MP: There's nothing within the IndyCar Series that wouldn't be improved with an injection of cash. The primary directive the Hulman George family gave to Randy Bernard was to stop the annual losses associated with the series, and that has improved, but if it was needed, would they add some additional money to the pot to help get through the rebuilding process?
MM: Well, one of the topics addressed in our work with the Boston Consulting Group is a financial analysis that asks what is the best balance sheet model? They concluded – and I think I agree with it and it is our operating assumption – that we can self-finance this growth. Saying that, that doesn't mean the family couldn't contribute but I don't see the need at this point to ask for an equity raise from the family.
It was helpful to go to the state and to pass legislation that allows for some public help for the exact reason that you said. It's not that we couldn't do it, but we could do more, faster. So there's a $90 million influx in capital this year and in the next year that the Speedway, but the Speedway for me is IndyCar too; they aren't two separate things as I see them. Without that legislation, it would have been a slower rebuilding period for the Speedway and the IndyCar Series, for sure. We have the ability to finance investments if we need to but I think we can do this with organically funded sources and that's already at hand.
MP: I'm not a fan of a series coming out of pocket to put its drivers on the grid, but with so many big-name drivers on the market – the most popular veteran in Tony Kanaan and the most recognized young guy in James Hinchcliffe, not to mention Sebastien Bourdais, Alex Tagliani, and a few others – the series would clearly benefit from helping those drivers and their teams to keep them on the grid next year. Is there a way to do that without writing them checks, which I assume isn't an option?
MM: No, I think there's lots of ways to try to help teams and drivers, short of having a pool just to subsidize the gap close in those relationships. I won't give you the specifics, but we're doing some things right now to help teams cultivate their relationship with their sponsors by trying to add some benefits they can pool, showing some love, showing opportunities, going forward to the sponsors. In the end, the team has to have the money to hire the driver.
So I think the focus is more about helping the teams to do that. We're not out there at the moment saying: "Here's a driver, we just got to go write this check." But I think everybody knows we're interested in the topic and there's ways we could help by B2B means, but we're not the treasury here to write them checks.
MP: The other topic everyone wants to know about is the schedule for 2014. RACER's Robin Miller wrote about a lot of the expected items we'll see, and the one that stood out to me the most was the plan to end the season before the NFL season begins. I understand the reasoning behind not wanting to clash with football games on a Sunday afternoon, but it isn't like this is a new issue for IndyCar racing. So why then look to condense the season into a tight window with a long off-season?
MM: Let's first look at the general calendar ranges we're interested in. What we want to do next year is start about when we did this year. 15 events in North America, maybe start a week or two earlier. So say start mid-March and end Labor Day weekend. We've talked to our broadcasters, we talked to others to do market research and analytics, and there just isn't any doubt that if we care about television ratings, we need to have our season finale by Labor Day weekend.
It might be a different discussion if the NFL or college football started having major games regular-season games in August, but they don't. So first of all, I think it's just irrefutable – just go look at the [NASCAR] Chase ratings. It's the culmination of the series, their season finale, and going up against football has a serious impact on the overall ratings number [the Chase] generates. There's a noticeable difference.
So you're just shooting yourself in the foot if you continue to do things that are counterproductive to television ratings. And second, what are we really giving up here? Right now we're here, and it's Labor Day weekend, and you and I are not going to see each other again for a month [at Houston]. What the hell is that? And then we're not going to see each other until a few weeks later [for Fontana]. I mean, that's the culmination of the season? Fans are going to follow that? Really? You know, it doesn't make any sense. So we're not talking about less racing, we're not talking about fewer races and we aren't trying to have a long off-season, either...