Indycar is in a tight spot right now. Last season gave us some of the best racing of any series, but it was ultimately overshadowed by politics in the board room and a few bitter car owners unhappy with Randy Bernard. Bernard was then voted out by the Hulman and Company board of directors, and a cloud of uncertainty began to loom over 16th and Georgetown during the offseason. During that time, Hulman and Company called in the Boston Consulting Group to bring in some ideas to help further grow the series.
A look at their suggestions:
- 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.''
-A new marketing strategy promoting IndyCar's Daredevils and focus on winning at thrilling speeds as a way to distinguish IndyCar from NASCAR's "amusing entertainment of off-track drama and partying."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Now my take:
The first suggestion for having a playoff proves that BCG doesn't know anything about racing. The Chase in NASCAR creates a manufactured championship of only running good in the final 10 races of the season, something Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson have worked to perfection. They just points race for the first 26 races until the chase begins and then it is just down to who has the best 10 races. Every IndyCar championship since 2007 has come down to the last race of the season and created its own drama without any kind of manufacturing. Ryan Hunter-Reay's heroic charge from 36 points behind with two races left to catch and beat Will Power for the championship is dramatic enough, to why manufacture it with a playoff? Their suggestion for tracks for a playoff (Texas, Long Beach, IMS Road Course), Texas and Long Beach seem ok, but the IMS Road Course?!?! Give me a break! Not only would that be breaking IndyCar tradition at 16th and Georgetown, the IMS road course is an absolute dog.
Their argument for the TV ratings seems semi legit, the ratings did slump last season, but having a playoff is not going to increase ratings. The problem with the ratings is that the schedule is too spread out in some places, (Baltimore is Sept. 1, then there is a month gap until the Houston Doubleheaders on October 5th and 6th). The other issue which has been resolved this season was the disorganized TV schedule. Some of the races would be on NBC Sports, and some were on ABC, without any kind of organization. Compare that to NASCAR which has the first half of the season on FOX, a summer stretch on TNT, and then the rest on ESPN, pretty easy to follow. This season in IndyCar, the ABC races are grouped together in a block, starting with the Indy 500 and ending with Pocono with the Milwaukee Indyfest on NBC in between. The ABC block also includes a Primetime race at Texas Motor Speedway, something that will get more viewers to watch.
The low ratings on NBC Sports network could be attributed to the network is not known well enough and people do not know what it is. According to a report by Deadspin, races shown on NBC Sports network are hardly getting any views. The network is usually not in a bar or restaurant; compare that to ESPN that is available in a lot more places. In a few years once the network gets itself established, maybe, but the ratings are not going to go up overnight. In the meantime, both ABC/ESPN and NBC Sports have to work together with IndyCar in order to advertise and promote the races. NBC Sports did do a great job covering the races and showing the best battles on the track, but the races just aren't promoted enough to get it out to as many people as possible.
Having an international series during the offseason is a no for me. The bottom line here is that IndyCar is an American based sport and needs to improve its American fan base and branch out to other parts of the states before branching out to other parts of the world. Some international races have been successful. Surfer's Paradise was a hit, so is Sao Paulo and now with Takuma Sato running as well as he has, it might make sense to head back to Japan.
On their daredevil promoting idea to distinguish itself from NASCAR, it just makes we wonder if they even watched an IndyCar race and seen that going 230 MPH going into turn 1 at Indianapolis in an Indycar is naturally more dangerous and faster than going 190 MPH in a stock car. So thank you BCG for being Captain Obvious.
Dumping the Leader's Circle handouts idea seems plausible. Currently the winner of an Indycar race only earns $35,000 for winning a race. Not very much incentive to win a race if you ask me. Performance based purses make for good racing.