• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Happy Year-End News for motorsports marketers -- TV numbers for NASCAR's Chase, IndyCar, NHRA, sports car and Formula One in America increased in 2014. One year wonder or a trend?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

FOLLOW-UPs (and DOWNS)

I received an E-mail from the sports marketing manager of a Big Time sponsor following my Aug. 8 post. Specifically, about the "Truth In Publicity" section, in which I said it is wrong to label as a "500" races that are not 500 MILES. "Somebody in the industry needed to say this," was the communication. I admit, that MADE my day!

Let that message continue to go forth. Last weekend, Road America (one of my five favorite tracks to visit), hosted the American Le Mans Series. The event was headlined as the "Generac 500." 500 WHAT? The race, as usual, ran to a two-hour, 45-minute TV time limit. Last year, that translated to 72 laps, for 291.456 miles or 469.052 kilometers. They did a little better this time, 76 laps, 307.648 miles or 495.111 km.

In that same blog, I called upon PR types to "Park the Clich├ęs." On NHRA's Brainerd weekend, I got not one -- but two! -- releases heralding how a driver qualified "Lucky #13." The sound from media keyboards was loud and clear: Delete. Click.

Thanks to Tami Nealy, Phoenix International Raceway communications manager, for accepting the recommendation made in my Aug. 1 "Why Spin Doctor?" posting. She is reading Ronald Reagan spinner Michael Deaver's book, A Different Drummer. And, as suggested here Aug. 15, Tami has become an American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association affiliate member. PIR hosts the Nextel Cup semifinal Chase race, the Checker Auto Parts 500k, Nov. 12. Prelims include the Casino Arizona 150 Craftsman Truck event Nov. 10 and Arizona.Travel 200 Busch Series contest Nov. 11.

Updating the controversial Champ Car World Series street event in downtown Phoenix (July 18, 20, 23 blogs): PIR commissioned a late-July poll and that survey of "likely City of Phoenix voters" reported "significant opposition to a proposed race featuring Indianapolis 500-style cars." The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (which has worked for the CC promoter's public affairs firm), offered two headlines: 1) Voters oppose the idea by a 56-39 percent margin; 2) After hearing the "best arguments for and against," opposition increased to 66-31 percent.

Memo to PIR's agency: Champ Cars are NOT "Indianapolis 500-style cars." They are not eligible to compete at Indy and the difference extends beyond drivers, chassis and engines. It's also the culture of the Champ Car organization vs. the rival Indy Racing League -- and their fans. A closer look at the poll's "internals" reveals 77 percent have lived in Phoenix for more than 20 years -- and thus well remember the Valley's Formula One fiasco -- and 59 percent are 55 years old or above -- not exactly the event's target demo.

Both the pro-and-con race groups have made more errors than Alex Rodriguez. Another example of that has been the failure of Champ Car's promoters to reach-out to the local motorsports media community. As Jamie Reynolds, host of the Racing Roundup Arizona show (Mondays, 7-9 p.m.) on KXAM radio, said in reporting the poll results: "We'd like to hear from the other side, too." Hello?

Credit to Champ Car's Steve Shunck and Eric Mauk and RuSPORT's Gary Mason for handling the information flow in the immediate aftermath of Cristiano da Matta's accident in a timely and respectful manner. Both the sanction and the team made good use of their websites to regularly update the media and the public on da Matta's condition (see my Aug. 8 post on the Internet-as-an-instant communications medium) and the news conference with CC medical director Dr. Chris Pinderski at the Denver Grand Prix was the correct thing to do.

Elsewhere at the Denver GP, the Rocky Mountain News reported "(spokeswoman) Jana Watt said crowd numbers are not being released this year because they don't compare with numbers from past years (emphasis mine)." That left the impression attendance was WAY down. The newspaper quoted Watt this way: "A lot of people are not familiar with the event or with racing." Now there's a comment that speaks well of the promoter, this five-year-old race, and a series that claims a 97-year heritage!

Depending on how you look at it, the Ray Evernham-Jeremy Mayfield public dustup was the result of not enough communication (with each other) -- or too much communication (with the media). This is clear: EVERYONE (not just Ray and Jeremy) involved emerged diminished. Evernham and Mayfield pay people whose responsibilities include doing whatever it takes to make sure bad situations don't become worse. This was an obvious PR red alert -- and it should and could have been avoided.
The Katie Countdown is underway: The only thing that surprises me is CBS doesn't have a digital clock at the bottom of the screen, so we instantly know the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds until Katie Couric's Sept. 5 debut as the network's news anchor. (Photo courtesy CBSNews.com.) This is the PR Case Study of the Year. Couric hired her own image-makers (non-NASCAR drivers, please note this willingness to invest in your own career) to work in consultation with CBS' publicists, and they have undertaken an extensive and sophisticated campaign, to "reposition" Katie from morning show perkiness to nightly news seriousness. The run-up has included carefully controlled one-on-one interviews, group sessions, photo shoots, focus groups, and a Hillary-esque "listening tour" so Katie could hear from average Americans (no press allowed). Plus, heavy promotion on CBS Sports programming (wink). The New York Times reported the on-air promos would cost an outside advertiser more than $10 million. Those in charge of the orchestration have liberally borrowed tactics from Hollywood and Washington spin doctors. According to the Washington Post, CBS News President Sean McManus sees a media "feeding frenzy" over Couric's new role and is surprised by "this unbelievable thirst for information" about her life. No, it's NOT a surprise. As I have often said: We live in a celebrity-driven, People magazine, photo-op, sound-bite society.

I offer sympathy to the family of my friend Dick Miller, a past president of the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers (I carry membership card No. 1,000), who died last week at age 86. Dick was close to Arie Luyendyk and a lot of us got to know him when he did PR for Provimi Veal's CART team. Mostly, I'll remember Dick as a guy who lived for the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he roamed the pits and garages greeting buddies he saw just that one time each year.

[ more next Tuesday, if not before . . . ]