Friday, March 1, 2013

The Boston Report

In October 2012, Hulman & Co. hired Boston Consulting Group to evaluate their business interest, which include IndyCar. After a little over four months, the report is out.

Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press reported on some of the ideas BCG has recommended to take the IndyCar to the next level.

Here is what was reported by Fryer as just a few of the ideas from a 115-page report:

1. 15 race US-schedule from April to August with a possible winter international calendar.
2. A three race playoff that includes Texas, Long Beach and the Indianapolis road course.
3. A schedule going as follows: Houston, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Miami, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Pocono, Toronto, Seattle, Sonoma, Fontana, Texas, Long Beach, Indianapolis road course.
4. One television partner. ABC/ESPN or NBC. Pick one.
5. Less Leader Circle money.
6. Resetting prices for the Indianapolis 500. Top tier at $200, next at $150, others between $5-20. Reduce ticket prices for the Brickyard 400 and Indianapolis Grand Prix.

As a diehard fan here is my response:

1. IndyCar has to start earlier in the year and end later than August. I understand nobody wants to go head-to-head with the NFL but being counter programming may be a benefit. For 2013 the season ends in mid-October. Not too deep in the NFL season but not ending before the beginning of autumn. This is not a bad thing. A five month season is more suicide than running two races during the NFL season, one of which is on a Saturday night.

Fans are dying for action. It has been nearly six months since the last time IndyCar raced. Imagine if the fans had to wait eight months? That is not going to fly. As for the start of the season, begin the week after the Super Bowl. People are going to be bored that weekend. Give them something exciting to watch.

2. All together now, "No, no, no, no, no, no no- Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go." No playoffs. To quote the report, "the current IndyCar 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."

ARE YOU KIDDING ME! No consequence? Will Power has to live every waking moment knowing he did not have to pass Hunter-Reay at Fontana! He has to play in his mind when he fall off the face of the planet after the first round of pit stops at St. Pete where he went from favorite for the win to 7th. He has to think about what happened at Indianapolis. Iowa. Baltimore. There are plenty of consequences.

Let's not forget Briscoe exiting the pit lane in 2009 when they were etching his name on the trophy, only to scratch it out and have to wait nearly a month until Homestead to put Franchitti's name on it.

IndyCar fans are like diehard football, I mean soccer fans. They want a round robin, aggregate championship based on every single race that takes places. They don't need a phony bologna playoff that is more of a punishment to those who bust their asses to be their best day in and day out. Some years you will have dramatic championship battles (just like the ones both IndyCar and the English Premier League had in 2012). Other years are dominated and do that have a dramatic fight to the final seconds or laps.

3. Some minor problems with BCG's proposed schedule. There is a reason Houston wants to be in October and not April. You cannot just say to a race promoter, "your race is moving up 6 months."

Homestead-Miami crowd shrunk over the years, running it in June makes no sense, same for Atlanta. If you expand Boston to the Boston-area, than New Hampshire would be an option. Chicago is tricky since the NASCAR Nationwide Series runs their in July. If you expand Seattle to Pacific Northwest, then Portland is in the picture.

The back end of the schedule makes no sense. Move Texas from a hot June night race to even hotter August night race. Move Long Beach from a beautiful spring day, a date it has had since 1976, to August makes as much sense as NASCAR moving the Southern 500 from Labor Day weekend to the penultimate round in November.

As for the Indianapolis road course. I am against it. Note: I am not yelling. I am calmly stating my opinion. It would not help the Indianapolis 500, it would hurt it. TV numbers would be just as low for a race on the road course. As I said in a tweet to NBC pit reporter Kevin Lee, everything can't be in Indianapolis. It is a great fan base but IndyCar has to try and expand to fans in other places.

The other problem with the BCG proposed schedule is it alienates Milwaukee and Iowa, places a lot of people hold near and dear to IndyCar's heart and produces great racing, it does not focus on getting back to natural terrain road course such as Road America, Austin and Watkins Glen and lacks any real character. It is bland. It is market hopping. Just going from big market to big market, forgetting it's roots. Sound familiar?

4. I am on board with one television partner. While NBC Sports Net has produced fine coverage, the ratings have been low, however that could change if races were put on big boy NBC. ABC/ESPN are very below average when it comes to coverage but would expose IndyCar to a larger audience.

5. I already talked about the Leader Circle program.

6. I am neutral with ticket prices. I don't think they should be changed. But if they are I do not see a massive backlash. I don't expect the attendance for the Indianapolis 500 to go from around 275,000 people to only 50,000 if the prices are increased by what BCG has suggested but their will be some who would be against paying more and that is understandable.

What I did find interesting from was BCG's statement about IndyCar being, "the best pure racing motorsports league in the U.S. ...but the series suffers from a lack of awareness."

That is quiet a compliment. And true. Yes, IndyCar is paying them but consulting groups would not (at least I hope not) lie if there were some serious problems with a business. I hope they are very ethical.

IndyCar has a lot going for itself. However it needs a bigger footprint. It needs to make a splash that makes heads turn and jaws drop.

From what has been made public, I think the Boston Consulting Group's advice is sound in a few areas and is off in others. IndyCar should take a look at their television partners and Leader Circle program but when it comes to races, the schedule and the championship format, their is little the series should do different.