• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Saturday, December 01, 2012

2012

How bleeping stupid do you think the Powers-That-Be think you are?

Look no further than what runs at the bottom-screen "ticker" that is supposed to provide scores, stats and legitimate breaking news:

"You are watching college football on ABC."

Geez, thanks. I thought I was watching a High Mass from the Vatican -- in Latin.

Why didn't ABC/ESPN just put up: "You are watching television."

That, sadly, is the way it's become in America, a dumbing-down of our society, culture and standards that continued on in a high-speed reverse year in 2012.

I blame government officials more interested in political advantage than actual accomplishment. I blame business leaders concerned not with the quality of their product or service, but just the next buck. I blame parents who don't parent. I blame the educational system at-large, especially at the elementary and high school levels. I blame the greedy and egoist athletes who are no role models. I blame SportsCenter for encouraging bad behavior -- and what I've heard called a Celebration of Showbiz -- by replaying it over-and-over-and-over-and-over again and talking about it even more. Ditto the agents and lawyers and those business managers who are allowed to make PR decisions even though they're not professionally qualified to do so. I blame the media for superficial and sensational, not substantive and substancial, stories. I blame the likes of ESPN's Sarah Spain, who couldn't wait to suggest potential new boyfriends for Danica Patrick, within days of Patrick's divorce announcement. Shameful and low-class -- but oh-so typical. I blame the editors who thought it should be posted. The lack of judgment is overwhelming. As is the lack of decency.

If you don't believe me, consider our recent presidential election. Candidates were permitted to get away without laying out specific policy plans. For the media, it was all about celebrity and the horse race, not the extremely tough decisions that must be made and where the country is going. It apparently was too intellectually rigorous for them to do so.

Here's the question that needs to be asked: Is America really America any more? Are the ideals and ethics that made the U.S. the U.S. still there? In terms of a collective will to act on traditional core values and national interest, I would say no. Whatever happened to personal responsibility? The pursuit of excellence as a function of self-respect? Does anyone want to learn anymore? To a language where words actually mean things? Now, we're told by self-appointed Politically Correct activists, that "illegal" is racist. When someone breaks the law, what part of "illegal" do you not get? This is what happens when kids aren't taught to talk any more -- it's all about texting and Tweeting. Talking? Oh, that's so 20th Century.

News has morphed essentially into nonsense. It's all entertainment these days, bouncing from the latest Washington sex scandal to the most recent Hollywood outrage. I'm not kidding by much when I say Charlie Sheen might have been a better candidate to take on Barack Obama than Mitt Romney. (For the record, I didn't vote for either one.)

And that "it's all entertaiment" mindset should concern NASCAR, which has made it clear, it's in the business of showbiz. The final Chase TV numbers, at least by one authoritative estimate, were at an all-time low. What was most memorable from this Sprint Cup season? I'll wager a poll would put the Fight in Phoenix ahead of Brad Keselowski's championship.

Brian France talked mid-season about wanting more "Wow!" moments. He didn't get enough of them. Part of the Big Talk behind the 2013 car is to make the racing "better." What exactly that means, I'm not sure, but I bet France's desired "Wow!" moments factor in.

Parents, teachers and media are guilty for what has become a short national attention span and lack of historical knowledge and perspective. One moment's Big Story -- remember Danica taking her hands off the steering wheel when crashing at Daytona or the points penalty to the No. 48 that was overturned on appeal? -- is treated like ancient history five minutes later. Another example is the recent Indianapolis Business Journal report that former CART CEO Andrew Craig could be a candidate for an IndyCar executive position. Talk about lack of institutional knowledge! If that's just a guess, shame. But if even one second has been spent considering the idea, I assure you, the IC series as we've known it is over forever.

It looks to me as if NASCAR has bet the house on this more showroom-ID car. And it's Integrated Marketing Communications department -- which exists to make you believe what just happened really was a "Wow!" moment -- which in many ways symbolizes where the bar of The New Acceptability has been placed. That once was more properly referred to as the public/media relations department. But in today's NASCAR, everything --and I mean everything -- relates to marketing. (Even the issue of safety, or the lack thereof, is to be marketed.) IMC drives NASCAR's social media efforts and that's what they think it is all about. Based on the lack of actual communications from the group's leaders, I know they don't think there's anything worth learning by actually TALKING to old-fashioned journalists who they treat as random dinosaurs taking their last steps in Planet Earth. Another way to say that is: Lack of Respect. For all the manpower and resources at their fingertips, it's incredible to me how little understanding IMC has of the actual real-life human dynamics at play in the media markets where NASCAR races.

Oh, correction, where NASCAR entertains/markets.

They haven't insisted on professionalism from their front-line soldiers, the team/sponsor PR reps, most don't even know -- or bother themselves -- to actually talk to journalists. Ty Dillon's PR girl Tiffany Zielke not long ago canceled a scheduled phone interview with me -- but didn't think it necessary to actually reach out and tell me. RCR's PR management seemingly didn't even notice. Then there's the IMC guy who pumps out green/business talking points without having done one minute of homework to research what already has been published locally -- and then, having established absolutely no relationship with the local journos -- wants copies of what's written sent to him! I guess he never heard of Jayski or Google.

Oh, for the days of actual conversations with Jim Hunter!

I hope Brian France is happy with all that impersonal Tweeter aggregation  because, from this keyboard, IMC sure doesn't get that this fundamentally remains a relationship business and one where long-time dedication to the work at hand should be especially valued and appreciated. (Ditto Ford and also Merrill Cain, who in PR is the 180-degree opposite of what Roger Penske is in business, among others.) IMC has shown me it doesn't grasp -- or, at least, acknowledge -- the difference between coverage that heightens interest in a race and maybe even helps sell tickets vs. coverage that simply fills space/airtime. Quality of coverage, as opposed to quantity, isn't a measured metric. IMC's adding machine apparently calculates gross numbers only, not net effectiveness.

Could someone please factually document for me how many NEW fans were made in 2012 and where they came from?

Finally, let me add how embarrassed I am of people who want to be considered "serious professionals" but then post party-animal photos of themselves on Twitter and Facebook. And send out what should properly be private messages in quick bits for everyone to know about. Jim Chapman would disapprove from here to eternity -- and he would be right.

