17 August 2010

The Importance of SMI to the IndyCar Series Moving Forward

In the battle for control of racetracks, Speedway Motorsports Inc. (no relation to the town of Speedway, Ind.) and the International Speedway Corporation run most of the major racetracks around the country.  Some major tracks outside their control: Dover, Pocono, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

When it comes to the IZOD IndyCar Series, the two corporations presently control 7 of the 17 circuits on which the series operates: Kansas, Texas, Watkins Glen, Infineon (Sonoma), Chicagoland, Kentucky and Homestead-Miami.  Of those tracks, SMI controls three (Texas, Sonoma and Kentucky), while ISC holds control of four tracks.

The IZOD IndyCar Series has already committed to heading to a fourth SMI track in 2011, adding New Hampshire Motor Speedway to its proposed schedule.  With NHMS on board, the IndyCar Series is holding events on four of SMI's eight major tracks, leaving Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte and Las Vegas on the outside looking in.  (The IZOD IndyCar Series hits four of 12 ISC circuits.)

Of those four, three - Atlanta, Charlotte and Las Vegas - have all hosted IndyCar races in the past.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard is already on the record as saying he'd like to try and go back to Las Vegas, possibly using the facility as a season-ending race.  Looking ahead, the Craftsman Truck Series runs their event at Las Vegas in late September, possibly creating a pairing with the IICS.

What is the difference between the two companies when it comes to hosting the IZOD IndyCar Series?  Perhaps the largest word is "indifference."  While ISC often treats IndyCar Series races as the red-headed stepchild of their racing schedule, SMI has reached out and actively promoted the series.

At New Hampshire, Dario Franchitti was allowed to showcase the IZOD IndyCar Series with a lap prior to the track's NASCAR race.  Texas Motor Speedway hosted a major press conference later tonight with Bernard and Helio Castroneves in attendance at the House of Blues in Dallas.  Over 1,000 people are expected to attend.

The marketing effort behind the announcement of twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway helped put the story at the top of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's online section this morning.  During football season.  That doesn't happen every day in Texas.  That's market saturation that the IZOD IndyCar Series won't receive for a schedule announcement anywhere outside of Indianapolis.

While Eddie Gossage may be the best motorsports marketer in the business these days, he goes out of his way to promote the IZOD IndyCar Series, whether it be in this form or serving on the ICONIC committee.  It's just another reflection of SMI's commitment to hosting, and more importantly, putting on a show when the IZOD IndyCar Series comes to their tracks.

While the IndyCar Series won't be at Kentucky in Sept. 2011 (they will likely be in the Bluegrass State earlier in the year), I expect their Labor Day Weekend IndyCar race to be well attended, with camping spots utilized throughout the weekend.

The future between the IZOD IndyCar Series and SMI appears to be bright.  While I don't anticipate seeing IndyCar races at Atlanta, Charlotte or Bristol any time soon, I wouldn't rule any of those tracks out, either.

Meanwhile, the attitude towards the IndyCar Series from ISC could not be more polar opposite.  With recent track schedule announcements at Chicagoland and Kansas, future IndyCar dates at both tracks received nothing more than standard "we're working and we'll see" responses.

I'll be at Chicagoland, and I'm interested to see how much promotion it receives in the Chicago area.  With IZOD's help, I would fully expect it to be well-promoted from the IndyCar side of things, much as they have done in San Francisco leading up to the Sonoma race.  If anything, the market size of Chicago would probably help the IndyCar Series accept a deal to return to the track, even at a reduced rate.

Even though the IndyCar Series has traditionally brought exciting racing (and the occasional solid crowd) to the tracks, it appears that ISC would rather have the circuits be empty, with no cars running, than to bring the IICS back to their venues.  Included in the losing relationship is Watkins Glen, which remains one of the most historic open-wheel venues in America.  However, it appears that ISC would rather not invest in promoting the history of open-wheel racing at the track if it can continue to host NASCAR events.

The only way the IZOD IndyCar Series can keep or add venues from ISC appears to be in a package deal.  For instance, fans have been clamoring for a return to Phoenix International Raceway; but based upon rumors, the only way it will be put on future IndyCar schedules is if Auto Club Raceway is also used for an IndyCar race.

To be honest, I'd make that trade in a heartbeat.  Located outside Los Angeles, Fontana allows the IZOD IndyCar Series to saturate the L.A. market at the beginning (Long Beach) and end of season (Fontana) if scheduled properly.  It appeared that IZOD's marketing initiatives leading up to the Long Beach race were well-received.  Now what if they came back 5 months later, with a series championship on the line?

While it looks like ISC-owned tracks at Kansas, Homestead-Miami and Watkins Glen will be coming off the schedule, at least one (and possibly two) SMI tracks are coming on board.  Without the involvement of SMI, the IZOD IndyCar Series is caught between a rock and a hard place moving forward.

If SMI were not interested in putting the IndyCar product on track, or promoting it, ISC would have the series in a vice when it comes to contract negotiations.  ISC, which works hand-in-hand with NASCAR, could in theory be the death-knell to oval IndyCar racing, were it not for a few independent operators (Iowa, IMS) and SMI.  

At the very least, the IndyCar Series has leverage because of SMI's demonstrated commitment to hosting and marketing IndyCar events.  Moving into 2011 and beyond, that commitment bodes well for the future of the IZOD IndyCar Series.

No comments:

Post a Comment