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...

3 comments:

  1. JP, how about a 40 lap race, in Edmonton, Saturday night at 8pm Eastern, running the opposite way around the track using standing starts. It has been designed to go both ways, it was confirmed to me to be a very minimal change to some tire barriers to make it work. Suite sales? Octane brought out the entire F1 suite setup from Montreal and they were sold out a month before the race here last July. Bigger suites? I think it might also help to entice a title sponsor to come on board with additional TV exposure. This is something that could be very affordable, considering the sanctioning fee that we pay for the distance. The crews are here, cover enough for winnings and additional expenses, and I think it could be a very attractive test of the doubleheader.

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    1. Mike - I do want to apologize if the comments about suites is off base. We had the whole "the community needs to support this event better" hoo ha and that seemed to be directed relative to a suites by some people. As you are much closer to the event, I value your insight here. It could be that all the suites were sold, but perhaps for lower prices than was hoped for.

      As for the Idea - I like it a lot. If you look back at the "three races in Canada" discussion, it said 3 races, not 3 events so this would fit right in with that.

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    2. I gives it some real differences than just running 2 of the same races in 2 days, 2 completely different tracks, try the standing starts on one of the longest straights in the series? HMMM? It stays light here until 11pm in July, so lighting is a non-issue and it might be interesting to see what sort of ratings could be got from a race in prime time, when more people would actually be at home in front of a TV instead of out in the afternoon on a summer weekend.
      It's worth a try, the it's a big haul from Indy to YEG (still around the same distance from California where they run 3 seperate times) and the teams might be interested, especially if there is a 2 week gap before and after Edmonton.

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