It's been a deeply difficult year. A disspiriting one.

I wonder: In 2013, how low will it all go?

[ more important life priorities means I'm off-the-air until sometime around mid-January, 2013 . . . ]

Sunday, November 18, 2012

OF HOMESTEAD and AUSTIN

I don't think it was a coincidence that a TV spot promoting NASCAR's Chase finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway included these words: "The world will be watching."

I think that was a message from NASCAR to Bernie Ecclestone and Circuit of the Americas, in Austin, Tex., that scheduling Formula One's return to the U.S. on the same day the championship of America's most popular motorsports series was settled wasn't appreciated. Actually, I'll say it was DUMB -- a point I first made about 15 months ago on Rick Benjamin's radio show. As far as I know I was the first one to point out Austin's date was the same as Homestead's.

I noted how Speed walked the fine line between its Homestead programming vs. what was coming out of Austin. Actually, what was coming out of the network's Charlotte studio, since the three booth announcers weren't sent out to report on-site. Of course, Speed has lost the F1 rights to NBC Sports Network starting next season.

As welcome as F1's coming back was with Lewis Hamilton's victory , it was equally stupid scheduling. A major international sporting spectacle received worldwide news coverage but, here, it got the attention of a local event. That's the arrogance of Ecclestone and the Grand Prix crowd, which continues to say how important it is to build its U.S. audience. What happened Sunday -- and what's already scheduled to happen next year -- sure as hell isn't the way to do it on a sea-to-shining-sea scale.

And I say that as someone who was at the USGP in Watkins Glen going back to the late 1960s and covered the Big Race many times. I had an exclusive interview with Jackie Stewart there the Saturday morning of his last weekend as a driver -- just a few hours before his teammate was killed and Stewart's entry was withdrawn.

Congratulations to the Austin organizers for getting the controversial facility completed in time. I don't argue with those who gushed how impressive the crowds were all three days -- official total 265,499. CotA itself pumped out news releases touting just that. Of course, this came from the same communications team whose lack of racing know-how and near-complete lack of any relationships with mainstream American media reflected poorly on the organization's leaders and management. These same people some months ago hyped an F1 traveling display that was going to stop in key media markets -- including Phoenix. Yet, my repeated requests for specifics as to the when and where went unanswered. (A little embarrassing that a Pirelli-logo cowboy hat was put on Mario Andretti -- a Firestone spokesman -- on the podium. But I bet the good guys at F understand.)

Let me put it this way: No one in Austin has to worry about writing a Jim Chapman Award acceptance speech.

Nor do the majority of so-called "PR" people who claim to "work" within NASCAR. A list was kept of those who actually came over to say hello in the media center during the recent Phoenix International Raceway weekend. Ten fingers would not be needed to total it up. "Public/media relations," indeed. Some months ago I asked the most senior "publicist" at a Big Time team why his group didn't make the media center rounds and the embarrassing answer was because the team's drivers did a lot of sponsor hospitality visits. Too bad for this guy that I happen to have a pretty good idea of the number of such appearances done. The math -- and the excuse -- didn't add up. And even if they made 50 appearances, does that mean five minutes couldn't be found to engage in the courtesy and good business of some relationship building?

BS. NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications, please take note.

As for Sprint Cup, no doubt NASCAR is pleased with Brad Keselowski's championship. It puts a fresher, younger, more hip, out-there, social media player as the face of stock car racing.

NASCAR's Powers-That-Be must be going into the off-season with mixed emotions, however. The champion won for a manufacturer who is leaving the sport. The Chase TV numbers as well as those for the season are cause for concern. Fan dissatisfaction with the way ESPN presents the races is at an all-time high. (Brad Daugherty to Kid Rock at Homestead: "What's it been like working for ESPN?" "It's been great." Wow. What cutting-edge analysis and interviewing skill.) The alarm bells are ringing and warning lights flashing for the 2013 national economy in a sport driven by sponsorship dollars. I know there are high-level people who think -- maybe "hope" is a better word -- that the new '13 car and its more showroom look will create new fans. I'm not buying that. I think it might well energize existing fans, but make new ones . . . ???

To the winners and champions, enjoy an especially thankful Thanksgiving.

[ No blog next week. I'll wrap the year here the first week of December . . . ]

Sunday, November 11, 2012

DOMINICK & WAGER WIN 2012 JIM CHAPMAN AWARD

Judy Kouba Dominick and Nancy Wager, who represent Chevrolet in NASCAR, IndyCar, sports car racing and other series, today were announced as winners of the 2012 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations.

Mark Armijo (left), Judy, Nancy, me (Photo courtesy of Chevrolet.)

The Chapman Award is considered by many in the industry as the highest honor in racing public relations. It is named in memory of Chapman (top of page,  photo courtesy of Gary Gold and David Hutson), the legendary PR executive and innovator, who worked with Babe Ruth and was named Indy Car racing’s “most influential man” of the 1980s. Chapman died in 1996 at age 80.

The announcement and presentation were made at Phoenix International Raceway by Michael Knight, chairman of the selection committee, and one of Chapman’s closest friends. The award is determined by a vote of media members, most of whom knew Chapman, and is authorized by the Chapman family. PR representatives from all forms of motorsports are eligible for consideration.

"Judy and Nancy are truly deserving of this honor because their professionalism is in the example and spirit of Jim Chapman’s,” said Knight, the longtime journalist/publicist and award rights-holder.

“Like Jim, Judy and Nancy believe in the ‘old-school’ approach to working with the media – that it is essential to build one-on-one relationships with journalists. That’s too often missing today in a communications age where an E-mail or text message is incorrectly considered ‘relationship-building.’ Jim was a true ‘people person’ and knew nothing could replace a handshake, a face-to-face conversation, or the sound of another person’s voice.”

Established in 1991 by media and publicists within the CART series, the Chapman Award originally focused on achievement in CART. After a hiatus of several years, the award was resumed in 2004, with eligibility expanded to anyone working in racing PR.

Dominick and Wager both have over 25 years of experience in motorsports PR. Wager has represented Chevy as a trackside communications specialist since 1995 and Dominick since 2003. They frequently team-up at Sprint Cup events.

