Food for thought

At the moment IndyCar is in the middle of an Indy 500 centennial goodwill tour, a 10-trip for a group of 25 people related to the sport to help boost morale of US service people in Europe and the Middle East. Boosting morale is one goal, creating new fans in the right sort of demographic is another. The team includes Indianapolis 500 winners Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser Jr plus Sarah Fisher, Davey Hamilton, Larry Foyt and rising star Martin Plowman. They are being flown around in a KC-135 Stratotanker, a military version of the Boeing 707 that carries not only the passengers but containers filled with promotional gifts for the troops and the Indy Racing Experience two-seater that is being used to provide rides to soldiers.

Mario on the USS Abraham Lincoln
In addition the group members are doing Q&A sessions, signing autographs and providing photo opportunities at various venues which have included the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, adjacent to the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, the 97,000-ton aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Gulf, the Bahrain International Circuit and the Joint Base Balad in Iraq.

I am not interested in getting into discussions about the merits of the US involvement in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, but brightening the lives of the servicemen and women involved is not a political statement. And it does IndyCar no harm at all.

The Formula One group does not believe in promotion. It is cheaper to leave that up to the individual race organisers, teams and sponsors. There is no real doubt that the primary pursuit of the company is profit and there is no real thought of investment for the future, beyond technology which will keep the price of the TV rights up. There are high standards demanded, but is that really enough?

Fortunately Formula 1 sells itself – and has done for many years. Success on the race track attracts money, offering spectacular returns on investment for those with plenty of cash. The fans are passionate and allow themselves to be exploited. The sport’s image may not be a shiny as perhaps it could be, and everyone knows that things could be done better. Revenues could – and should – be shared in a more equitable manner, but militating for a true mutualisation of the sport is risking instability and it is perhaps better to wait for the moment when change is required, rather than simply desired.

The good news is that there is plenty of room for improvement in the future and while waiting for the realignment that must one day come, it is wise for F1 folk to learn from others and see what can be achieve with a different attitude to promotion. While it is fashionable to look down Old World noses at the folks across the Atlantic, it can do no harm to examine what they are doing and to ask whether F1 might benefit from doing similar things.

21 thoughts on “Food for thought

  1. Well said Joe. Indycar has really come along leaps and bounds since Randy Bernard took over as CEO. He gets it. Indycar now listens to what the fans want and when the new car comes out in 2012, I think the series will be very strong. Already there have been tweaks to the rules for 2011 that have been welcomed with open arms, too…

  2. Joe,

    Long time reader, first time poster. Yes you are 100% correct. The fact that the owner of the rights to F1 is a hedge fund whose primary goal is profit maximisation leaves a bad taste in the mouth of those who follow the sport with great passion, and want it to move forward as a sport, not a business. Their presence in the sport is detrimental and that is highlighted by a large portion of the revenues merely paying CVCs massive interest bill.

    Like many before you, and the many to come our views fall on death ears. Given its nature now it is a breeding ground for small mans syndrome and those kind of folk simply don’t listen. Its just a shame as without the fans it is nothing. We are the ones trying to be proactive, its just a shame that those in charge are only reactive on matters, usually when its too late.

  3. Joe, I do apologise in advance but I am going to go on and bring it up anyway. I also dont want a debate about the rights or wrongs of the wars in the middle east; more a discussion of how it affects Nascar to be politically, or at least culturally, aligned with the US military.

    “brightening the lives of the servicemen and women involved is not a political statement. And it does IndyCar no harm at all.”

    I would have to disagree on this point. By aligning themselves with the military like this, of course they are not directly commenting on the wars, but they are expressing support for the military, and in some parts of the world that is bad enough in itself, without taking that to its logical conclusion and extending it to say that they support the military operations in one form or another.

    Now I agree that you are right; it does very little harm to Nascar, but I would argue that this is because Nascar has a very passionate fanbase, that is largely (not totally, but the majority) based in the USA, and in particular states in the USA that are often slightly aligned to the right-hand side of the political spectrum. And I do mean slightly, I do not think that they are all red-necked gun-toting republicans, I mean that the demographic of the Nascar fan is usually American, patriotic (not using it as a pejorative term), drawn mostly from states that vote republican. So what I am getting at is that Nascar are doing themselves no harm because they are promoting themselves in a way that the majority of their fans would agree with; the majority of their fans will support the american military and be proud of them, even if they are not happy about the wars in the middle east.

