Love the Olympics for that exact reason, it is the sporting venue that allows our athletes to compete in order to test and prove their mastery on a global scale.

Nascar it could be argued, is based on an exclusionary premise, and I would posit that this is actually a weaker market positioning to have. If the US vs the World proposition didn’t sell, would anyone watch the Olympics? No they would only watch the Olympic trials. Would there be a Ryder, Davis or America’s Cup? No. nascar itself has identified that an exclusionary position limits the size of their potential sponsor and viewer audience, hence the addition of Juan “the token” Montoya to the their series. Likewise, they discovered if they hire an Australian, and then never bother to interview him, no one will figure out that he’s not from here, but at the same time they can boost the diversity number pitched to potential sponsors.

IndyCar has the opportunity to sell an inclusive, competitively premised sport, where the best from the US race against the best the world has to offer. If done right it will sell.

The first thing that has to be fixed of course is the American driver counts, how can it be Americans vs the world if there are no Americans? If the series needs nine FT drivers to hit that 30% threshold, then in addition to Andretti and Patrick the current full time Americans, full season spots need to be found for RHR, Rahal, Townshend Bell, Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher – throw in JR Hildebrand and John Edwards and you are at your nine. Of course I have no Idea how the league does this and I am not really in favor of an affirmative action program for American drivers, so it is not an easy fix.

The next thing the league could think about here is a points based competition that pits drivers from different countries against each other. Yeah, yeah, yeah another trophy. But in this case you would run the race, score up the points from the top five finishers from a country and then repeat for each subsequent race and then at the end of the season award bragging rights and etchings on the trophy to the team that scored the most points. Once the series gets a few more Americans, the teams that would conceivably exist are US, Brazil and the British Commonwealth (UK, Aus, NZL and Can). If you were to go through the process of counting the points, I think you will find that her majesty’s subjects have been dealing out some pretty wicked beatdowns over the past few years.

While I think the series would be in a good position with 30 – 40% Americans overall, that is not enough. A couple other conditions need to hold as well. First, at least one or two of those drivers need to be with good teams and able to consistently compete for wins and be in title contention. Right now RHR is really the only American who has shown he has those skills.

The second piece of American involvement that needs to be part of the equation has nothing to do with the drivers, it has to do with the machinery. As much as I am glad that Honda has been a part of the series and would welcome Mazda’s arrival (Mitsubishi, VW or Porshe as well), the series needs a US nameplate to be involved. With the drastic reduction in the number of domestic nameplate brands this is becoming difficult, but it needs to happen. The historic core, rust belt Midwestern crowd needs to have a car in the race to feel like a part of the action again. Hopefully, Randy Bernard still has some contacts at Ford in his rolodex. Finally, an American Chassis manufacturer needs to be an option for teams to select from. American jobs resulting from assembling Italian cars is fine, but those Italian chassis should be racing against at least one car born of American ingenuity and built with American craftsmanship. If you have read this blog for a while, you know who I am talking about.

The test of nations, US against the world, both Car and Driver, on ovals and twisties is the competitive drama that only the IICS can deliver and if it does, that is the drama that will revitalize the series.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What I Learned From the 500 Ads

It has become an entertaining pop culture sideline to the superbowl for advertisers to roll out new ads for the game and for casual observers to comment on them as if they were pop art creations for esoteric enjoyment. So as I was watching the replay of the Indy 500 I thought, what if I took a look at the quantity, quality and content of the advertising that was placed within the Indy 500 broadcast. Wham – another blog post wrote itself.

From start of the pre race program until the final sign off a total of 148 ads ran during the broadcast. Assuming each was a 30 second spot (some were 60 and one 120) they represented nearly 74 minutes of airtime. 25 spots, appeared during the pre-race portion of the broadcast, 114 before the checkered fell and a mere 9 afterwards. Again assuming 30 second spots, those ads represented 57 minutes of a race that was 3 hours and 5 minutes long meaning that 31% of the racing action was obscured by paying the bills. Another 50% was wasted on what can generally be described as tangential asinine coverage by ABC leaving us with about 19% or 35 minutes of random tidbits of race coverage ABC deemed we were worthy of. I was at the race with the race scanner tuned to IMS with some occasional scans to eavesdrop on car signals. Even though being there in person was a $90 ticket, after getting home and watching the DVR I feel like I got more value from being there than watching the ABC coverage for free.

Getting back to the ads, 55 ads were placed in local blocks and 93 in national blocks. Local blocks generally are not targeted buys, about half the placements are sold by the local TV stations and the rest are national buys of local inventory. Point is that outside of the Indianapolis market these ads were not deliberately placed with the 500 broadcast. So I won’t spend any more time talking about them.

Of the 93 ads that were placed within the national blocks it is likely that the majority were targeted buys, meaning that the advertisers wanted their ads to explicitly run during the 500. A complete list of the 45 different spots is attached below and they represent 38 different advertisers.

