We’ve all seen them… the lines outside retail stores on Black Friday, the lines outside the Apple Store prior to a device release, the lines outside music venues on the night of a concert. What do all these things have in common? Why do they all reel in such a high number of consumers? It’s really quite simple – a quality product that everyone wants to own, experience, or be a part of… lies within the doors. And most importantly… those products have been properly and unwaveringly promoted via television, print, social media, e-media and apps.
How do we create this demand for the Verizon IndyCar Series?
We already have an incredible on-track product, but we are missing the elements that should be surrounding it. Crucial elements that would display it properly to a larger demographic while embracing those individuals (fans, staff, drivers, media members), tracks, teams and sponsors that have already devoted so much time, money and in some cases… blood, sweat and tears… to this racing series.
I believe we are capable of maintaining what it is about IndyCar that makes it feel like our own little “best kept secret” while balancing its exposure (not to be confused with exploitation) to the rest of the world. We need to draw crowds and grow a new generation of open-wheel racing fans. We need to commit to bringing our development series drivers into the “big league”, entice established drivers to jump into our cars, and court new teams and owners to invest in this series. That encouragement needs to be legitimate and the support needs to be trusted. Without trust, we can’t expect anyone to take a leap of faith. It’s essential to achieve all of this without losing the essence of IndyCar itself, “selling out”, or alienating those aforementioned loyal investors.
The primary idea boils down to improving upon what we already have and refusing to become stagnant. Change, as with all things in life, is inevitable in this potential process. It’s important to remember that you can achieve change without becoming something unrecognizable. I like that our series and participants not only come off as educated, classy and respectable… but that they actually are all those things. Granted, we may not always agree with one another on the best means to an end… but the point is, we all want the best for this series. We want it to succeed and we want that success to come soon and with consistency.
From a personal standpoint, I have one main concern when it comes to finding a way for IndyCar to become as big as it once was, but obviously in a new, modern, and improved way. Rather than focusing on quality and managing small levels of solid growth, I worry that we will succumb to cheap antics to quickly gain audiences. I do not want this series to fall prey to produced dramatics and rivalries between drivers that lead to fists flying and cuss words on pit lane, and other things that are basically choreographed for SportsCenter clips. Going viral is not a bad thing, but it’s also a fleeting effect in the current environment and we need to create a long-term relationship with the world, not a casual fling. Why? Because we are a racing series of value… not facades.
Again, I am not a marketing expert and I don’t play one on TV… but I do have degrees in Popular Culture and Psychology and I have some common sense ideas that I think would help our situation as it lies.
First off, I understand we keep going back to the TV viewership numbers. Mark Miles mentioned them multiple times during a recent teleconference. Low TV ratings are a main reason we transitioned to a condensed schedule. The idea was to avoid that whole “out of sight, out of mind” thing. The new problem that has created however, is that now you are over-saturating the current fans of the series and making it harder for that established fan base to attend races in person.
It’s this writer’s opinion that if we had the option of embarrassingly empty stands and high TV ratings OR packed stands and low TV ratings… the latter would be better for everyone. (Look at the music industry as an example – nowadays, artists make money off their live shows, not their albums.) The problem at the current juncture is that we have low TV ratings and empty stands. The dream is that we end up with packed seats and tuned-in sets. How do we get to that point?
1.) Don’t Get too Big for your Britches
The series needs to understand its current place in the market. They can’t be so prideful that they insist on always being the headlining series over a race weekend. Especially when that pride hurts the series more than it helps. Link up and share headlining duties with Pirelli World Challenge, TUDOR United Sportscar Championship, ARCA, etc. Not only would they end up selling more tickets overall (great for the hosting venue), but IndyCar would earn the potential to introduce their series to fans that may have never gone to an open-wheel race weekend standing on it’s own. That’s a huge opportunity to ignite interest.
2.) MRTI at All IndyCar Race Weekends
I think this is pretty self-explanatory. But just in case, let’s look at why this is beneficial for the series, the fans and the drivers.
Mazda Road to Indy is the driver development program for IndyCar. Frankly, it surprises me that this is even something I have the opportunity to suggest. It’s hard for me to understand why the development series are not “a given” at all of our weekends. The idea of this program is to give them experience on the tracks that they are aiming to ultimately race on, as IndyCar Series drivers. Having them attend all these events also exposes them to fan interaction opportunities and more chances to see how a full weekend progresses for IndyCar. Engaging the fans is such an important part of IndyCar, and something that sets our series apart from many other premiere racing leagues.
The MRTI drivers and teams have always impressed me with their willingness to interact and take part in as many events on race weekends as possible. They are very personable and add a lot to the paddock atmosphere and the fan experience – this should be something that we promote, encourage and embrace for the duration of our season.
3.) Electronic Engagement
If you aren’t using social media to it’s full potential these days, I guarantee you are missing out on interacting with a large amount of your fan base… potentially, the majority of it. Reaching out via social media sites and apps is more than listing schedules and results, it’s actual engagement with fans and attention to the conversations and details that are occurring. It’s tweets, updates, photos, videos, Vines, etc.
The best example of social media management for an event that I have seen with IndyCar was the Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park this past April. I was lucky enough to work with the group that was hired to handle the social media for the event – Story Block Media.
This is not a biased opinion. I was impressed with them prior to having any idea that I would end up working alongside them during the race weekend. When that opportunity was offered to me, it was the positive impression I already had of their work, that led me to accept.
Being a part of the process, seeing the team of about a dozen folks working hard day-in and day-out, noticing the tv boards all over the event showing fans photos from Instagram & Twitter as well as engaging them with voting opps via text and hashtag usage, and the noticeably positive commentary from fans on Twitter was actually overwhelming. They had Amy (@openwheelmom) and me working all weekend as their fan ambassadors – having us meet them throughout the park in order to shoot different promo videos, give feedback, and even gave us free reign on creating a Verizon Wireless commercial! Having that creative control and freedom was something that Amy & I loved and it ended up as this awesomeness: Verizon Throwback with Will Power. Most notably, it wasn’t just the attention to social media at the event, but all the months, weeks, and days leading up to it.
Story Block Media is the group we should be contracting to manage event social media for every weekend on the IndyCar Series circuit. The tracks and promoters need to get on board with this, and I think if the series was vouching for them, it would be great for the events themselves, and more importantly… for the fans!
I have a lot of other ideas for fan engagement that would also help promote ticket sales and getting fans out to the race weekends in person, but I can’t show all my cards just yet….
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