We offered RACER.com readers the chance to send in questions for IndyCar's president of operations and competition, Derrick Walker [ @DJWIndyCar ] and we're serializing his replies according to topic. Although he's not working in the marketing department of IndyCar, many of your questions – understandably – delved into this subject, and as Derrick says, it's something that everyone within the series has to have a handle on: Marketing and the TV package.
• The racing in its current spec has made for the closest competition in any major motorsports category on the planet. However, too few people are aware of this and commonly associate “racing” with NASCAR. What is the short and long-term marketing/media strategy to bring IndyCar back to the forefront?
DW: Rob can rest assured that we all realize the strategy that IndyCar currently has is not getting the job done. So with Mark Miles in charge and with his plans to expand the marketing department, I think you will see a new plan coming in the very near future. That's good because initiatives have to be taken, and soon. IndyCar offers some of the best racing, and yet we're also racing's best-kept secret, which is a bit ridiculous for everyone involved.
• Has IndyCar ever considered establishing a media/marketing campaign with outlets like "Honda Tuning" magazine or "Super Chevy"?
DW: Over the years there have been initiatives similar to that, but it's not happening at the moment. It's a good idea to build the links to our manufacturers and tap into all their outlets. We definitely need more exposure to tell people who we are, what we are and where we are, and outlets such as those could help promote the rivalries between the brands involved in IndyCar.
• How about selling the naming rights for IMS and/or the Indy 500 race? It will bring lots extra of money "for da house" and it's a very simple move for you guys. (Lucas Oil Indy 500 or the Red Bull Indianapolis Motor Speedway)
DW: Yeah, if you have anyone in mind, let us know! I think there are variations on that concept that are possible, and I don't think we'd turn away many. It's certainly something that's always looked at. I'm not in the marketing department, so such plans would have to fit their objectives, and with the Indy 500 being what it is, there would probably be some limitations in how you could add to the brand name; but if there are serious interested parties, then it would be an avenue worth exploring. IndyCar recognizes the need to be more available and accessible to all forms of marketing and in the past, we've been neither as open nor as aggressive as we should have been. Decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis, though, but ultimately I'd defer to my friends in marketing on this matter.
• Why not open up the rulebook and invite Formula 1 manufacturers and drivers to the Indianapolis 500 to see how they would fare at the Brickyard? Then, buy an insurance policy that would pay any F1 team $5 million over the existing prize money if they can win. It may be perceived as a gimmick, but everyone would watch and take great interest. It would start a wonderful rivalry that could generate a lot of new IndyCar fans.
DW: The rules as they stand don't preclude Formula 1 teams coming over to the Indy 500. It's absolutely not a closed shop and if you look where we're going with rules in the future regarding bodywork and engines, it's even more interesting for them to consider. I like the idea and I'd be very happy if an F1 team came to IndyCar. However, they're busy with their own series, and I suspect – but I don't know – it would be a situation where they employ experienced Indy 500 participants, including drivers. Bear in mind the Indy 500 usually falls on the same Sunday as the Monaco Grand Prix.
• It's no secret that IndyCar now has the best racing product many people have ever seen…but there's no one watching! What can be done when it comes to getting a better TV deal? Can the series at least move up from NBC Sports to NBC? Is it that hard to do that?
• Is it IndyCar's goal to move to network TV or at least return to the ESPN/ABC family of networks after the expiration of the current NBC TV deal? Is there potential for a change happening sooner?
DW: Apparently it is hard to move from NBC Sports to NBC. We've got a long-term deal with NBC Sports, so I don't see anything changing dramatically at the moment, but wherever the eyeballs are, that's where we need to be. If a partner wants to showcase us properly, let's talk, but we have a good relationship with NBC and we need to persuade them to use us in more prime-time situations. It's a big issue for IndyCar trying to find the right time slots, and it's a huge disadvantage that our potential audience is so restricted, but we're cautiously optimistic that situation will change in the future. In the meantime, we must work with NBC to improve our telecast schedule.
• Any plans to engage the fans through the use of iRacing? Giving fans a chance to see and feel what it's really like to experience racing an IndyCar is a great opportunity to grab more fans and iRacing has the best simulation to do it.
• I'd like to know why you are not allowing the best racing simulator in the world to laser scan the DW12 and throw your promotional weight behind it being the most accurate sim possible.
• Please do whatever you can to hasten development of the DW12 in iRacing so we can drive the same car currently being raced in the IndyCar Series. Supposedly licensing for the DW12 is in place yet development of the car in iRacing appears to be stagnant at this time.
• Would it be possible to give iRacing more resources in order to facilitate the faster development of the DW12 for online sim racing?
DW: First I've heard of it. I don't know the answer to that but I will get back to you. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
• What will you do to bring back the excitement of the good ol' days…and bring me back to the Brickyard every Memorial Day Weekend.
DW: Although I'm a traditionalist, I don't think we should treat everything from the past as a template for the future. The focus has to be on creating more history, so that one day people will look back on these as being the “good ol' days,” too. However, having stated that we can't recreate history, we can rebuild with history as our perspective. For example, some of Indy's traditions such as big speeds and the embracing of technological adventure certainly do have to be reintroduced. But we have to do that in a way that doesn't blow all but the big teams out of the game, hence the plans we announced in Detroit about bringing back variety but in a gradual way.
