Uncertainty once again hurting IndyCar Series

October 24, 2012
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Nothing kills sales faster than uncertainty. Especially when that uncertainty pertains to the product being sold.

That’s why the IndyCar Series finds itself—once again—in a less-than-ideal growth position this off-season.

Perhaps it’s time for a little transparency.

But then again, that’s never been the strong suit of the Hulman-George clan, which owns the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Let’s roll out a quick IndyCar recap.
 
Less than six weeks ago, Ryan Hunter-Reay became the first American to win the IndyCar title since 2006. Chevrolet wrapped up the manufacturer championship in its first year back in the series after a six-year absence. The 2012 season saw the debut of IndyCar’s first new chassis in nine years, eight different on-track winners, loads of parity and an exhilarating Indy 500.

More than a few people—and not just open-wheel diehards—say IndyCar is the best on-track product in racing right now.

But no one is really talking much about the good stuff. That's because the series' progress is being overshadowed by the ivory-tower antics that make the sport seem like more of a circus than the bull-riding circuit Randy Bernard left to replace Tony George as IndyCar czar.

Need a refresher on some of the off-track nonsense that has occurred since the last checkered flag dropped on the IndyCar season?

First, Tony George may or may not be interested in buying the IndyCar Series. Wait, doesn’t he already own part of it as a Hulman-George family member? Yes, he does—but not total control. Wasn’t he offered total control of the series when he was fired by his mom as head of the Speedway in 2009? Right again.

At any rate, we’ve been told three times in the last three weeks in no uncertain terms that the IndyCar Series is NOT for sale.

So the news last week that George was resigning his board position to resolve an appearance of a conflict of interest because he is part of a group that's interested in buying the series was just plain bizarre. It was almost as odd as the prepared statements he and the Hulman-George board released.

“Tony George has made the difficult decision to resign from the board because of his involvement with a group that has recently expressed an interest in purchasing the Hulman & Co.-owned IndyCar organization,” said IMS President Jeff Belskus. “While the business is not for sale and no offers to sell it have been considered or are being considered, we applaud Tony’s efforts to resolve the appearance of a conflict and appreciate the gravity of this decision.”

Huh?

So did George get mad and quit—again—because his offer to buy the series wasn’t being considered? Was he shown the door because he was trying to get Bernard fired and subvert the company’s mission and goals? Or does George genuinely want to buy the series out of concern about its long-term viability?

His statement wasn’t exactly illuminating.

“I realize that my recent efforts to explore the possibility of acquiring IndyCar represent the appearance of a conflict, and it is in everyone’s best interest that I resign,” George said. “It goes without saying that I want to do what is best for this organization.”

More than a few sources inside the IndyCar paddock are chirping that Bernard’s job is in jeopardy whether Tony George buys the series or not. The last word I heard was that the ax will fall by year’s end. Why? Who knows?

I do know this: I haven’t been able to get Belskus or a single team owner or executive (and I’ve called a lot of them) to give Bernard an endorsement since the season ended.

And it’s been a less than an easy proposition to get a clear picture of this series’ future. Maybe because there isn’t one.

This is the sort of uncertainty that makes sponsors and other potential investors run for the hills.

It’s time that the Hulman-George board lift the blinds and let their fans, investors and other supporters in on what’s being done to address sliding television ratings, small race crowds and sponsorship challenges. It’s far past time to let potential sponsors and investors know that this sport has a future—a real, long-term, blueprint-driven future.

They might start by clarifying the status of the series’ CEO and the ownership issue.

Because without a little clarity, there’s bound to be a lot less sales—on every level of IndyCar. And a motorsports series can’t run on fumes forever.
 

