So what did BCG suggest and could any of their ideas be implemented? Here’s a selection of ideas I thought warranted the most attention from a UK perspective.
IndyCar should split the schedule into two seasons: a 15-race calendar (including three "playoff" races at the end) from April to August set in the USA and Canada and an exhibitional international series. BCG suggested the regular season go thusly: Houston, Phoenix, the Indy 500, Miami, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Pocono, Toronto, Seattle, Sonoma and Fontana. The "playoffs" portion would consist of Texas, Long Beach and the finale on the Indianapolis road course.
First of all, the schedule is not that feasible. Some of these cities might not want an IndyCar race. Why move the race from Barber to Atlanta, Georgia when the former is a) such a good event and b) a major sporting event for the State of Alabama anyway? Long Beach would never agree to move to later in the season as the date is a pretty solid tradition now (it’s kind of worrying that they were asked to compile this report and overlook something as fundamental as this).
And then there’s the “playoffs” (desperately trying not to refer to it as a “Chase”…). 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.’ Well anyone who thinks the final part of the IndyCar season has lacked suspense in the last few years hasn’t been watching. And IndyCar isn’t the only sport to suffer ratings drops in autumn, because that’s when the NFL starts. Of course you can avoid that by ending the series in August (and for the time being, I don’t think that would be too bad provided an international series follows and drags it out to October) but 15 races in 19 weeks is too compact a schedule for the teams to handle. At least start in late March like we do already, maybe even a little earlier. A race the week before Formula 1 begins would have a good chance of attracting a few new international fans.
Of course as a UK fan the international series (presumably a separate championship rather than just a bunch of races) has massive appeal to me because of the possibility of coming back to Rockingham. Given the recent tendency for the UK to experience summery weather into September it would also be a pretty good time of year, especially if it was an oval race. A March-August + September-October IndyCar season has its merits, but needs serious consideration before races like Baltimore start being brought forward earlier.
The biggest talking point from this has been the possibility of a second Indy race. Now, I would love a 400-mile night race on the oval but that endangers diluting the 500’s appeal too much. Some have said that even the road race would do that. And of course, the configuration isn’t that great. But if it could be improved a little with the state funding the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is going to start receiving, why not? As good as the final races have been (well, if you count Kentucky as 2011’s final race), another race at Indy would be much more likely to draw in a good crowd worthy of a final round and possible championship decider. BCG suggested a road race could bring in over $4 million dollars to IMS. Even half that wouldn’t be bad going for one race.
IndyCar should reduce the Leaders' Circle subsidy payments to teams and put the funds into a weekly purse based on performance.
IndyCar has a revenue-sharing model that gives money to teams up-front and less as bonuses for winning or doing well in races. Why shouldn’t the winners get more money? And if a small team has a good result, the financial boost relative to their peers could be significant. With more money, the big teams could invest in things like custom aerodynamic packages that would bring in an added element to the series and potentially grow the sport - many current IndyCar fans are not too happy about it being completely spec, even with some engine competition. The problem is that for all the benefits that such a move could bring the fact is the Leaders’ Circle money is a vital part of many teams’ budgets. IndyCar would definitely lose teams in the short-term were the plug to be pulled instantly. If the series were to make this reform, it would probably have to be gradual and hopefully in tandem with the growth of the series to ensure as many teams as possible survive.
Focus groups suggest IndyCar should market itself as being more about daredevil drivers and less about the off-track personalities; less about science and engineering and more about speed; overtaking rather than the cheap thrill of crashing; IndyCar should have different kinds of tracks rather than mainly be ovals.
You won’t get any argument from me about the last two. I love IndyCar for its ovals, but I’m not a NASCAR fan because it’s almost all ovals. Passing is definitely preferable to big crashes. The second point puzzles me a little as I’m not sure why it has to be an either/or issue; market the cars and the speed (and indeed, speed as a consequence of the cars). If IndyCar could allow a little more innovation then it could make it more appealing and grow the sport and the speeds would go up anyway.
What I take issue with is the very first point: “daredevil drivers” over
personalities. One only has to look at the fan bases of James Hinchcliffe and Josef Newgarden to see the power of personality. F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso won himself many new fans when he joined Twitter and became active in using social media. I was never much of a Power fan but after a season of following IndyCar closely his personality appealed to me, far more than his obvious skill. Ah, you might say, that’s not really helping the sport itself, is it? Not much, no. I don’t think it really helps a great deal either way to be honest, but failing to market the drivers properly isn’t a recipe for success in my view. If Hinchcliffe was to move to NASCAR I’d probably watch every race, so personality definitely has something to be said for it. It also seems odd to me that a report that argues against the gimmick of big wrecks then says that the dangerous nature of the job should be the focus of promotion.
As the report itself says, there are no quick fixes and the series suffers most from a lack of awareness. There are some ideas worth considering from the report but I’ve heard plenty of others from journalists, people on twitter and anonymous fans in comments sections. The sport really needs to market its product better , more than the need to make the product more appealing. So whilst IndyCar ponders the BCG’s report and takes its ideas on board it also needs to look further, take stock of what makes it so appealing to its current fans and make itself aware to new ones. Costly improvements and tinkering with the product can preferably wait until the series and teams can absorb them. Some would argue the time for IndyCar to sacrifice a few teams to make the series more appealing has already come. Maybe it has. But I think there’s still much to be done on the marketing side before such a difficult decision has to be made.