One of the goals for any sponsorship package is convincing the sponsoring company to use your driver, team or series within their ads in order to passively advertise your series to a larger base. Of the 93 ads that ran, 42% included the IICS in the body of the creative. 38% included a series driver. 33% of the ads were placed by series sponsors and 26% were associated with a particular team in the series. 18.3% included some sort of alternative media activation via contest or promotion. 44% of the ads represented companies with no current ties to the series. Four ads included nascar in some fashion.

This was the year of Mario given his prominence within the IZOD Race to the Party Finale, which in the end played the Danica card at perhaps the most inopportune moment given her month up to that point. Mario was also associated with a Honda activation promotion that was giving away a grand prize of a spin around Sonoma with the aging hero. The commercial to support the contest was cute, with the most amusing part being where Mario deadpans “I’m hungry” to the unfortunate contest winner who finds himself chauffeuring Mario around.

JP’s favorite ad was for the BLUR racing game. Spoofing Mario cart one can only hope that race fans from other forms of the sport look through the chain link fence at IndyCar with the same envy that the broccoli haired avatar has upon seeing the racing inside the Blur game.

An interesting ad was for Spriva. You may recall being blitzed by Danica talking about the medical condition COPD. TVads, radio ads and even activation at the track itself it was all over the place. Then wham - an ad for a drug to treat the condition shows up. It was all part of a single campaign, first build awareness of a condition then provide a cure. Ad campaigns for pharmaceuticals are often planned this way. What I found interesting was the target market was a viewing audience that had beend force fed cigarette advertsing for 40 years. The irony, the first 500 w/o Phillip Morris' involvement features a product to clean up the mess that was left behind.

Honda rolled out two new ads during the broadcast, the first supported the Mario two seater promotion and the other talked about their involvement and success in the IICS. It showed a time lapse of an IICS engine being broken down into its individual components – cool stuff for a racing nerd. It was interesting that the commercial referred to the lack of engine failures, not victories, as the measure of success. If you spend the weekend racing, but there was no one else to beat, have you accomplished anything? Apparently Honda had to search a little here.

But the really disturbing finding my analysis of ads revealed was found when looking at the automotive ads. Ads for 9 different automotive brands appeared in the untargeted local blocks. Meanwhile in the targeted national spots, ads for only 4 automotive brands appeared. Honda of course is a given. Chevrolet probably showed up to associate with the pace car. The others were Mitsubishi and Porshe. These last two are quite intriguing given the ongoing discussions about the next generation car. I suspect these placements were tests. Tests that this week will be researched for recall, association and fit for the league and nameplates themselves.

I had a revelation last week, a co worker asked me why no European manufacturers were involved with nascar. After restraining myself from the snarky demographic based comments I would be normally be inclined to make, I boiled it down for her this way. “Mercedes nor VW make Pickup trucks, so there is no real reason for them to involve themselves with a series that is best positioned to sell trucks”. She then asked, “Then where do car companies who want to sell cars go to race”. At that point what the answer NEEDS to be was staring me straight in the face, but I could not utter it because it was not true.

The IICS needs to be the motor racing platform that is the primary forum for manufacturers who want to sell cars. Granted, name plates with average list prices over $50k are probably best suited for a sports car series and name plates like Kia and Hyundai will never sell a car because of an involvement in a racing program. But name plates that position themselves and being sporty and racey like Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi and VW should be priority #1 for the league. If the next IICS formula cannot find room enough for three of these additional brands then it has failed to claim that portion of the market which should be its own home turf. It will have failed to be a relevant marketing instrument for an industry that is becoming entrenched around a value proposition of responsible fuel efficiency, yet fun and racey. The only way for the IICS to represent this market is to make spec decisions about the future that embrace these principals as its own. If the IICS doesn’t succeed here, it will fail overall.

Ads from the race broadcast:

Ad

Reps

Go Daddy - Contest

6

Brazillian Coffee

5

Firestone

4

Honda Two Seater

4

Nature Valley

4

SugarCane Ethanol

4

Gieco

3

Go Daddy

3

Honda Heart

3

Porsche

3

Window World

3

5 Hour Energy

2

Allstate

2

Blur

2

Chevrolet

2

Click it or Ticket

2

Comfort Inn

2

Honda

2

IndyCar Nation

2

Izod Race Finale

2

Mitsubishi

2

Mothers

2

Papa John's

2

Peak

2

Quicken Loans

2

Samsung 3D TV

2

Wheaties

2

Zline Designs (IndyCar)

2

5 Hour Energy (nascar)

1

Aqua Hydrate

1

Aqua Velva After Shave

1

Boost Mobile

1

Castrol Edge

1

E- Trade

1

Firestone IndyLights

1

Hellman's

1

Izod

1

John Deere

1

Just for men

1

Men's Warehouse

1

Spiriva

1

USPS

1

Verizon Motorola Droid

1

Verizon Racing

1

Zline Designs (nascar)

1

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