Miles facing toughest challenge with IndyCar

November 21, 2012
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It’s great that new Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles wants to build trust between IndyCar’s front office and the paddock occupied by team owners and drivers.

That’s no easy task. It was Randy Bernard’s failure to appease team owners and drivers that largely led to his termination as IndyCar CEO in October. No one argues that isn’t important in a sport where no one seems to trust anyone.

But that bridge will lead to nowhere unless Miles, 59, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar Series boss Jeff Belskus can build an audience for the sport. Getting people to pay attention to IndyCar racing will be by far Miles’ biggest challenge.

The fanfare from Tuesday's announcement will quiet quickly unless Miles can do what those before him could not.

Bernard, a noted marketer in his own right, could do nothing to bolster the open-wheel series’ television ratings and race attendance. Live attendance this year was static and TV ratings were down. Way down. The series lost another $7 million to $8 million, adding to a total loss exceeding $250 million since the series started in 1996.

Before Bernard, Tony George had as little success attracting eyeballs to TV sets and people through turnstiles. Other series executives including veteran sports marketer Terry Angstadt and NFL marketer and IMG alum Bob Reif also failed to build an audience.

The job Miles is embarking on is much more difficult than getting a sports-crazy city excited about the Pan Am Games or the U.S.’s most popular sporting event, the Super Bowl.

And IndyCar doesn’t have the player personalities and international interest tennis had when Miles led the ATP Tour. This isn’t the golden age of Miles’ youth when Foyt, Andretti and Unser were household names.

If this isn’t the most difficult professional challenge Miles has faced, it’s certainly the most mystifying—and potentially frustrating.

The racing on the track, by all accounts, this year was good. Very good. Some argue IndyCar racing is more competitive and compelling than NASCAR and Formula One. This year’s Indianapolis 500 was absolutely glorious for people with even an inkling of interest in speed and checkered flags.

So the product is good. But sales are not. It sounds like a scenario that would make most marketers salivate. In IndyCar’s case, it might make them run for cover.

But running for cover isn’t Miles’ style. He has proved to be a good blueprint maker and problem solver. As importantly, he’s been willing to make unpopular decisions when he thinks it’s for the betterment of the sport.

In 2003, when Miles was CEO of the ATP Tour, he moved Indianapolis’ men’s professional tennis tournament out of its traditional calendar spot as a key U.S. Open tune-up. He said at the time the move was best for tennis. But as a result, the local tournament spiraled to its death in 2009.

His image with local government and economic development leaders is mostly sterling. Now he’s got the attention of the IndyCar paddock. I even heard from two IndyCar sponsors Tuesday who were pleased by his increased involvement in the series.

Now we’ll have to see if Miles can turn the heads of people who have long turned their back on open-wheel racing.

Prior to Super Bowl XLVI, Miles sat down with IBJ for a series of video interviews about his status as a problem-solver, power broker and go-to guy for big community initiatives. The first of those is below.

