While most of the causal sports world focused on the MLB playoffs, college football, the NFL and the return of referees and the opening of NBA training camps, IZOD IndyCar made an announcement that could be a real boon to the circuit in the coming years as it continues to try and find its rightful place…the return to racing at Pocono Raceway after a 23 year absence.
Why is that a big deal for the circuit? Few reasons. The track has been a NASCAR hub with two races for several years, making it the place where ANY racing fan from the metropolitan areas of New York and Philadelphia could come to watch their favorite sport. The hills of Pennsylvania have been a long-established hub for open wheel racing in the United States (Andretti anyone?) with not one but two tracks (Nazareth is now long gone) when the sport was in its heyday. With Formula One in New Jersey now apparently revived for 2013, open wheel racing could take hold for fans with a one-two punch in the area.
More specifically for Indy Car, the circuit seems to have plateaued again this year. The loss of Danica Patrick from a marketing angle slowed casual interest in the circuit, and the move to Pocono, along with the relaunch of a “Triple Crown” challenge, which will award $1 million to a driver that wins the Indianapolis 500, the 400-miler at Pocono and the season finale at Fontana, Calif., gives the sport new tent poles from which to grow next year. Returning to Pocono also gives Indy Car a leg to market directly to Madison Avenue as the trip to the race in July is more than manageable for those wanting to experience the power of the sport. Yes it is true that drivers will always make the trek into New York to do promotions, but what racing has missed is the opportunity to have an event close enough to get marketers out to feel the race as it happens. NASCAR and Pocono have still never properly marketed the two races that exist directly to New York, but IndyCar will now have that opportunity should they choose to take it…a consistent, year round presence to remind fans that this is their race, both in the Apple and the City of Brotherly Love.
Now the success of the race won’t happen by just hanging out a shingle. The past success of open wheel racing in the Poconos came because the sport spent dollars to market directly to New York. Promotions with local and regional brands need to be struck, a strong presence in the market needs to be had, the digital strategy needs to be in place. Casual fans know when to go see NASCAR at Pocono already, that does not mean they will just go back a third time for IndyCar, a sport which is racing of course but is of a different brand and style than NASCAR.
Will it be easy to succeed in year one? No. is it great to see the return for a sport with great power and personality. For sure. Start those marketing engines for the Apple and Philly, IZOD Indy Car.