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  • Please Help
    I love this sport and wish we all could do better - but , after careful consideration ..... the best option is probably for the hulman and george family to eliminate any role in IndyCar other than running IMS - their participation is not needed, very dysfunctional , and does not improve the prospects of improvement......
    • No Pulitzer For Anthony
      Geez, we see smoke and they say there's no fire. It's the speculation that constantly kills them. Serves them right I suppose, afterall they paid almost $800 MILLION for this pile of crap. So, they're doing a wonderful job! Keep up the grate work IMS!
    • Well said, Anthony
      Your well written article nails the real issue behind the ongoing start/stop travails of the IndyCar soap opera. The Hulman family should stick to running the IMS and allow stewardship of the IndyCar series go to a more knowledgeable open wheel racing group - before it's too late and the series folds.
    • Welcome to the disco party.
      Wow! It only took you 34 years to come to that bit of enlightenment? Welcome to same page as the rest of us in 1978 CART when was formed for those exact same reasons.
    • Go!
      Go get 'em Tony! The sport needs you and your vision.
    • What a mess
      Enough already - coming off a great season with tremendous racing, we now have this topic AGAIN! Hulman George family should empower Randy or sell the place. Tony George has no vision and will prove to be quite unpopular again if he gains control. Don't do it
    • After 2013...
      ...close the series down. H-G to own and operate the IMS for a singular event, the Indianapolis 500. Continue to operate IMS as a magnificent facility with a monumental annual event in May. Next up: USAC runs an oval-only series of appproximatley 8 to 10 other races to include a triple crown of the Indy 500, Pocono 500, and Fontana 500. The existing car is fine and the relationship with Dallara should continue. Move off the notion this is a big sport. It is not. It is a small sport with one amazing evetn each May. The rest is niche market filler but can and should be marketed to get casual fans to come out and watch. This whole, hideous chapter in motorpsorts has to end, replaced by a smaller, simpler, model. I have long called for Mr. Bernard's resignation. He shall have the dignity to tender it.
    • Randy's not the problem
      It's the controlling interests of Hulman and Company that have dragged a once proud sport into the ditch. But see, here's the point: They (IMS and the Hulman's) don't care one bit about the sport. All they care about is getting money from the golden goose. It sucks to be a fan when the sport itself is not the primary motive for having the sport. Fans are waking up to this fact and are walking away in droves. 27% less on TV alone in 2012. AOW can not be sustained for long at this rate. End it now, for the children!
      • I don't know
        I'll wait until my local cable installer/media expert tells me what to think.
      • Riveting
        Riveting article and commentary as usual. This makes for the 5th season in a row that you all have been predicting the "nail in the coffin". You would all make better weather-men...
      • Getting The Comment Counter To Whirl
        Nice re-hash of an unsubstantiated rumor, Anthony. Why is it the only people who seem to be panic stricken are folks with column space and a handful of obsessed sycophant followers? There are a few givens folks are going to have to wrap their brains around. A) The Hulman-George family, including the additions and subtractions by marriage, divorce and/or gunshot will remain in charge of IMS and IndyCar for the remainder of all of our lives. I suggest all of you figure methods of dealing with it other than acting holier than Hulman. B) If Tony George eventually regains control of anything, will the people who swear they are done for good this time REALLY be done for good this time, or will they just claim they are done for good but stick around in creepy and obsessive ways and continually act like third graders for the next 16 years? Here is some advice for Anthony, Cavin, or any other writer whose contributions are limited to repeating then offering gratuitous commentary on unsubstantiated rumors: Go get to the bottom of something. Leverage your contacts, get on the record commentary, and take a balanced viewpoint. I realize it is not as sexy to report on things like a long term IndyCar sponsor that is actually increasing their involvement in the sport (that actually did happen this week and is not a rumor) but is certainly more directly relevant to the future, which remains distant from the bleak wasteland that is positioned by pundits and squatting kids.
        • Update
          D, Can you stop by or do I need to call the cable company? My cable box is on the fritz again and it won't tune into NBCSN for some reason. I'm afraid I may have been entirely responsible to the decrease in ratings for the IRL this year. Will Nielsen take this into account?
        • Bare Minimum
          Nielsen only considers an audience over 12.
        • Stop buying Tickets to IndyCar races
          That's right, don't go to the races or watch it on TV. Give up your generations old/buying 'em since 1959 tickets to the Indy 500. Apparently losing 27% of it's TV audience doesn't make a difference to them...as long as you continue to buy the 500 tickets. So, don't go to the 500 anymore. Maybe they will listen to the fans who want change. I doubt it.
        • 25/8
          If you are offended by Anthony's writings feel free to spend more time at your quaint little blog, K Sparky?
        • Let's be honest...
          This series is dead outside of the Indy 500. Even the 500 is really dead on a national level. Sure, they still get a big crowd every year for the race but that's largely out of family, friends, etc. tradition of attending and a huge chunk just do it because they always have. They completely forget about the sport the other 51 weeks a year. Television ratings for the 500 are very low and they are almost non-existent for the other IRL races. I'm not sure there is anything with the current business model (or variations of it) that will change this. I've often wondered if there is a way to rebrand the 500 as the Super Bowl of auto racing where they could somehow really get all the best drivers in the world from Indycar, NASCAR, F1, etc. to show up and compete together. That would truly be interesting and generate buzz. However, there isn't an easy way to accomplish that without changing the date of the race and losing all the Memorial Day weekend tradition, etc. Plus, I'm sure you'd have trouble getting cooperation from F1 and NASCAR to make this happen. Instead we are going to continue to see this series on life support for years to come with one well attended event and then nobody caring about it the rest of the year.
        • Who knows???
