Unified IRL off to fast start

March 31, 2008
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indy300The early returns are good for the Indy Racing League. Attendance and television ratings at Saturday’s season opener in Miami were up and local media and fans raved about the on-track racing.

Although the series doesn’t disclose official attendance figures, several media outlets reported attendance at Miami-Homestead’s 65,000-seat speedway at or above 35,000. Attendance was up about 20 percent from last year, observers said. TV ratings calculated by New York-based Nielsen Media Research are also expected to be up, but those numbers won’t be tabulated until later today or tomorrow.

And 71 percent of nearly 5,000 viewers polled by a popular auto racing Web site rated the IRL’s season opener an A, while another 24 percent rated it a B.

The eight Champ Car drivers helped create one of the biggest opening day fields in recent IRL history, with 25 cars making the grid. If a practice crash hadn’t taken out Graham Rahal, it would have been 26.

“What [fans] saw wasn't the yawning Penske-Ganassi parade of past years, particularly last year, [with] races almost dull enough to be Formula One events,” said David J. Neal of the Miami Herald.

Before the race, IRL boss Tony George announced the series will get a new tagline: “I am Indy: One Series. All the Stars.” George appears to be borrowing a line from CART, which was known for “Cars and Stars.”

Despite the high praise, some sports marketers said IRL officials need to do a better job marketing their races in the weeks before the event if they are to realize the full potential of a unified open-wheel series.

What did you think of the race? And what can IRL do better?
  • It was a decent race and there was an added level of intrigue as the Champ Car drivers participated in their first event. However, the absolute lack of promotion is baffling. The IRL has a couple drivers who are front and center in the public eye. Danica and her swimsuit issue, and Helio with his smooth moves.....yet we see nothing about the opening season race at Homestead. I didn't see a single commercial or print ad - trust me, I would have noticed. How the league expects better television ratings is beyond me. It seems they are leaving the track promotion up to the track owners - and for the viewing TV audience? They're lucky we even knew there was a race on.
  • Ratings just in from Nielsen indicate the IRL's first race earned a .56 rating, which was static from last year. IRL officials said a late start time plus going head-to-head with NCAA basketball games likely kept the rating from increasing. A .56 rating, means about 600,000 households nationwide tuned in to the race.
  • Indy Racing League officials need to get very aggressive with their marketing--especially grass roots marketing--in towns where races are hosted. In some of these cities, it's difficult to tell an IRL race is coming the week before the event. They need to buy up some billboards and go into every restaurant and bar within 30 miles of the track and leave a trail of IRL posters, banners, buttons, etc. etc. I believe that's what they call papering the town in NASCAR circles. I think it's a mistake to wait for sponsor promos to kick in. This series' marketing efforts needs a boost now. That will get the sponsors and fans rolling in.
  • I thought the race wasn't bad. Watching the leaders work through steady traffic was pretty neat and I'm glad that there weren't any serious accidents. I wasn't thrilled with the TV production. For spending so much time talking about the transition drivers, it would have helped if they could tell the audience a bit about them.

    I realize that the league should not do all of the promoting (hopefully, incoming sponsors can help in that regard) but going forward, they need to make sure that the series as a whole is promoted and that winning the championship is what one should strive for and be praised for. Winning Indianapolis is a very lucrative bonus. Also, make sure tracks do their job in promoting the race. If they aren't doing the job, either take away the date or promote it yourself.
  • The updated Nielsen ratings indicates the IRL's season opener earned a .8 rating, a record for it's season debut race.

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