  • Wise choice but...
    ...what Miles and Belskus are looking at is a third-tier, minor league sport now, with one major, annual event. And that event is the sole reason for the existence of the sport in the first place. The emphasis should be on the Indianapolis 500 in all it glory, and TRADITION, key word there, and a smaller, oval racing series of five or six annual events. It is futile to attempt anything else as this sport has assuredly had its heyday. It can survive as small, niche sport if teams can campaign a five or six race season on budgets of $2 million or so. The notion it can be a grandiose, Major League sport with a large following akin to the PGA, NBA, MLB, or anything else on that level is rediculous. Even NASCAR is fading in popularity. Younger people are not interested in racing and will not be. Why recklessly spend attempting to "force" this sport on people disinterested? These leaders should cater to the small group of people who love IndyCar racing and follow it. From time to time, a few folks will see it and gain an interest. But the sport will always be a small, niche-level entity with the big, annual Indy 500 as its centerpiece. And even that is Kentucky Derby-ish in scope now. It is a long-standing American tradition sporting event, all history and heritage, for one day in May. A few other events that reming us of it, sprinkled thoughout the summer and early Fall is all that should consist of a so-called "series." That is where this sport is today and will be, unless mismanagement and poor decision making sends it away altogether. Ask yourself this? If that happened, would more than 300,000 peopel in America care an iota?
  • Don't think so!
    Anthony, The product is not good. It is not more compelling than F1. I'm not a big NASCAR fan, so I won't comment on them. You must be in some kind of echo chamber in the old hometown and have zero feel for anything 200+ miles out. Reminds me of some of the same problems a certain party had in the election just past. Ugly, committee designed, wheel protected, under-powered bloated sleds do not turn race fans on. Well, most race fans, the stats tell that story. All you need to do is answer why the sport, after 17 years of IMS control suffers from many of the same problems the sport had in the mid-70s. Actually even more problems from then to now. What worked in the past during the 80s and 90s? What is different now? It has nothing to do with CEOs. And a 100 point deduction if you say I'm talking about CART. And now for the attacks...which is one good reason to stay away from this blog's comment section.
  • The car is just TOO D@MN UGLY!
    Reason why it was racy in 2012? BECAUSE the previous IRL deathmobile was hiddeously horrible. That's a fact. Now, the DW12 is NOT an open wheel car. AOW fans want open wheel we have no choice any more. Carter is 110% correct. Fix it or forget it because the car is just too d@mn ugly. But IMS stiffs NEVER could figure out what the fans want aanyway so this plea like all the others falls on deaf ears.
  • Anthony threw the haters red meat and they are devouring it. More of the same, people who claim to hate the series, hate the venues, hate the people or whatever spending their time repeatedly telling people who do not care that they hate the series, hate the venues, hate the people or whatever.
  • Predictable Behavior
    ....and oddly, they are always the first to post. On behalf of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway I would like to thank them for their continuing interest which is more like obsession. I can hardly wait for the 2013 season!
  • Thanksfornothing Day
    Keep killing the sport....thats what you all stand for. you think Belskus is gonna REALLY leverage his great experience to save the sport? Come on Disciple, he fired your hero Randy and puppet master Robin Miller. he was ultimately in charge...he failed too. Now what? more zip-lines? more Super Bowls? More VerSus for the next umpteen years? more stupis uglymobiles? More sewagesque broken pipes and un-kept speedway infrastructure? Belskus is just more of the status quo of NOTHING. You Indy lovers are doing the same....supporting failure, again. Admit you were wrong, like you do on forums and your personal blogs and twitter feeds. but you come here and rag on us AOW defenders. Shame on YOU!
  • Take A Look At Reality
    Oddly, the only entity that actually did fail, twice, was the boycotting cart entity. Indy Car and the 500 have been around for over 100 years. Use your brain for once. As long as there is an Indianapolis 500 there will be a series that supports it, regardless of the perceived quality of the ownership and management. To deny that is to admit ignorance. You kids have been wrong for over sixteen years. Is it not time to simply grow up?
    • nobody cares
      Just look at this list of comments, 6 people have bothered to reply. Doesn't look like 99.9% of the population give a rats you know what about the sport anymore. BTW that new car is the ugliest thing I've seen with 4 wheels since AMC built the Pacer.
    • Those Who Care
      Well obviously you care. LOL. Thanks for watching! Or are you just practicing the hypocrisy that typifies the IndyCar obsessed road racing enthusiast?
      • more hypocrisy from the bloviator
        Rumor has it Toronto is hanging by the skin of it's teeth, clinging to the great CART legacy yet unable to muster an attendance with today's "Indycar". More failure. Come on Disciple, following the Indy horse has done nothing for Toronto PLUS it's done nothing for the multiple dozens of tracks the IRL/Indycar has been tossed out of for lack of attendance. Belskus can't change perception of the sport being stupid and dumb...which it is. Dumb all over, that only sells to indycentric zombies.
      • How Cute. Yet Another off Topic Diversion.
        It will probably be a while until IndyCar comes close to the 42 failed ventures experienced by the twice failed object of your quaint obsession.
        • 25/8
          Has anyone ever been fired by their own family 3 times like _TG? Or blown $750 million on his failed "Vision" while falling for Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme? What a tool! LOL
        • Oh Look....Yet Another Fantasy Diversion
          If you kids repeat things you simply pull out of your nether regions with nothing even remotely resembling fact enough do you foolishly believe it will somehow eventually be true? Grow up. Deal in the world of reality.
        • 2013 will tell the tale
          Easy to do, but I predict TV ratings will hover aorund the .30 on average all season long (minus Indy - which I predict will get a flat 3), and attendance down 10 percent at most venues, and, sadly, noticeable empties at Indy. As a result of a 2013 season that is, essentially, an overall decline from the 2012 season, the plug is officially pulled in November of 2013 with the announcement the series is being folded and assests sold. The 2014 Indy 500 will be held as part of a newly constituted 5-race oval mini-series officiated and managed by USAC and H-G. Existing Dallara cars will be used through 2016. During this time, there will be an examination whether to continue past 2016 with a less costly, more basic Indy Car akin to the current Lights machine, or to discontinue the Indianapolis 500 with 100 events run. It can go either way, a 50-50 toss up. But that is what we are looking at. The sport is not of interest to enough people, nor will it be, to sustain a so-called, major league series. Those days are yesterday. Indy Car racing barely, BARELY, is even known by the general public.
        • Miles
          Indycar should compete with formula 1 except in Europe. It has great drivers who compete on ovals, road courses and street courses. It needs to race in South and Central America, Australia, New Zealand and, perhaps, China and India. As it stands, it is compared unfavorable to NASCAR.
        • Indy Car should move...
 South America. Or Australia. It can then rename itself F Number Two or F Deuce. Meanwhile, back in the United States, USAC can contest the Indy Racing Series at IMS, Texas, Iowa, Pocono, Fontana, and maybe Milwaukee if Andretti can fill all the empties with buttage. But maybe it is all moot after 2016, potentially the last year of the legendary Indianapolis 500 unless sound principals are initiated quickly.
        • IRL Defender Needed
          HaY, Dipsicle....what are the most pressing issues for Indycar for 2013? You know, outside of the obvious ones you childishly refuse to acknowledge. Do the toilets get fixed or is the grass gonna get mowed? Will they open E Stand on Wednesday practice during the "weak of May"? Come on buddy, keep you head in the sand just like all indycentric Hulmanista's do...
        • Hmmmmm....
          I believe when Indy decided to build this huge, proper corp image they initiated the end. Just as the end came to the snake pit, so did the sports "characters" that demanded attention and built a solid following. Drinking, smoking, gunfighters that the fans could connect with. Not pretty Izod rich kids. If NASCAR patrolled the campgrounds and developed the teams to fit on a Cricket green they would end up in the same situation. Lets see Clint beat Gordans' ass, that is what consumes spectators. All waiting for the repercussion of events and oh hell it is a competitive series too!
        • Hey! Now there is an intelligent fan!
          Sad Macaroni wants to redneck IndyCar Racing, complete with beat downs and hick-mentality pit crew brawls. That's what consumes low-brow, undereducated, uncouth, class-challenged people with fat bellies and even fatter wives. Yee-Haw! That will save a real auto racing sport, by making it a not-real,trailer sport, like NAStyCAR.
        • Appealing, visually
          But Burl, the NASCAR carz ARE nice to look at. They got one thing right. Indy has NO SEX APPEAL, none what-so-ever. What ever appeal it has is based off of the 100+ year speedway legacy...all else is a smoldering ruin. So, right when the speedway has the chance to change the perception of the sport by introduction of the new DW12 car, they blow it by making it the ugliest mofo racecar on the planet. MARK MILES, take a lesson from the old want AOW to survive, but it can't with ugly cars. The product SUCKS because it ain't even open wheeled any more. Fix that anyway you can or it will continue to rot on the vine. Marky...the problem is right in front of your something about it.
        • True enough
          There is no arguing Chief's point. NAStyCAR machines have visual appeal to even ordinary, everyday, non-racing fans. I have seen plenty of them stop and gawk at show car set ups in malls, ballfield parking lots, and convention center auto shows with a "Wow! Look at that!". IndyCars today look like a cheap kid's toy from Dollar General. A more discerning eye might suggest a large-size indoor kart racer or lunar buggy. Either way, "What is that?" is the refrain of choice. Sadly, the handsome NASCAR machines are turgid sluggards of tankdom, while the buh-fugly, awkward Indy Cars are darty rockets. What to do? What to do? NASCAR suggests contrived drama amongst slightly girlish men. IndyCar suggests contrived chic. Sad state of affairs. Perhaps "500" Miles can connect the two and have drag queen IndyCar racers be-otch slapping each other on the podium.