Dominick, of Sedalia, Colo. now residing in Winston-Salem, N.C., has worked in all three NASCAR national series, as well as IndyCar, sports car and drag racing, USAC, the World of Outlaws and AMA motorcycle racing. She was Tony Stewart’s personal management rep for more than six years.

Wager, of Laguna Niguel, Calif. now residing in Cary, N.C., has worked not only in NASCAR but also various off-road series, drag and powerboat racing, Supercross, Motocross and Arenacross, thrill shows and the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb. She was in sports marketing for the Adolph Coors Co.

Chapman started as sports editor or managing editor of several Southern newspapers before joining the New York Times. He served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He entered the PR business in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford Motor Co. in Detroit.

Soon thereafter, Chapman hired Ruth as consultant to the automaker’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together for more than two years for personal appearances and became close friends. Chapman was one of only three friends at Ruth’s bedside when he died in August 1948 and then officially announced Ruth’s death to the press corps that had maintained an around-the-clock vigil at New York’s Memorial Hospital.

Chapman proudly showcased several photos of Ruth in his office. One was inscribed: "To a pal that is a pal." Chapman also displayed a framed letter, written on Ruth's personal stationary from Memorial Hospital, dated July 13, 1948, inviting him to the July 26 premier of the film, The Babe Ruth Story. That letter read, in part, "That evening would not be complete without your being my guest. To you, Jimmy, I say you must be with me that evening."

In 1950, Chapman left Ford to start his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Avis founder Warren Avis. Chapman devoted much of his time to financial PR, which he once called his “favorite form of PR,” and helped companies get recognition among analysts and even gain admission to the New York and American stock exchanges.

Chapman’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when he joined with NASCAR founder Bill France to promote the Motor City 250. The race was part of Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration, a Chapman client. In 1967, Chapman entered Indy Car racing with client Ozzie Olson’s Olsonite sponsorship of Dan Gurney’s team, which later featured Bobby Unser as driver.

“Jim was one of the most innovative and imaginative PR men ever to grace a pit lane,” said Gurney. “Jim practically invented most of what is now considered routine sponsor PR work. He was the first, as far as I know, who thought of putting up a sponsor hospitality tent alongside a racetrack (at the old Riverside International Raceway), filling it with extravagant race car ice-sculptures, beautiful food and beautiful people from the business, sports and movie industries. He started an ‘open house’ tradition in Ozzie’s hotel suite in Indianapolis, where journalists could rub shoulders with John Wayne or (astronaut) Scott Carpenter.”

Chapman also directed Olsonite’s sponsorship of the Driver of the Year award. He orchestrated all the details, including the media panel voting, and an annual luncheon at New York City’s famed ‘21’ Club. That gathering was considered so prestigious it was routinely attended by leaders of all the major U.S. sanctioning organizations regardless of what series the Driver of the Year competed in.

Chapman’s greatest professional acclaim came from 1981-1992, as director of CART series sponsor PPG Industries’ program. Chapman was instrumental in raising PPG’s prize fund from $250,000 to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. The all-female PPG Pace Car Driving Team was another Chapman innovation, as were the PPG Editors’ Days, when he brought business and feature writers to the tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and driver interviews.

In 1982, Chapman negotiated a landmark sponsorship for PPG with then- Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Joe Cloutier, which formally made the Indy 500 a points-paying event in the PPG Indy Car World Series, an arrangement that last through the 1995 season. “That was one of the most satisfying moments of my career,” Chapman recalled. “Roger Penske, among others, told me it was the best thing that had ever happened to CART.” In addition to a major contribution to the prize fund, PPG later became sponsor of the $100,000 Indy 500 pole award, and paid a special winner’s bonus in the early years of NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.

“With Jim, when he says ‘jump,’ we just ask ‘how high?,” Indy 500 winner and PPG Cup champion Al Unser Jr. said on behalf of his fellow drivers. “And we do it right then.”

Indy Car Racing magazine named Chapman the sport’s “most influential” man of the 1980s, saying he turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” After his retirement, Chapman continued to consult PPG, and agreed to Mario Andretti’s personal request that he serve as honorary chairman of Andretti’s “Arrivederci, Mario” farewell tour in 1994.

Chapman's professional achievements earned him vast recognition. The mayors of Detroit and Long Beach, Calif., presented him proclamations and the key to each city. In 1993, Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh named him Sagamore of the Wabash, the state's highest honor. He served as president and/or director of more than 30 Michigan and Detroit-area civic and charitable organizations. Chapman became active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and represented the Detroit Urban League and United Negro College Fund in several controversial situations. He admitted to shedding "buckets of tears of joy" when Willy T. Ribbs became the first African-American driver to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1991.

“The true honor of this award is not the plaque,” said Knight. “The true honor is having your name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman.”

PREVIOUS JIM CHAPMAN AWARD HONOREES:
1991 -- Michael Knight
1992 – Tom Blattler
1993-94 – Deke Houlgate and Hank Ives
1995 – Kathi Lauterbach
1996 – Marc Spiegel
1997 – Mike Zizzo
1998 – Tamy Valkosky
1999 -- Carol Wilkins
2000-2003 – (Award not presented)
2004 – Doug Stokes
2005 – Susan Arnold
2006 – Kevin Kennedy
2007 – Dave Densmore and Bob Carlson
2008 – Judy Stropus
2009 – (Award not presented)
2010 -- Jim Hunter
2011 -- Bill York

I won't post links to all my Arizona Republic stories of the last week on NASCAR-at-Phoenix. Jayski kindly linked them and you can go into his daily listings for those. But here are a few of special interest:

"Boys, have at it" returns at PIR:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20121111wild-race-blows-championship-open-keselowski.html

Jimmie Johnson hits the wall (and Roger Penske says he's not a bidder for IMS):

PIR second-in-line to Daytona for ISC funds:

Dillon brothers race with pressue of No. 3:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20121107dillon-brothers-austin-ty-find-success-nascar-circuit-young-age.html


"Promises, Promises" is the title of my latest CompetitionPlus.com column, looking at the history of Coca-Cola's NHRA title sponsorship:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/22983-michael-knight-promises-promises

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, November 04, 2012

A BIG WEEK

I'll just state the obvious: This is a Big Week in our country and for the future of our nation. Locally, it's NASCAR week here in Phoenix, and a lot will happen to determine the 2012 champions in all three NASCAR national series.

