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Motorsports Commentary - Finally Some Good News In IndyCar

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by Rick Carlton - Senior Motorsports Editor

Austin, May 2, 2012: Although I probably appear unimpressed by the quality of the recently reconstituted IndyCar to date, the truth is that I'm rooting for the series in the long term. Having watched various management 'teams' critically since the late 80s, IndyCar's administrations have been primarily populated by egoists, hacks, or at best, functionaries, who were more interested in feathering their own nests to the detriment of the sport, its fan base, and its global business interests. However, for those of us who love the premise of offering top-tier US 'open wheel' racing, we may have finally gotten the right executive, at the right time, in the form of Randy Bernard.

I grant that I was somewhat puzzled when IRL's board picked Bernard to succeed Tony George as CEO two years ago. He didn't offer any of the traditional credentials, coming from a marketing background that was more oriented to conventional sports attractions, as opposed to a clear understanding of the motorsports value proposition. However, in looking at his former successes and in particular his tenure as the CEO for the Professional Rodeo Association, it was apparent that as an Chief Executive he understood that his responsibility was to create an efficient business organization that intended to make money, as opposed to simply becoming, yet another, 'Walter Mitty' CEO subsumed by his sports executive celebrity.

In this context, therefore, one of the first things that he undertook was an analysis of the series' broadcast interests, and then proceeded to renegotiate IndyCar's clunky TV contracts, with a bias toward deals that involved larger audience footprints, as opposed to previous management's small-ball approach. Then, he ramped up and reorganized his web and social networking programs, since he obviously understood that he couldn't do much good on the bottom line, if his sports product didn't motivate fans to talk about his events around the water cooler each Monday morning. The best way to engage them, in this case, would be to 'pull' fans via Twitter, Facebook et. al, as opposed to the more traditional approach of 'pushing' ads at them ad nauseam.

Finally, he coordinated his traditional on-air (free TV), off-air (subscriber TV), social, and active media programs to create a nearly seamless brand continuum where fans, sponsors or organizers could create news, read news, watch news, and talk about news, thereby MAKING news. However, there was one bit of integration that still needed tending, the delivery of IndyCar events via IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) on a regular basis.

Of course, this would be somewhat problematic for him, since most major broadcast contracts enjoin content providers from delivering live on-air, or off-air, telecasts in concert with IPTV. This is in order to insure that traditional networks have 'first viewer rights', (and control 'first' ad revenues), while trying to marginalize the emergent interest in Internet TV, which to be frank, scares them turdless as a business segment. Truth be told, the 'tube-heads' at 30 Rock and elsewhere, simply don't get the new technology, any more than they understand how to launch a Facebook account, and while they've spent their time trying to keep Net TV an orphan, the delivery of high quality programming via the Internet has been growing around them, particularly once Apple released the first IPad. As a result, and before network's could say 'Steve Jobs', audiences were starting to clamor for decent programming delivered at the park, while their kids were playing on nearby swing sets.

So, Bernard et. al. worked the problem until he got what he wanted, which was the ability to deliver IndyCar events on the Internet, even though delayed, which in the end of the day, was about as reasonable a result as he could hope for, and certainly until traditional broadcast thinking finally catches up with the rest of us. Nonetheless, as a management decision, Bernard's innovative decision to offer full-length event replays on YouTube, within 36 hours of an event's traditional broadcast, is gutsy, clearly prescient and likely to pay off.

As of yesterday, IndyCar's play is now the ONLY full-event motorsports content owner capable of bridging the gaps between on-air TV, off-air TV, IPTV, social networking and synchronized mobile/home content delivery, while leveraging effective brand advertising to a globally relevant audience, and it should be seen as a win for all involved. Now all the series needs to do, is field real open-wheel cars and deliver sensical rules decisions on a regular basis. But those issues are for other days and other topics.

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