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        1. How much you wanna bet, that 70% of the jobs created there (after construction) are minimum wage? And Harvey is correct, the vast majority of residents in this project will drive to their jobs, and to think otherwise, is like Harvey says, a pipe dream. Someone working at a restaurant or retail store will not be able to afford living there. What ever happened to people who wanted to build buildings, paying for it themselves? Not a fan of these tax deals.

        2. Uh, no GeorgeP. The project is supposed to bring on 1,000 jobs and those people along with the people that will be living in the new residential will be driving to their jobs. The walkable stuff is a pipe dream. Besides, walkable is defined as having all daily necessities within 1/2 mile. That's not the case here. Never will be.

        3. Brad is on to something there. The merger of the Formula E and IndyCar Series would give IndyCar access to International markets and Formula E access the Indianapolis 500, not to mention some other events in the USA. Maybe after 2016 but before the new Dallara is rolled out for 2018. This give IndyCar two more seasons to run the DW12 and Formula E to get charged up, pun intended. Then shock the racing world, pun intended, but making the 101st Indianapolis 500 a stellar, groundbreaking event: The first all-electric Indy 500, and use that platform to promote the future of the sport.

        4. No, HarveyF, the exact opposite. Greater density and closeness to retail and everyday necessities reduces traffic. When one has to drive miles for necessities, all those cars are on the roads for many miles. When reasonable density is built, low rise in this case, in the middle of a thriving retail area, one has to drive far less, actually reducing the number of cars on the road.

        5. The Indy Star announced today the appointment of a new Beverage Reporter! So instead of insightful reports on Indy pro sports and Indiana college teams, you now get to read stories about the 432nd new brewery open or some obscure Hoosier winery winning a county fair blue ribbon. Yep, that's the coverage we Star readers crave. Not.