    So; in my mind that is all well and good, but does it acutally mean that they are promoting themselves to new audiences? I would argue not. I would argue that they are promoting themselves to an audience that is already pretty receptive. It is not a huge effort at winning over a new demographic, a new country’s motorsport fan base.

    Does F1 need to promote itself more? very possibly: low crowd attendance figures at tracks suggest so, but whether they should take this example of Nascar, of promoting to what is most likely a well established fan base; I am not so sure.

  4. Joe – fair point, I understand.

    Especially when you get idiots like me commenting without chacking what they have written before posting: I have just noticed my mixture of Nascar and indycar in my comment. I do apologise, please ignore the comments that it renders incomprehensible!

  5. Couldnt agree more Joe, F1 has to sit up and take notice, one day the fans will stop coming although I doubt that will happen anytime soon. More interaction with the fans has to be a priority and I believe our friends acrosss the pond are at the forefront of engaging with fans not only in motorsports but all major sports in the US. Unfortunately F1 still breeds stuffiness and snobery and as you mentioned people looking down their noses at the people on the outside ‘the fans’ from their paddock suites whilst drinking champagne. Why cant the paddock club be opened to a select number of fans on a race weekend?? Garage tours on Fridays?? We can keep on suggesting, maybe one day it will happen. I certainly believe the new styles of management entering now, Adam Parr and Tony Fernandes etc will try and change that! We can hope at least!

  6. I’d argue F1 as an organisation is not in the position to promote itself because it doesn’t have access to the ‘assets’ that make it most exciting – the cars and the drivers. Without those, how could they put on a show?

    And the above fact isn’t conditional on who owns the entity that in turn owns the rights to Formula 1. Unless someone wrings some sort of promotional commitment out of the teams during the next Concorde negotiations, and I highly doubt that Ferrari or McLaren feel amiable to the idea of being sent somewhere their sponsors couldn’t care less about for the sake of the next set of ‘investors’, this situation will not change.

    I think Formula 1 (as a concept, not necessarily as a means of profitearing) is best served by the teams and their sponsors deciding where to put the promotional ressources they have.

    It’s not like potential promoters (read: people with way more money than sense) wouldn’t have numerous backmarker/broke teams that could easily put on a show with their machinery, at a price. And it’s not like there is a drought of locales vying for a spot on the calendar.

    All in all, if Formula 1 isn’t doing as much as others in the field of self-promotion, it might just be because it would be money down the drain.

  7. Wonder why Henry is going on about NASCAR when the article was about IndyCar? Anyway, from an F1 fan’s point of view, it is wonderful that IndyCar is at last picking up. There was a time when IndyCar was almost viable competition to F1, and it certainly kept F1 on its toes (remember when Ferrari actually built and tested an Indycar, as a very clear message to F1 to get its house in order?). A little competition would be great!

  8. Henry,

    You seem to be confusing Indycar with NASCAR.

    I agree with you that it’s probably preaching to the converted, though; it’s hardly seeking out a new demographic. Good for the troops though, whatever one thinks of why they’re there.

    A.S.

  9. So the soldiers are getting rides in the 2 seaters. Hope the Navy / Airforce are giving Mario and the boys rides in their 2 seaters…..the fighter jets on the aircraft carriers. Can the racers cope with the G’s.? Take off on deck, 0-155mph in 2 secs and landing,(if you hit the wire ) 155-0 mph in 2 secs.
    Think I can just see the hint of a smile on his face……

  10. Nice topic Joe. I have maintained it for a long time now that Modern F1 comes out to be peddling the glorious past of the sport and giving lay fans a snobbish rhetoric of F1 being the “Pinnacle” of Motorsports. So that “Pinnacle” is final argument made by all and sundry involved in F1 on any topic of contention, may it be the question of drivers funding their drives or F1 not doing enough to reach out to the fans.