          [quote]More than a few sources inside the IndyCar paddock are chirping that Bernard’s job is in jeopardy whether Tony George buys the series or not. The last word I heard was that the ax will fall by year’s end. Why? Who knows?[/quote] Death race 2011? Plan B? Series still bleeding cash? isod leaving? Parts prices? Twittering like a fool? Aero kits? 27% drop in ratings? Lunching with grand master d on the private plane? That's just off the top of my head. If I sat down and really thought about it, there'd be plenty more. But, when you consider what he had to work with, and the family he had to deal with, failure is the only outcome possible for ANYONE associated with the .1rl.
        • Instant Karma
          Let's say you own a retail store, and you make your son manager, and he replaces all of the real products with counterfeit ones. Your customers will know that they have been burned and will run away in droves. Then, you realize that your son is losing money for you, so you fire him and begin to reintroduce a little authenticity to your shelf. Do you think your customers will be waiting in line at the door to help you get your business back? And if your son is picketing you, scaring new customers away, do you simply allow him to continue? These questions are directed at you, Mari.
        • Randy is short-term for employment
          He'll be given opportunity to "resign". Nice worlds will be said by all. The owners will appoint a puppet. The year 2013 will mark the final season for the IRL/IndyCar-era. Ratings that hover around the .20 to .30 mark all season long (with an Indy 500 of 2.9), low attendance at most races (including no more than 25,000 at highly anticipated Pocono), and a continuation of sponsor-exits and at least two teams folding altogether by mid-season, will mark its demise. The Indy 500 will continue as a USAC event. And a small, oval-only series will be hastily assembled for 2014. There will be lawsuits, breaches of contract, and all manner of angst. But the sport will continue ab out on the level of popularity of the ARCA series, with the exception of Indy, which will remain a "classic", once-a-year traditional event on par with the Masters, Kentucky Derby, All-Star Game, Wimbledon, etcetera, but not at the top of that list.
        • They are 'Special'
          The fantasy-riddled kids have been nearly 100% incorrect for 100% of the past sixteen years. With each passing year their cutesy, off topic, diversionary desperation becomes even more amusing. LOL
        • Redundant
          How do you kill something that is already dead?
        • You remove the life support
          it is that simple. But someone will have to pass on before that happens.
        • Looks like one or more of the new board members
          has a modicum of good sense
        • For all intents and purposes
          you fair fans of the Indy Car game, let it be known that the sport has been placed on life-support and determinations are being made as to who is empowered to employ the plug-removers per long-ago signed agreements. Since capital is at stake, much less ego and reputation, there is gamesmenship amongst the ranks that first must be allowed for the purpose of soothing and show. Upon conclusion of the preliminaries, dutiy shall prevail and commence in the name of virtue not vanity and the great engines shall cease to roar. Obituary shall be written, memorances pontificated in great verbosity, and the unmistakeable wailing amid accusation and threat of judicial retaliation, shall be expediently replaced with the dawn of a new day and deep breath shall be taken in harmony with the shiver of expectation. The engines will restart and long ago days of ineptitude and failure will be left to the purveyors of yesteryear in Milleresque dicpiction. Those moving foward into the brightness, shall call their newness exemplary in its simplicity and grandeur for the pleasured few who revel in its majesty annually with the coming of Spring and henceforth on occasional lazy days of summer and perhaps, a celebratory early Fall. - By the light of insightfulness on this day, October 25, 2012, in company with the clandestinely informed, with conviction, Zenith Gualala-Morelias IV.
        • An Adult Viewpoint
          For sixteen years the only things that indicate 100% failure are the obsessed predictions of the doomsayers. 100% incorrect; 100% of the time. I'll be attending at least ten events next season with confidence. The Burl/Zenith/et al repetitive multiple personality proves he/she/it is a fan based on volume alone, and IMS thanks it for its support. See y'all at a n IndyCar race in 2013!
          • 25/8
            Will you be at Qingdao or Providence?
          • 27% less viewers agree 100%
            Yup, 100% percent agreement that the IndyCar Series stinks. Some people think it's 1959 still. It's not.
          • This is the problem
            Indy Car racing just is not as good as back in the days when I rubbed elbows with guys like Tom Sneva, Gary Bettenhausen, Lloyd Ruby, Wally Dallenbach, and Gordon Freaking Johncock. Those were the days! The days when I became a self-annoited, egomanical, self-important, racing bozo. But those were the days. Only my buddy Zoomie can relate those golden afternoons around the Speedway when the money was nothin' and the chicks were free. Now I draw welfare and pay for my company. A direct correlation to the decline of Indy Car racing? But of course. Just follow the illogic but don't trip on your own mind. And please, exit quickly and orderly. And soon!
          • Well. all the uncertainty
            has been taken care of.
          • IndyCar / IRL / i-R-dead
            0.06 TV ratings = 0.06 TV $.....quote: This year’s ratings were significantly lower than those for the 2011 Baltimore Grand Prix. That race earned a 0.6 household rating and drew 591,000 viewers on Versus. Versus rebranded itself as NBC Sports Network on Jan. 2. the Spelling Bee does better: http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2012/06/01/2012-scripps-national-spelling-bee-final-is-most-viewed-ever-on-cable-television/136624/

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          1. Uh, sorry Johnnie, but you are incorrect. Despite the assertions by yourself and various defenders and captains, sports attendance is NOT off significantly at most sporting events in the US. Variances in attendance has been in the range of single digits, both + & - for years now. MLB has had most of its best overall attendance nubers in the last decade, and that trend has been consistent for most major sporting events. The number one issue cited by most fans when asked about attendance is the overall cost of attending. The presence of HD and big screen televisions in home doesn't even register, as a factor for not attending an event. VALUE in the product is the key, and apparently is something lacking in the current ICS. What other explanation is there when with what is routinely touted as the "best" racing on the planet, fans are staying away in DROVES. A "close" title battle into the last event at Fontana, with the "cars and stars" of the ICS, and who showed up? MAYBE 8K. Sorry, but HD TV isn't to blame for that kind of fan apathy.

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