Phoenix International Raceway's grandstands are sold-out for Sunday's AdvoCare 500 -- impressive in a still challenging economic environment. Please look for my stories starting Tuesday in the Arizona Republic and AzCentral.com . (See below for more.)

As big as the news will be in the next several days, there were some major headlines last week.

SuperStorm Sandy topped them all. Looking at the TV images of the terrible destruction in New Jersey was especially tough for me. I grew up in Philadelphia but spent most of my childhood summers in the Atlantic City area. My grandparents owned a home right on the beach in Brigantine Island -- where the president did his photo-op last week -- but that house was completely taken out into the Atlantic Ocean in an early 1960s hurricane and never rebuilt. An aunt and uncle owned a home two blocks away from the beach and they kindly allowed us to stay with them for large parts of each summer. I've walked that Atlantic City boardwalk more times than I could possibly count, eating saltwater taffy and enjoying the shows and attractions (yes, including the Diving Horse) at the famed Steel Pier. The best cheese steak sandwich you could ever have came from a place just a couple of blocks away. Called the White House. Even Frank Sinatra would go there for his CS fix. I used to attend the TQ midget races staged each January in AC's convention hall (where Miss America was crowned for decades) and the Eastern Motorsports Press Association held its annual convention in town for many years.

Seeing what happened just 24 hours later, it's amazing NASCAR was able to race at Martinsville. But with the TV numbers plunging 20-plus points in the return of Dale Jr., that signals to me changes will be coming (again) to try to re-energize the Chase format.

Tim Wardrop, who was engineer when I managed Arie Luyendyk's (first) retirement race at Indianapolis in 1999, died. We won the pole that year and Arie was leading when he crashed trying to get around mirror-less and clueless Tyce Carlson. Tim was more than a very talented engineer -- he was a fascinating guy to be around.

Oh, and as you may have read, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. Board of Directors decided to fire Randy Bernard after letting him twist in the wind for weeks. What horrendous PR we've seen in the last year: IndyCar's "run silent/run deep" disappearing act after Dan Wheldon's fatal accident which left a massive communications void which was filled by powerful and overwhelming negative voices. A.J. Allmendinger's completely botched public communications after his failed NASCAR drug test. And now the way Bernard's bouncing was handled by IMS Corp. However you feel about Bernard, there's NO EXCUSE for doing it this way. NONE.

I've read and heard some of the most ridiculous media yapping about this that could possibly be imagined. You have to give Bernard this: He was very successful in co-opting a large chunk of the Indianapolis-area media. It's sad there's no longer a powerful media watchdog like the old Editor & Publisher because I have no doubt such a publication would have had a field day objectively analyzing the way some people "reported" (cheerleading would be more accurate) on Bernard's tenure. Even those fans who continue to wear Indy's rose-colored glasses would have been well served by such a critical examination of a journalistic standards-lowering embarrassment. Now that Bernard is out and the coverage tone will/has changed in a dramatic -- far less favorable -- way, will media executives understand what's happened and make the moves that need to be made? Probably not . . .

IMS President Jeff Belskus is now in charge of the series and he made it clear in interviews last week that he is running the show and not limited by an "interim" title. I think it was good he made that point from a management stability standpoint, but -- caution -- by week's end it was starting to remind me of Al Haig's infamous "I'm in charge" press conference after President Reagan was shot in 1981.

IMS has begun a strategic business review and hired an outside consulting firm. Having been involved in two such strategic reviews involving major motorsports sponsors, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. No doubt the recommendations will be: 1 -- Commit to a long-term business plan and budget; 2 -- Sell the business. So for everyone busy trying to suggest names for a new CEO, nothing is going to happen until the review process is completed, and the IMS Board decides how to act on it -- if at all.

Meanwhile, I did an extended interview on my friend Larry Henry's Pit Pass USA show about the latest IMS fiasco. It's right at the top of the show and here's a link:

Finally -- Given the recent developments in IndyCar, it just might be worth your while to go back and read (or re-read) my "Untenable" posting from a year ago:


Sometimes we need to forget about points, cars and gas mileage and focus on the PEOPLE. So here's a link to my long Sunday Republic story examining the evolution of the Jeff Gordon-Jimmie Johnson relationship. Would Jimmie have been as successful without Jeff? Gordon, Johnson and Rick Hendrick have their say:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20121030jeff-gordon-jimmie-johnsons-relationship-shifts-gears.html


In a major Business of Racing "get," my traditional Newsmaker Q&A next Sunday in the Republic will be with ISC Chair Lesa France Kennedy.

[ come back this weekend for announcement regarding the 2012 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports PR ]

Sunday, October 28, 2012

BADPRYEAR

UPDATE: I'll guest on Larry Henry's Pit Pass USA Wednesday, 7 p.m. EDT, to talk about Randy Bernard's ouster and what's next for IndyCar.  http://www.voiceamericasports.com/

I've been around long enough to remember when Goodyear cared about its racing public relations. I knew Dick Ralstin, who was the racing division's PR manager for 11 years, and some seasons worked as many as 40-50 events. Dick was a great person to know at the Indianapolis 500, as Chicago Tribune sportswriter Bob Markus found out when he covered his first Indy in 1968. Markus, a friend of mine and a very gifted writer, admits he didn't know his way around the Speedway and missed Bobby Unser's winner’s interview.  Dick came to the rescue and quickly arranged a one-on-one interview with Unser. Ralstin retired in 1987 and died several years ago.

Over the years, whether in a journalism or PR capacity, I knew and had a good working relationship with other Goodyear racing publicists. They incluced Phil Holmer, Dave Hederich, Bill King and Carole Swartz. Chuck Sinclair, a nice man, worked in corporate PR but wound up spending more time than he probably expected in open-wheel racing when Firestone came in and kicked butt. He's now retired. They all were quite professional to deal with.

I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way, Goodyear decided racing media relations wasn't important any more. They've kicked it to the curb like a burned-up chunk of tread.

It's been noticeable for several years. And I noticed it again last week when G conducted a NASCAR tire test at Phoenix International Raceway.