We then have to activate the marketing powers that we have at our disposal to make sure everyone knows that the Indy 500 is our marquee event and continues to show a side of our unique formula that retains our current fans and also draws in new fans. Get them through the gates and I think they'll be impressed; we're heading in the right direction there. It's getting the past, present and future fans through the gates that must be the priority and we have a lot of work to do in that area. But it is possible to do that because I don't believe the older fan and the potential new fan are so far apart.
• How committed are you to keep running combined events with the new United SportsCar Racing series and with the Pirelli World Challenge? In my opinion, they should be partners, not rivals.
DW: They are partners in a way, because we're all trying to make racing a success in this country, and when we compete at an event together, we all benefit and the fans love it. It actually comes down to the promoter of each race to decide whether he can make more money by running the various series on separate dates or running one massive weekend of racing and then approach the racing series accordingly. In the second case, more often than not, we will say, “Yes, that makes sense for us,” and we then include that as one of the dates on our schedule.
Having USCR and PWC joining us on the same weekend is great, so now that ALMS and Grand-Am are merging, I would love to see the USCR at Long Beach, for example. That Saturday evening race has become a nice tradition, and adds value for the Long Beach fans.
• I am constantly dumbfounded by the lack of scoring and timing information on TV during IndyCar races. The race in Texas on ABC failed to display the final results as the cars passed the finish line; we had to wait until after a commercial break. That type of info is basic. The information given during a Formula 1 race is the gold standard and IndyCar severely lags behind.
I understand this is a TV issue, not so much a series issue but the two should be working hand in hand. Can we get a window into the type of information the crews use? Sector times? Pit lane times? Fastest lap info? Car-to-car intervals? Car track mapping? Many IndyCar fans can only attend one or two races each year, so the rest is on TV, therefore a larger focus should be spent on TV production.
DW: I don't disagree! It's up to the TV producer to show all the relevant information, and if we can help supply him or her with the information that the fans want, we will do that. I think for now, the hardcore fans should also watch the live timing and scoring data online at indycar.com.
• Why doesn't IndyCar promote the relevancy of the new IndyCar?
DW: Because we're missing the boat. Seriously, there's no excuse.
• Will you be making live coverage of the races available to Canada? We have to pay to watch the races that are on NBC Sports. Proper TV coverage needs to be available in order for the fan base to grow.
DW: Yeah, not the first time I've heard this about Canada and other places, actually. I don't know the answer, but I suspect it's a TV network issue regarding distribution. At the end of the day, it comes down to whether the channels see that distribution makes financial sense for them. But it's troubling, and I will continue to research ways to improve this.
• On the issue of the small TV ratings for the Indy 500, my idea of the cause is plain and simple – commercials. I witnessed a single Indy 500 commercial on ABC, and it was a five-second promo of an aerial shot of the field going down the front stretch with depressing piano music in the background. On the other hand, Formula 1 has probably the best commercials I have ever seen. They're upbeat and do a good job captivating the younger crowds.
DW: I sympathize with Henry. Racing is a hard enough sell without wasting the opportunities we do get. Again, we're in the hands of the producers to make more entertaining commercials. It's up to the TV channels to work harder at getting better TV spots that captivate the audience, and they've got to put these juiced-up ads in the right spot to grab the attention of viewers that will be turned on by the race. You know how the Superbowl attracts an audience that doesn't normally follow the NFL? Well, that's how the Indy 500 used to be – and to a certain extent, still is – but we must aim for seriously big TV figures once more. If they like what they see at Indy, a percentage of those casual fans will then also start following the subsequent races in the IndyCar season and become firmer fans.
• What is the plan to attract more sponsors not only for teams but for the races? Any specific marketing plans in mind?
DW: As mentioned earlier, the marketing plan we currently have is – to be kind – not enough. We need to add more people to the team and invest in the future, not only in the competition side but also the TV and marketing side. Mark Miles is busy re-organizing the group and focusing on a new plan, and from my perspective, that can't come soon enough. It all comes down to resources, and IndyCar doesn't have a bottomless pit in terms of investment capital, but the positive is that it is well understood within IndyCar what we need to do. Reinvestment in the marketing and communications side of IndyCar is one of Mark's top priorities, I know that, because I've been in enough meetings with him that I'm aware of what his objectives are. We recognize that we've had stalemate in certain areas for way too long.
• Formula 1 promotes its races; IndyCar just puts on races. Ft. Lauderdale is a perfect example. This is the perfect city to have a street race but you'll sign a last-minute deal to have the race and there won't be any time to promote it and everyone will wonder why no one shows up. Contrast that with New Jersey where the F1 race has been talked about for several years. One is a race and one is an event. Until you change the perception of IndyCar, you will have low attendance.
• Please consider placing more ads around cities that host racing events. I live in Southern California and I had not seen any advertisements for the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway. A large amount of the population would be interested in the event if they knew about it.
DW: The fans may be surprised to learn that a lot of the marketing of events comes from the sponsors and from the event promoters themselves. Formula 1 has quite an advantage in the sense that manufacturers have heavily invested in the teams, and for every dollar they put into the technological investment, they spend maybe four more marketing the fact that they're involved. Therefore, F1 per se, does not need to do its own marketing: it's done for them by manufacturers, sponsors and circuit promoters.
Well, we need more sponsors in the series and they, too, will market their involvement but to get them; we also need more fans, too, because let's face it, that's why they spend money in the sport – to get your attention to see their products. IndyCar itself also does not have enough investors. So it's a team effort to grow this branch of the sport by energizing the fan base, and all those involved have to increase their investment in the marketing side.