    With those two ingredients of peddling glorious past and pinnacle of motorsports, general sentiment of everyone involved with F1 is onus is always on other party to bend backwards for that “pride of associating with _______” may it be Bernie selling event on calendar to race promoters , may it be teams wooing their sponsors, or may it be reaching out to the fans. Promoting itself is and developing new ideas to promote itself to newer demographics.

    Today is 50th Anniversary of the famous JFK speech.

    replace word “nation” by F1 in that speech and thats what the teams, Bernie(CVC/FOM) seem to be doing to sponsors, race promoters and lay fans.

    – Long time F1 fan fed up with F1’s “Elitist” attitude.

  11. KC-135 Stratotanker

    That’s classy.

    I’m just thinking about VJM’s pimped Airbus, and shrinking.

    This rather pithy comment is for all my mates who have strapped themselves in to real transports like that.

    Nice one, America.

    Good advertising message.

    Real nice to hear Andretti’s still about, also.

    – j

  12. Anyone insane enough to copy what the .1RL does, deserves the financial pounding they’re sure to get.
    It’s a joke of a series compared to what CART was, and is run as if the roundy-round 500 is still the only thing that matters.
    Grossly underpowered 9 year old cars, mostly pay drivers, track rentals, and the indycentric attitude are all they have.
    It’s the series where men consider having sex change operations, so they can increase their popularity with the “fans”, and gain sponsors, to keep their racing seats.
    They’ll be wheeling out Mario and the rest of the CART guys forever, because nobody who’s driven in the Indiana Racing League joke of a series, has any credibility as a real racer.

    1. jim,

      I think you need to go and have a lie down in a darkened room… CARt may once have been great but it is dead and gone and you can blame Tony George as much as you like because it is not coming back. Alternatively, you could look forwards and see what Randy Bernard is doing and be a little positive about the future. I have always found that positive thinking is better for the health.

  13. jim,

    I think you need to go and have a lie down in a darkened room…
    >> Joe this is the exact thing I have mentioned, everytime someone tells any good thing about non F1 series to anyone associated with F1 (fan, team bosses, media pundits…..) all we get is them jeering the other form of motorsports.
    What one must realize is for continuous improvement F1 needs to keep its eyes wide open and pick up good things from all form sports (even non motor sports, like Football, Basketball etc). Ultimately for securing long term future everyone associated with F1 needs to be aware that they are competing with other forms of sports for same piece of pie , the sponsor money. And while sponsors are staying away from motorsports, same sponsors are putting money in other for of sports (even in current economy) so one needs to introspect.

    When a Auto manufacturer like VW making its presence know in leading Marathon races, but yet not showing any presence in F1 (and other motor sports), concerned people should introspect and create environment to make F1 attractive for the sponsors.

  14. Henry

    Apart from mixing up NASCAR and Indycar, I agree with your point that Indycar’s trip is not apolitical. America is beset by a quite profound military fetishism, to the point that anyone who criticizes American military policy or actions is routinely accused by unscrupulous politicians of lack of patriotism, hating the troops, or even treason.

    In America, troop goodwill trips are NEVER apolitical, no matter how noble the intentions of the organizers or participants. They reinforce a domestic atmosphere in which all American war-making receives reflexive support, even when thoroughly unjustified. Not to mention making it impossible to cut back the insane, budget-busting levels of military expenditure.

  15. Despite F1’s much vaunted popularity its support is quite shallow especially when compared to football. I’ve lived in three countries where F1 is quite popular, including the UK, and I find that usually F1 is people’s third or fourth sport of choice. We’ve seen how the sport’s popularity has declined in France. If more big football matches were on earlier on Sunday afternoons or even if terrestrial channels were to pick up middle of the table fixtures from a couple of major European leagues I think F1’s ratings would collapse throughout much of Europe. In the past there has been little competition at the 2-4pm (1-3UK) time slot. That is now changing.

  16. Philip makes an interesting point. I am from the UK but I have lived abroad, and F1 does not enjoy the same popularity or coverage overseas as it does in the UK. The football analogy he mentioned is especially true – motorsports fans often suffer at the hands of the sports schedulers who shift their sport around for the sake of a football match.

    Can’t imagine the BBC doing that 😉

  17. Jim, I think you need to take long walk down the hall of mirrors, I have a few friends- some retired, some still working in Indycars, who might disagree with you.

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