• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, May 19, 2008

THE INDY METRICS

God willing, I'll be attending my 32d Indianapolis 500 this weekend. The 92d running is historically important, of course, due to the reunification of the IndyCar Series and Champ Car. Some say it's the first "real" Indy since 1995, when Jacques Villeneuve won in the year before the IRL-CART divide and that sad day 12 months later, when Buddy Lazier and Jimmy Vasser split the spoils in competing Memorial Day weekend 500s.

(The Indianapolis Star has gotten it wrong this month, claiming the race is the "first truly unified Indianapolis 500 since 1978." Here's why that is inaccurate: The 1980 race, won by Johnny Rutherford, was sanctioned by USAC under the Championship Racing League banner. CART and USAC had come together and so there was no competing series or rival sanctioning body. The CRL came apart that July and that is when CART was reformed as a series and sanctioning organization. Sad the hometown Star can't get it right and I don't understand why the Speedway or Series hasn't corrected the paper. It is in everyone's best interests to get the historical facts right.)

It is the start of a new era, though, and to me what's ESSENTIAL is to objectively determine if the metrics as well as the atmospherics are positive. Yes, the TV ratings are up (and were for the first weekend of qualifying), but the fact is the percentage-increase numbers are deceiving because they are coming off such low numbers. Assuming no rain delay, as occurred last year, ABC's numbers had better jump A LOT for it to mean any corner has been turned.

What is NOT going to help is a ginned-up media looking for any excuse to stick it to NASCAR. (Let the record show, Sprint Cup's TV ratings are positive year-to-date as well. More impressively so, as should be expected.)

On April 20, after Danica Patrick's win in Japan, the Star's Curt Cavin went on record: "I just can't imagine how the Indianapolis 500 doesn't sell out now." Memo to Curt: Plenty of good seats still available.

My friend Curt continued: "And there's no reason why the media center shouldn't see its largest contingent in years. It bodes well for the month and furthers the idea that the Indy 500 has seldom been such an easy sell. Certainly not recently."

In this economy, there is no such thing as an "easy sell." Let me repeat what I've written before: Getting the Indy 500 back to a point where the Speedway can issue a "sold out!" news release is THE standard that will earn respect from casual fans and corporate America. (And, let me repeat what I've written before: Hauling all 33 drivers to New York City for a photo-op -- a waste of time for all but maybe five drivers -- isn't the best use of time/resources to accomplish this imperative. How many TICKETS were SOLD as a result of this trip?)

ESPN and Sports Illustrated have been doing all they can. Danica on the SI cover last week . . . well, it was a joke to read this quote from a Patrick (so-called) media relations person: "To land on the cover of SI in advance of the Indianapolis 500 pushes us into the mainstream sports scene . . . It's a sign of respect from the mainstream media."

A "sign of respect" . . . please. It's a sign of a People magazine mentality, hype, declining standards, celebrity-over-everything else, and a marketing tool to peddle swimsuit DVDs and mags. The most central aspect of Danica's career was -- again -- left unreported. If SI wanted to again get serious about motorsports coverage, it would bring back Ed Hinton.

This line tells you everything you need to know about the story: "Patrick . . . doesn't have to win to be a winner." THAT, my friends, reflects how the bar has been lowered in our society. If this slide continues, over time, I tell you it will represent a threat to our national sovereignty. That's no exaggeration. Think about the threats we face. They can be overcome, as all previous threats have been, only by ACHIEVING great things.

Quoting Bobby Rahal on this all-for-one-and-one-for-all 500: "I think it's nothing but blue skies."

We will see. I'm in the process of reporting a "State of the Indy 500" story that will run in this Sunday's Arizona Republic. You'll be able to find it at http://azcentral.com/.

And, I'll be MCing Saturday's annual AARWBA members' breakfast in Indy, co-hosted by Firestone and Honda. Poleman Scott Dixon is expected. Husband-wife Funny Car drivers Tommy Johnson Jr. and Melanie Troxel (last Sunday's winner!) will be interviewed from the podium by ESPN2's NHRA anchor Paul Page. AARWBA's Bob Russo Founders Award, photographers' Straight Shooter Award in memory of Art Flores and Ron Hussey presented by Lowe's Fernandez Racing, and other traditional honors will be presented. Plus, announcement of winners of AARWBA's annual journalism contest, sponsored by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar Series.

If you need to get into the mood for American racing's biggest weekend, click here: http://www2.indystar.com/images/graphics/standing/indy500/2007/nabors/
********************************************************************
This, from the end of David Poole's blog after Kasey Kahne won the Sprint All-Star race, shouldn't be overlooked:

" . . . NASCAR and Lowe's Motor Speedway again treated the print media like crap in the postrace.

"I mean that literally. Think of Kahne's time after winning as food. Network television is the mouth. Network radio is the esophagus. NASCAR "partners" like Speed and ESPN are the stomach. Photographers taking staged photos that could be shot two hours after the race - as is still being done, are the pancreas. Local television is the intestines.

"And, down at the end, you know what that makes people like me, right?"
********************************************************************
Big time, major credit to ESPN2 for hanging-in-there with Sunday's rain-delayed NHRA event in Bristol. They went 30 minutes past the scheduled broadcast time and showed the Funny Car and Pro Stock finals "live." Well done, Paul Page and crew, and thank you!

In case you haven't noticed, sampling is "hot" right now. Jon Asher kindly brought this AdAge.com story to my attention: http://adage.com/article?article_id=126983

In this economy, media and fan and customer giveaways aren't what they used to be. But according to the Advertising Specialty Institute, more than $19.6 billion was spent on promotional products last year. Yes, that's billion!

I agree with NBA Commissioner David Stern -- pre-game entertainment stunts have gotten too-close to out-of-control. I understand the difference between an open-air racetrack and an indoor arena, but . . . If you missed Stern's comments, here's the USA Today report: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/basketball/nba/2008-05-12-notes_N.htm
********************************************************************
A reminder: Check out my new "All Business" column in Drag Racing Magazine Online's May issue. I lead with thoughts on the NHRA Powerade-Full Throttle series sponsorship change. (The column is on two pages, so be sure to click on the "next page" arrow at the bottom): http://dragracingonline.com/columns/knight/x_5-1.html

Here's a link to last Friday's Republic notebook, featuring JJ Yeley, Max Papis, Cristiano da Matta and Gil de Ferran: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/05/15/20080515racingnb.html

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]