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Sports Business

It's time for Miles to address IndyCar fans directly

February 13, 2013
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Randy Bernard is long gone as IndyCar Series CEO, but let’s hope the open-wheel circuit maintains the tradition he started of presenting a State of the Series address to jump start the season.

Although there’s been no announcement about a State of the Series pitch, sources close to IndyCar said one is in the works, either in Indianapolis early next month or perhaps in conjunction with one of the series’ upcoming on-track tests.

Bernard made the presentation in front of a good-sized audience at the Hilbert Circle Theatre last year, and keeping the announcement at the series’ epicenter in Indianapolis would make sense.

If IndyCar officials are going to go through with it, now would be the time to announce it. With the series set to go green March 24 in St. Petersburg, time is running short.

 While Bernard’s presentations were full of glitz and fluff, he also managed to weave in some meaningful news and earned some good press for the series, its teams and sponsors as it fired up its season.

With recent changes in IndyCar, a State of the Series would be more significant this year than ever. Those who compete in and support the series are especially keen to hear from new Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, who’s been making the rounds since he took his new post in December.

Series fans are eager to hear Miles’ plans for replacing Bernard in the CEO post. Currently, Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus is interim series CEO.

Fans want to know what’s going on with aero kits, which will help make the cars look different from one another. They want to know what’s going to be done to make the series a more balanced offering of ovals, road and street courses. They want to know what the plan is for series expansion and what new markets IndyCar might tackle.

They're curious about IndyCar's plans to start a play-off system akin to NASCAR's Chase for the Cup and want to know what series officials are going to do short- and long-term to improve the series' television package.

And they want to know how series officials are going to better develop and market American drivers. Announcing that up-and-coming American Conor Daly will race at this year’s Indianapolis 500 would be a good start. Daly recently tweeted that his schedule would allow him to race at Indianapolis this year, and league sources are whispering that A.J. Foyt is in discussions with the charismatic young racer, currently working his way up the Formula One ladder.

With the recent departure of a handful of key IndyCar executives, a number of series constituents want to know what’s going on inside IndyCar’s headquarters and what this means for the series’ direction. Word that IndyCar is downsizing its staff and asking Speedway staffers to do double duty and fill those holes has been unsettling to some who think the series could lose steam as a result. Promoters at tracks that host IndyCar races are especially concerned that Speedway staffers will be spread too thin and focus more on the money-making IMS and less on the money-losing IndyCar Series.

Given Miles’ skills as a public speaker, a State of the Series could go a long way to articulate his vision for growth for IndyCar and allay any lingering fears about his regime’s direction.

Despite some concerns, Miles already has the confidence of people inside of the series in a way Bernard was never able to achieve.

I’ve talked to dozens of people involved in the series and they all have good things to say about Miles. Much of the skepticism I heard about Miles from series insiders late last year has faded.

“I have been very impressed with Mark Miles as a sports-minded executive,” said Mike Hull, Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s managing director. “He understands all sides of the sports business.”

The fans—many still steamed that the affable and approachable Bernard was shown the door—are another story. They simply haven’t had the access to Miles that some team owners, sponsors and race promoters have been afforded.

Miles can be excused to some extent for not yet going all out to reach fans. After all, he’s only been on the job a couple months. Still, fans will be watching closely to see if Miles offers them the kind of access Bernard did.

A State of the Series would be a good way to help Miles start winning over current IndyCar fans and generating new interest in the series. And such a presentation could show that while IndyCar may at times race in circles, the business plan is moving forward.

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