While I did a phone interview with NASCAR competition VP Robin Pemberton, I didn't go to the track. It wasn't worth the hassle. As usual, G put severe media access restrictions on the test and -- candidly -- it wasn't worth my bother. And, as usual these days, there was zero communications from G with the local media.

Last year, when PIR was repaved and reconfigured, I did many stories on the project for the Arizona Republic. During the last race weekend on the old surface, I made it a point to discuss this with G racing boss Stu Grant. I know him from my CART days when G got its doors blown off by Firestone. The G talking point is the teams don't want to be bothered by media during these tests. I agree there's a bit of truth there, but . . .

G acts like a company unsure if it's capable of producing the tires needed for NASCAR competition. G gives the appearance of being scared of failure, not confident of success. Of course, when you take a look at the recent Kansas Speedway race, that just might be understandable. I noted the regular NASCAR media largely gave G a pass on that, but I'm not.

During that conversation with Grant, he mentioned the value to G of "technology transfer" stories (race tire development benefitting passenger vehicle tires). I told him I certainly understood that and would be willing to try to include such a storyline into my overall coverage. I never heard another word from G. In the pre-race tire testing, G made a major change in its plans in terms of the amount of drivers and days involved. When I pointed that out to G's so-called "media relations" man, well, let's just say dealing with him wasn't a happy professional experience. And if I hadn't contacted him, he never would have thought of, or bothered to, be in touch with me. Hey, it was only a GOODYEAR test. Why outreach to the local media?

Modern day NASCAR is a marketing organization. It might as well be renamed MASCAR, if you get my meaning. Since it seems that Firestone won't be involved in IndyCar within the next couple of years, I suggest NASCAR/MASCAR start negotiating with Firestone. The product is superior. As are the advertising, marketing, promotional and PR capabilities.


Anyone/everyone with any interest in, or involvement with, PR of any sort should read this:


FAST LINES: Jon Knapp, who died of cancer last week, was a solid PR pro and will be missed on the NHRA circuit where he and wife-PR partner Joanne repped the Summit Pro Stock team . . . Sadness also over the death of Bob Jenkins' wife, Pam. I know it's been a very difficult time for Bob on a number of fronts . . . And good guy Charlie Mitchell, the longtime racing columnist for Connecticut's The Hour -- a tough week . . . There are stories which fill space and then there are stories that help generate interest in an event and are read by non-racing fans. Please get next Sunday's (Nov. 4) Arizona Republic for what I believe will be a story deserving to go in the second category. If you're not in this area, go to AzCentral.com sports.

[ more next Monday . . . ]


Sunday, October 21, 2012

LESSONS NOT LEARNED

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!: The Red Bull marketers and publicists clearly understood that images of Felex Baumgartner's sensational supersonic jump from 24 miles above the earth were all-important in telling the story -- and capturing the public's attention. Note the cameras atop his capsule. It's a useful lesson for PRers in every corner of the PR world. (Photo courtesy of Jay Nemeth/Red Bull Content Pool.) 

When will they ever learn?

Silly me -- they never will.

I keep hoping the celebrity athletes of our star-power society will wise-up and play it straight given the countless examples of bad behavior and cheating that have been so much a part of our news in recent years. Every time you think there could not be a bigger fall from grace, there is. Last week's was Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France cycling champion-raised to hero status as a cancer survivor.

In the face of recent and what has been called overwhelming evidence of blood doping and other rules violations, Armstrong stepped down as head of his own cancer charity. He was quickly dropped by several sponsors, including Nike. Take your pick -- Nike or ESPN are the most powerful influences in American sports today.

The difference for Nike in this case as best I can tell, as opposed to other superstars like Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant and Michael Vick, is Armstrong's offenses involved actual competition while the others were of a personal conduct nature. It's true Armstrong has never failed a drug test.

But his fall from the pointed end of the sports celebrity pyramid is not only the latest, but greatest. I honestly feel sorry for cancer patients, and their families, who drew inspiration and hope from Armstrong's example.

But what I have also been reminded of -- again -- is that money, power, fame, celebrity and ego continue to compromise what in some cases may be the better judgment of decent people. 

Honestly, is it asking too much for others to learn from the mistakes of others?

Someday, Armstrong will re-emerge. You'll know his attempted PR comeback is underway when you see him on 60 Minutes or Katie.


My suspicion antenna is up: Way Up.

Various media ran wild last week with the story that GoDaddy's new ad agency might not use Danica Patrick in the .com's next Super Bowl commercials. Many were the same ones who have gone wild for several years with breathless reports that GD's Super spots were rejected by TV networks as too "racy" -- duped by a sleezy PR tactic to generate false controversy and, thus, drive-up public interest.

Now, anyone who has been through a management change (as GoDaddy has) knows that usually means change for many others. GD's new ownership has been working to reposition the business from sex-appeal to appealing to small business owners and tech buffs. It hired a well-known ad agency to do just that and that agency didn't use Danica in its first batch of new ads, which aired during the Summer Olympics. 

But, given its history of media manipulation, call me a skeptic. What really makes me think so is the Internet domain firm issued a statement from Patrick which quoted her as saying, "I absolutely hope I am in the new GoDaddy Super Bowl commercials. I don't think it would feel quite like a Super Bowl if we don't do the commercials again this year."

There's absolutely no reason for such a canned comment -- other than to again dupe the press into another phony controversy. If the story was real, the most likely response would have been "we'll see." Or even, "no comment."

And then, there was this from Tony Stewart, whose team fields Danica's GD-sponsored Cup Chevrolet, Friday at Kansas Speedway: "We read everything yesterday and laughed about it.”


If the standards of professionalism in American journalism were as high as most in the mainstream media would like you to believe, CNN's Candy Crowley would have been suspended from all political coverage immediately after her horrendous stint as moderator of presidential debate No. 2. Yes, the Washington Times is a conservative newspaper, but it was correct in terming Crowley's performance "another debacle for America’s media."

I'm not sure what was the bigger disgrace: Crowley, or the slobbering praise lavished on her post-debate by her CNN colleagues. Sometimes it seemed like some of them were going to lick her face in admiration. Couldn't one of them -- how about the network's own media analyst? -- step-up and tell the truth? CNN Managing Editor Mark Whitaker even sent an E-mail instructing his staff: "Let's start with a big round of applause for Candy Crowley for a superb job under the most difficult circumstances imaginable."

