IMSA President Scott Atherton sits down with Marshall Pruett to explain the decision-making process behind the creation of the inaugural slate of races for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship
MP: With the increase in costs in mind, keeping the event count to 12 makes sense for the debut season, but do you foresee it expanding by an appreciable number once we get to 2015 and beyond?
SA: We have an internal plan that's not detailed out to say that 2014 we'll have this and 2015 we'll have this. It's not nearly that developed. But there is a loose strategic plan that has the calendar growing with the caveat being there has to be buy-in and support from our stakeholders to do that.
As the news gets announced and gets formalized and people start working in earnest to now really define the logistics of this calendar – and we've got to be testing in November and we've got to be racing in January and then again in March and then we run right on through the first weekend in October – what's the real budget implication of this calendar? And: Can we increase the individual race purses and the year-end points funds and their related contingency awards such that we are enabling our stakeholders to add more to their plates?
And that's our goal. We're not just going to add races and feel good about collecting sanction fees and expanding the calendar without taking into consideration the impact that it has on the teams and their need to get whole in this. There's some news that will be announced here in the near future that will provide I think an even greater degree of stability, particularly in the prototype category. So that teams that are making investments today, whether it be in new equipment or in upgrading existing, will have great confidence of the stability that will surround those investments. I think they'll be well received by everybody.
MP: A number of events on the calendar are beloved for their history or the driving experience they offer, but the fan turnout has been disappointing. My home track in Monterey falls into that category for the sports car events that have run their in recent years. Do you have a plan in place to drive more people to the track, and do you think having a brand-new series will be enough to cause a spike in attendance?
SA: No, I don't think... I think there'll be a degree of curiosity about: "How are these guys going to play together?" To answer your question, are there plans in place to ensure that these 12 events are all high-profile, successful, well-attended? Yes, absolutely. And we had the unique, very stressing situation of having 100% of our sanction agreements require renewal and renegotiation. I don't know of any sanctioning body that's ever wiped the slate clean and said, "We're going to do all of them over again from scratch." And that's what took the time.
We took a lot of arrows in recent days, months of not having the schedule out sooner. Now, ironically, it's out earlier then it's almost ever been done. But because of the unique circumstances of this year it doesn't matter when it was going to come out, it was going to be late. So that opportunity to recast all of the material elements of these promoter/sanctioning agreements, as well as the same opportunity to recast all of the sponsorship agreements, has given us this opportunity to put everybody's skin in the game. So as a promoter there's going to be very strict guidelines for the degree of marketing support and investment that they must put into their in-market advertising and promotion.
As a series, we're making similar commitments: Here is what we're going to do as a championship. All of our stakeholders that are participating have agreed to activate, not only by putting content on the track, but to activate in-market, to activate at the events and collectively. Not everybody will be assigned the same role; some of it will be targeted at different venues. Some of it will be targeted in advance; some of it will be at the circuit itself during the race weekend. We've got a very – as I said, I keep using the word comprehensive, just because it's a vertically integrated process here, that the challenge now is going to be fulfilling against all of these commitments that we have made ourselves and asked others to make to us. All with an eye toward doing exactly what you described, which is making sure in all of these 12 stops there isn't going to be a weak link in the chain. There's going to be 12 high-profile, very well-attended, heavy media focus weekends.
MP: Finally, and this is looking a few years down the road, but do you see the USC adding any international dates to the schedule, or will it remain a North American championship?
SA: For the foreseeable future, our focus is solely on North America. And we lived through an era where we were trying to export our product to Europe, to Australia. That's a very complicated and very expensive endeavor. And I think until we are completely confident that we have optimized all opportunities across the North American portion of the world, that that's where our focus will remain.
It's always tempting because there isn't a period of time, very long time, ever goes by that we don't get some inquiry to go to Asia, to go to South America, to go – you name it. There's always somebody that's got somebody that's interested and has the funding and knows the president of X, Y, Z country and they all want it. But we've learned some important lessons over the last 15 years to really focus on our knitting right here at home. And with such a debut upon us, with the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship and all that that entails, for the foreseeable future I think we have our work cut out for us right here.