It has been a few years since Indy Car began its healing process, unifying under what is now the IZOD Indy Car Series. With the Centennial of the Indianapolis 500 coming up next month, the circuit is making a big push to continue to gain back fans, brands, and market share from its NASCAR brethren and all others that are clamoring for the casual fan interest. Can it work? A few reasons as to why it can.
1- Leadership. Randy Bernard came on to lead the circuit last year after great success lifting the PBR to greater recognition. Building consensus, cultivating partnerships, solving problems and unifying all parties was key in the growth of the PBR, and is essential in the success and growth of Indy Car
2- Speed and Size. At first blush some may say there aren’t great similarities between bulls and the fast machines that circle speedways at over 200 miles per hour, but there actually are. Riders and drivers are the personalities that drive the sport, but bulls and the cars are actually as much, and sometimes even more, of the story that is told every event weekend. The personalities of the bulls, the size and power, and unpredictability, make them into a big part of the spectacle. In Indy Car, the speed, technology and risk that the cars pose are just as much a story as a 500 pound bull, and finding ways to help communicate that man vs. machine story is critical not just in maintaining audience but in finding new casual fans.
3- Brands In Unison. There is no doubt IZOD has spent as much, if not more, marketing the Indy Car name than any other titles sponsor in any sport the last two years. The Indy Car lifestyle has become one with the IZOD brand. However along with that growth is the cultivation of multi-level campaigns involving other league sponsors as well. The latest is Honda’s ride-along campaign with the legendary Mario Andretti. The commercial spend for the call to action of the sweepstakes crosses every national sports event, but it is mixed in seamlessly with mentions for other sponsors as well. Not unheard of, but certainly unusual for most sports properties, where brands tend to work in a silo without the support of others. Also a little innovation doesn’t hurt, so the league’s attempt with Mattel to set a Hot Wheels jump world record at Indy will also pull in partners from across the sport. Also factor in Telemundo’s new partnership with driver Oriol Servia and the pass-thru that can give to new brand partners, and there is a great deal of strength in unison for all concerned.
4- Transcendence of cultures. Formula One will give the united States another shot this year, but for the most part racing has maintained its borders geographically. NASCAR Looks north and south but is still an American race property, F1 takes on large parts of the world, but only Indy car races across North America (into Baltimore this year) as well as South and to the Far East. The speed of the cars and the personalities of the drivers cross cultures, which makes it a truly international property at a time when brands are looking for that established link around the world.
5- Everybody Loves A Comeback. There is no doubt Indy Car was close to, if not, king of the hill at one point. The splitting of the circuit, lost TV exposure, the economy, a smart play by NASCAR, all contributed to drive the sport down. However the signature race, the Indy 500, remained as the jewel, making the sport somewhat known by almost any sports fan. Now with smarter spends, better leadership, and unification the sport stands a chance of returning to its place in the sports lexicon. Won’t be easy, but if it can keep coming back, there is a void to be filled and glory to be returned to.
Now none of this will be easy. Attention spans are shorter, TV relationships need to be improved more, additional brands have to see the sport as a good fit, the schedule needs to become even more clear, and most importantly, the economy needs to keep bouncing back to create the casual dollar spend needed for attending races in far off places. However what Indy Car now has, as much as any other property, is hope. Hope driven by speed, excitement, an international reach, and a growing list of partners who can put some money back into the development till. Whether it is enough to drive the sport back to where it was is TBD…however now, with the 100th anniversary of the 500 on the horizon, there is more than a glimmer of hope for a sport many recently thought was on life support.