• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, January 17, 2011

THE BIG EVENTS WILL BE BIG IN 2011

It's always a compliment when someone asks for your opinion. Starting back in early December, when I was in Las Vegas for the NASCAR Sprint Cup awards, I've gotten what I guess is the typical question: What do you expect in 2011?

As regular readers well know, I'm not much into predictions. But I feel confident in writing here that I believe The Big Events will be especially BIG this year -- in what they will tell us about the health and success and future of their respective arenas.

I'll be attending the 40th anniversary Barrett-Jackson auction this week here in Scottsdale. Is the economy REALLY better? At least for those wealthy enough to play the collector car game? Barrett-Jackson will give us an indication if those who have money to spend are actually willing to spend it.

Next month is the Daytona 500 and, boy, does NASCAR ever need for it to be a sensational race. My theory is last year's embarrassing pothole red flags put the brakes on whatever pre-season public-interest momentum had been generated by the "have at it" officiating philosophy and other moves. I don't think NASCAR ever got it going after that -- and the TV ratings reflected that belief. I ran this theory by NASCAR President Mike Helton last November and he didn't disagree, but added the competition the sport faced from the Winter Olympics and other events.
History tells us Daytona's necessary repave won't make for a good race. Everyone involved had better hope for an exception to that rule. The Sprint Cup industry needs a lot of excitement out of Daytona, plenty of interesting news, and a great 500 miles that will create water-cooler talk and buzz into the season's new second race, at Phoenix, and onward. Maybe Dale Jr. and new crew chief Steve Letarte will help with that.

It's very troubling to even ponder what the year will be like, from a business perspective, if Daytona is another dud.

Then, in May, is the 100th anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500. If NASCAR needs Daytona to be boffo, well, the IndyCar series needs a moon shot. I can't truthfully say I'm predicting that, as the same old tired car-engine formula is used one more time, before the announced arrival of new engines and bodywork kits in 2012.

Given that reality, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its sanctioning body sister company need to go out and MAKE the 100th a news and social and historical happening that will bring out the national media, wake-up sponsors, and fill the grandstands and infield. They won't lick that huge challenge with a postage stamp, as nice as that is to have.

There have been a lot of staff changes in the last year. I, as a non-member of the Indiana media cheerleading society, am not too impressed. As Chris Economaki once said on my radio show, the Speedway needs a drum-beater.

Just WHO is that? Maybe somebody's pinky finger is tapping the bottom of a paper cup, but that isn't drum-beating.

Who, if ANYONE, is actually pro-actively outreaching to the national media community? Only five months out, WHERE are the national marketing promotions, sweepstakes, advertising tie-ins and everything else that so obviously should be going on?

Placing 33 historic cars on the front straightaway was a nice-enough photo-op, featured on some websites, but it's a mystery to me why that wouldn't have been turned into a spectator happening that maybe could have been connected to a ticket sales promotion.

I know there's a lot of bean-counting going on at IMS these days. I agree a good bit of that was necessary and overdue. I noticed the effects of those cutbacks last May -- among other things, the grounds weren't as well maintained as usual. But it says here bean-counting is not going to drive sales or make the 100th anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500 what Tony Hulman would have wished it to be. And I say that as someone who actually knew Mr. Hulman . . . how many of the current paycheck collectors can say that or actually lived what the Indy 500 once was but hasn't been since 1995?

The entire sport and industry of IndyCar racing is desperate for Indy to once again be Indy. If the existing Powers-That-Be can't or won't or don't know how to do that for the 100th anniversary running, well, forget it then, because they'll never figure it out.

Yes, the Big Events of 2011 will indeed be BIG in telling us about the health of the industry.



FAST LINES: If you missed what I wrote about Jimmie Johnson last Thursday, scroll down and see that posting . . . AOL's surprise announcement that a reorganization will, among other things, result in sports coverage being subcontracted (to The Sporting News) apparently means Holly Cain -- one of racing's best journalists -- will be out-of-a-job come March. Holly wrote for the Seattle and Tampa newspapers before the AOL assignment. As far as I'm concerned, Holly had the "scoop" of 2010 with her exclusive interview with the ousted Tony George . . . Congratulations to Ray Evernham on his new consulting deal with Rick Hendrick, but NASCAR TV fans are the losers. Ray should have been in the booth from Day One of the current ESPN package . . . Sad to report 2008 Jim Chapman Award recipient Judy Stropus is no longer doing PR for Don Schumacher Racing . . . Congratulations to my friend Larry Henry, honored as Track Announcer of the Year by the Michigan Auto Racing Fan Club . . . Sympathy to the family of Dick Trajnowski, who spent more than 30 years covering sports for the Jackson Citizen Patriot, including everything that moved at Michigan International Speedway, who died last week . . . Congratulations to the 13 inductees to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame: Jimmy Boyd, Bob Burman, Wally Campbell, Danny Lasoski, Joe Sostilio, Gary Wright, Bruce Bromme Jr., Andy Granatelli, Leonard Kerbs, W.W. Bowen, Gene Marderness, Della Rice and Emmett Shelley. I'm a member of the HoF nominating and voting panel. They will be honored Saturday, June 4, in Knoxville, Iowa . . . Racing PR is better now that S. Jarrod England is no longer a part of it . . . Please be sure to check out my new feature, The 'It' 11, at the top of this blog. You'll find a new list every week.


Here's a link to my January "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com, the first of two parts on sponsor activation:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/16462-drags-dollars-a-sense-the-importance-of-activation


I'll be interested to see how sponsors and fans react to ALMS' move away from mostly live start-to-finish productions on Speed to mostly ESPN3's digital platform, with edited and delayed presentations on ABC and ESPN2. Not a second of live traditional TV from Sebring, for example, with 90 minutes of highlights on ABC the next day. More value or less for the bill-payers? I don't think anyone honestly knows the answer to that yet. The fact that the series felt it necessary to send out a talking-points E-mail on a Friday night was an indication damage control was needed. (I've had to do that myself.) A warning signal that flashed to me upon reading the transcript of ALMS' media teleconference on this subject was the references to possible opportunities on SportsCenter, ESPN.com, ESPN the Magazine, etc. I think someone at ALMS should ask NHRA or even IndyCar about that! When only drivers named Force or Danica get that attention, well, I wouldn't be expecting a big feature on Simon Pagenaud! Meanwhile, the new production entity had best use announcers who actually understand what ALMS "racing" is: A place for alternative fuels and, in some cases, power sources; a series that views itself as techy and trendy. That's how the story must be told (for better or worse) and the old Speed crew didn't have the business/marketing experience know-how to tell the story with that mindset. I wish Dorsey Schroeder would be back, but not Jamie Howe, the Brienne Pedigo of sports car racing.

[ more next Monday . . . ]