PLEASE! Tell our military, police and firefighters about "difficult circumstances." Talk about being self-important and self-absorbed!

Before the debate even began, Crowley let it be known she didn't plan to obey the format rules agreed-upon by the Obama and Romney campaigns. That means she shouldn't have accepted the role in the first place. And, while the questions were submitted by supposedly undecided voters in the audience, it was Crowley who actually decided which questions would be asked, and in what order. Somehow -- how mysterious -- she picked several that fed into the liberal Democrats' "war on women" theme and even this one from Mars: "How are you different from George W. Bush?" What in the hell does that have to do with the serious issues at play in this election? Why not have asked: "How are you different from Ulysses S. Grant?" She gave the president more time, cut off Gov. Romney more often, and was factually wrong in backing-up Obama's answer on the deaths of four Americas in Libya.

Candy Crowley is a disgrace to the honorable, traditional standards of American journalism. Her bias and bad judgment means she should not be a part of it. And certainly not be trusted as the "objective" moderator of a presidential debate.


FAST LINES: Two sentences from a recent Reuters article has had the PR-world-at-large talking: “To lie about an issue is to be a politician. To lie about a corporation is to be a public relation[s] executive” . . . I'll call again for the executive bosses at the sanctioning body PR departments to call together all their team reps for a review of the basics. One breach-of-ethics that keeps coming up again and again -- PR people responding to interview requests by asking what the questions will be. That's a mortal sin in the business. Only those who have never taken a Journalism 101 course would do such a thing. On second thought, PR execs from two sanctions have made the same mistake with me in the last year . . . A news release on the DeltaWing's testing crash at Road Atlanta, when it reportedly was hit by a slower car, headlined with the claim the vehicle was "assaulted." This kind of overly dramatic positioning may well be increasingly commonplace these days but it's just plan HYPE and not appreciated by legitimate journalists . . . ALMS has backed-out of its too-far-too-soon ESPN3 package for its final season in 2013, returning to a traditional broadcast/cable mix on ABC, ESPN2 and Speed for the long-distance runs at Sebring and Road Atlanta.


You've probably seen the video of Felix Baumgartner's astounding supersonic skydrive, so far the highlight of the YouTube age. But if you haven't seen it from his helmet camera, well, take a look:
http://gizmodo.com/5951725/first-head-cam-footage-from-daredevils-space-jump

more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, October 14, 2012

HEAD CASE

I'd like to say that Dale Earnhardt Jr. sitting out of some Sprint Cup races due to concussion symptoms marks the start of a new and improved era of pro-active driver safety rules in NASCAR.

I'd like to -- but I can't.

As NASCAR racing operations senior VP Steve O'Donnell said after Junior's announcement, tracking concussions is a "subjective call."

As I know from personal experience, that is true. Drs. Steve Olvey and Terry Trammel, the 1-2 Dynamic Duo of the original and gold standard CART traveling medical team, once explained to me that they could look at an X-ray of a broken bone and say how long it would take to heal. As for head injuries, though, they said that's impossible, even looking at an MRI or using other modern diagnosic techniques.

In short, there's no way to know. And that is why head injuries require a higher standard of care and caution than other injuries, because they are more difficult to assess. That means the sanctioning bodies must step-up and take on a greater role. That should begin with a mandatory check for concussion symptoms the day immediately following a suspicious wreck. No checkup, no OK from a qualified doctor, no racing the next weekend. Period.

The hard truth is Junior turned himself in, NASCAR didn't. Dale could have been wheeling his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevy last Saturday night at Charlotte because there's no evidence NASCAR was set to say otherwise. I'm glad Junior did what he did. I wish that would provide an example for other drivers, but . . .

Junior's position within the sport and industry is unique. He knows he can get out of the car and not have to worry if he'll still have a job. Precious few other drivers are in that position. Most wouldn't take themselves out of the game for fear they'd never get back in. And, as Jeff Gordon himself admitted, if he was leading the Sprint Cup championship with only a couple of races to go, he would play hurt.

Again, I speak from personal experience and direct observation. Head injuries and neuro diseases can't be handled like a broken bone. The gray area is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean. That means the sanctioning organizations have to assume a greater burden of the responsibility. Yes, it's a judgment call -- but NASCAR quickly explains away other competition decisions with that same reasoning.

Meanwhile, don't rush back, Junior. Ticket sales and TV ratings aside, there is no need to do so. Your championship possibilities are gone and another win this year isn't worth your hurry. Take the rest of the season off if all available evidence indicates that's the wisest course of action.


Here's my notebook in last Friday's Arizona Republic with news of a new NASCAR Truck series driver and the future of NHRA at Firebird Raceway:
http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/sports/articles/2012/10/11/20121011mexicos-quiroga-driven-realize-nascar-dream.html

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, October 07, 2012

QUESTIONS BEGGING TO BE ASKED

Chris Economaki's death marked the official end of the era of tough questioning on racing TV. Chris was never afraid to put the microphone in front of his interview subject and ask a direct, sometimes blunt, but almost always fair question. He knew that's what his viewers wanted.

These days, the broadcast types make speeches -- which aren't questions -- or generally talk to the interviewee in a soft, overly friendly, non-specific way. Which is largely what happened when IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard talked-up his 2013 schedule on Wind Tunnel and a media teleconference.

Bob Varsha said it was an honor to have Bernard make the announcement on WT. Hey, it's not as if SportsCenter was jumping up-and-down to do it! Sadly, the interview ended with a lame Helio Castroneves-Dancing With the Stars question. I know time is a limiting factor on live TV, but here's my list of very legitimate questions that could have, SHOULD HAVE, been asked on WT and the next day's teleconference:

* Do you have specific knowledge of a proposal to buy the series?

* Why was a contract signed with Pocono without a feasibility test, such as the one insisted on by Phoenix International Raceway if a race were to happen there?

* Phoenix was willing to commit to an almost $1 million advertising/marketing budget. How much has Pocono committed to this? And how much is the sanction fee?

* Are you concerned about Pocono trying to sell tickets to three major events within an eight-week period?

* What is the sanction fee for doubleheader events? Double the single-race fee?

* Why the gaping hole between Baltimore on Sept. 1 and Houston on Oct. 5 and are you concerned that could be a PR momentum roadblock as football begins?

* When will Lotus' status for 2013 be made official?

* After not doing much in 2012, what are series sponsor Izod's specific activation plans for 2013?

* Has the Grand-Am/ALMS merger created interest from tire suppliers involved in those series?

* According to Sports Business Journal, TV ratings on ABC were down 17 percent from the previous year and down 27 percent on NBC Sports Network. Since you've talked a lot about your expectations for those numbers to head north, why the decline in a season which usually featured good racing in new cars with engine manufacturer competition? What, specifically, is this being done to fix this huge problem?

* Does it concern you that even Roger Penske is having trouble finding sponsors? What, specifically, is the series doing to help teams sign new sponsors? Do you expect more, less, or the same amount of cars on the grid next season?

* During the teleconference, you said, "As everyone knows, tradition is so important to the sport." If so, how is tradition honored by having a "Triple Crown" that isn't all 500-mile races? (FYI -- the $1 mil bonus for a driver who could sweep all three isn't anything new. Domino's Pizza offered such a prize in the early 1980s.) And isn't standing starts a slap-in-the-face of IndyCar tradition?

* As for Pocono, you said of the three turns: "The fact that each one of these three corners provides for a different IndyCar track . . . Trenton in the first corner and turn and the second turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the third turn at Milwaukee." Respectfully, what do you know about Trenton?

Just asking . . . as others should have done. I bet at least some of the above questions would have been on Chris' list.


NASCAR's Mexico Toyota series will compete outside of that country for the first time next March, at Phoenix International Raceway. Here's my story on that from last Wednesday's Arizona Republic. It was played on sports Page 1.
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/articles/2012/10/02/20121002nascars-mexico-toyota-series-hold-race-phoenix-international-raceway.html

[ more next Monday . . . ]





Friday, September 28, 2012

WHAT CHRIS TOLD ME

I'm not sure, but I think it's possible Chris Economaki's last "live" interview was with me on my old The Race Reporters Internet radio show. (He taped at least one TV interview after that.) That show was Wednesday, June 24, 2009, which was the day the 75th anniversary issue of National Speed Sport News was published.

Chris, in declining health in recent years, died Friday at age 91. But here are three highlights from that radio conversation. Chris -- as usual -- spoke out as he believed-it-to-be, and his comment about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway needing a "drum beater" certainly stirred things up over at IMS, I can tell you:

I asked Chris what was the most important story covered in the pages of NSSN during those 75 years:

"That was in 1935 with the general acceptance of the crash helmet by people in American auto racing . . . It was an incredible move. The death rate in American racing to that point was horrendous. The crash helmet saved life-after-life-after-life. When everybody decided to use one, it was a big story."

Is America's most important race the Indianapolis 500 or Daytona 500?

"The Daytona 500 is important because it is heavily promoted. The Indianapolis 500, unfortunately, is not heavily promoted. It's presented and managed well, but it isn't promoted well. That is the big difference. You have to beat the drums for your event and the Indianapolis 500 doesn't have a drum beater."

Who is the greatest driver you've seen?

"It's a toss-up between A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. It's a difficult question to answer. One of those two is, without question, the senior performer in American auto racing."


Occasions such as this demand an Economaki story. Dave Argabright invited me to share a personal story for the bonus section of the hardcover edition of Chris' 2006 book, Let 'Em All Go! (I still have an autographed copy of the book on my desk.) Here's what I wrote:

It was in the pleasant surroundings of the PPG hospitality tent at Long Beach that I learned an essential, and enduring, truth about auto racing.

I sat with Jim Chapman, the legendary public relations executive who precisely arranged every detail of PPG's CART series sponsorship, as he patiently helped educate a journalist who was new to the sport. The writer asked Jim what he expected to happen in the Grand Prix. Just at that moment, Jim looked up from his plate of fruit and Virginia baked ham, and saw Chris walking toward their table. In his wise and fatherly way, Jim responded, "There are only three things certain in racing. Someone will win. Everyone else will lose. And Chris Economaki will be everywhere, asking questions he knows his readers want answered . . . whether they like it or not!"

Mr. Chapman, a friend and fan of Chris, was right as always. In the 35 years I've been in motorsports journalism and PR, I've fielded my share of the famous to-the-point Economaki inquiries, especially in CART's early years when I was the communications director. Chris is always working on some story and he's certainly not shy to press anyone to get information. He has called me at home before 8 a.m. and after midnight and even on New Year's Day!

One time I was with Nigel Mansell, waiting for the David Letterman Show to begin, when the dressing room door suddenly opened and Chris came in firing questions machine-gun style. When Chris left, Nigel took a deep breath just as a producer arrived to escort him to the stage. I told Nigel, "Relax. The hard part is over!"

Chris has never apologized for his aggressive pursuit of the news he knows the public wants to know. Nor should he. Agree or disagree with him as we all may on occasion, but acknowledge this: Chris's unflinching trust in the story -- and the reader -- deserves our profound respect.


Amen. I sure hope that, somewhere, Jim and Chris are sharing a vintage bottle of wine, a gourmet meal, and those irreplaceable Economaki-Chapman stories. God Bless.

[ more next Monday . . . ]



Sunday, September 23, 2012

BIZ NEWS BIG

Behind the headlines of who won, who lost and who is leading/out-of the championship, the real news action remains in the Business of Racing.


In NASCAR, the pressure to win and fill sponsorship gaps led a family owned-and-operated business -- Junior Motorsports -- to part ways with two family members, Tony Eury Sr. and Jr. Oh, by the way, Dale Jr.'s No. 88 Cup Chevrolet has some sponsorship openings for 2013 with Diet Mountain Dew cutting back. Phoenix International Raceway is about to announce a new title sponsor for its Nov. 11 Sprint Cup semifinal. Roger Penske, who for decades has said he retains the final decision on drivers, conceded Shell-Pennzoil had a huge say in hiring Joey Logano for the No. 22 instead of sticking with Sam Hornish Jr. Denny Hamlin did a great job winning New Hampshire but a boring race and not much from Junior didn't help NASCAR's Chase for TV audience.

Over in IndyCar, with the season over, the Edmonton race is no more but Randy Bernard says he's on-track for 19 events in 2013. Doubleheaders will be his latest try to get something to stick. I was at Auto Club Speedway for the finale and, based on my garage area conversations, there's a better than 50 percent chance up to five entries on the California grid won't be around for '13. There's less than a 50 percent chance of two, maybe three, new entries. The issues remain terrible TV ratings and how that impacts the search for team sponsorship. Paul Page has been told he's not a candidate for either the ABC or NBC Sports Network IndyCar host jobs. NSN is going "younger." IndyCar's bouncer is moving on to run the Detroit Grand Prix and, as one private security expert told me, if the series hires a new one the first order to business will be to keep the guy off TV -- a huge mistake of the past.

In NHRA, that sanction had a worse week than Mitt Romney. Just hours after the responsible official gave an interview proclaiming "parity" in the Harley-dominated Pro Stock Motorcycle class, new rules were published for 2013 and a 10-pound weight penalty imposed on the H-Ds for the rest of this year. What an absolute, total PR fiasco in terms of credibility with media, fans, racers and sponsors. John Force won his own sponsor Traxxas' $100,000 special Funny Car event in Texas (moved after being rained-out at the U.S. Nationals) and daughter Courtney virtually guaranteed herself top rookie honors by qualifying No. 1. In what has too-often been a mess of a Full Throttle season, Courtney is the most obvious positive. Just ask ESPN or any national event promoter.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, September 16, 2012

80 POUNDS SHORT OF A SELLOUT CROWD


HOW NOT TO DRESS FOR SUCCESS: The MavTV 500 pole winner during his news conference Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

A necessary piece of personal business required me to travel to the Los Angeles area last week. I took that opportunity to then head over to Auto Club Speedway for IndyCar's return to the California oval and the Izod series' finale, the MavTV 500.

Roger Penske said he had a huge group of employees and their families there for the race. Thank goodness. The most optimistic attendance number shared with me was around 20,000. I don't know for sure but will say, to my eye, there were more folks in the grandstands than I would have thought and probably more than most people predicted. Yes, the bar has been lowered and that's terribly sad, but I'll be positive and say there just might be something there for the Speedway and IndyCar to build on.

For want of 80 pounds, they could have sold out!

Let me explain . . .

In what was a truly interesting week for me, after a long interview with Jeff Gordon on Tuesday (see below), I spent almost a half-hour with A.J. Foyt Saturday. The main purpose was for a project I'll explain at a later date. But, in sitting with A.J. in his transporter office at ACS, the Indy 500's first four-time winner brought up the subject of Mike Conway. As I'm sure you know, Foyt driver Conway (who relocated to my residence city of Scottsdale earlier this year) decided he simply was not comfortable on ovals and stepped-out of the No. 14 ABC Supply Co.-Honda after the first practice session. I'll bet you are not surprised that the Great A.J. was not happy and here's what he told me Saturday.

"I told the crew, if I was about 80 pounds lighter, I'd get back in (the car) now. I'm using weight as an excuse. I really wanted to because, tracks like this, I liked. What I'm trying to say -- you know what I'm talking about -- it's a challenge. I said to myself, 'A.J., you're 77, you know better.' Since I got out, I have not sit back in one. Not that I don't want to, don't get me wrong. I know I can't do what I did at 30 years old."

After some other talk, Foyt went on: "I respect Mike very highly for telling me he don't want to run. But don't wait until we get here."

A.J. went on, but you get the point. Can you imagine the national headlines -- and last-minute ticket sales -- if word went out Foyt was going to get in the No. 14 and race? !

(More amazing A.J. quotes somewhere down the line, including what he thinks of today's generation of driver -- in a way you might not have heard before.)


Great, touching, wonderful tribute to Bob Jenkins pre-race on the NBC Sports Network. Bob's retirement marks the end of a race broadcasting era. AARWBA presented him with a nice award. Now, on the other end of the spectrum, there's Mr. Irrelevant, Wally Dallenbach Jr. "Expert" WD suggested on TV that Penske should pull Ryan Briscoe out of his car and put Will Power in as a way to take the championship after Power's crash. Relief drivers are not eligible for points! Nothing like the TV "experts" doing their homework to actually know the rules!


NASCAR dispatched Jeff Gordon to Phoenix last week to promote the Chase and Phoenix International Raceway's Nov. 11 Chase semifinal. What a great conversation Mark Armijo and I had with Jeff, who is such a professonal. Jeff -- and I think Rick Mears is another -- is one of those people who has the ability to not only say interesting things, but make you feel he's totally engaged in what you are saying. My Arizona Republic story was played BIG at the top of sports Page 1.
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20120911nascar-superstar-jeff-gordon-chasing-doubt.html


Be careful what you wish for, NHRA fans. Here's my September CompetitionPlus.com column:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/22414-michael-knight-be-careful-what-you-wish-for

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, September 09, 2012

THIS WEEK

This promises to be a very interesting week in TV, politics and motorsports.

In the early days of this blog, I often commented on the hype leading up to Katie Couric's debut as anchor of the CBS Evening News. There was a Hillary Clinton-like "listening tour," signs on buses, full-page newspaper ads, logo souvenirs, etc. It was an interesting case study for publicists. Of course, it was for naught, because after a huge initial tune-in audience, viewership collapsed and Couric's five years-at-$15 million-a-year tenure was a failure. The most noteable thing that happened might well have been Celebrity Couric's guest shot with David Letterman in which she said Michael Jackson wanted to date her.

Couric attempts to get back into the daily TV game this week with the debut of her syndicated ABC talk show. It has cleared an impressive 93 percent of TV households. The Hollywood Reporter calls Katie "the most talked about, most anticipated, best positioned . . . the most expensive . . . (of shows) seeking to fill the 'Oprah void' in afternoon television."

Good luck. This time around, the PR campaign has been decidedly different. Promos included her previously off-limits daughters and a reminder that her husband died of cancer. It's a try to soften her image, create sympathy, and generally spark new interest, all very useful in bringing in the afternoon female audience. Her executive producer and business partner, Jeff Zucker, who produced her at the Today show, has a well-deserved place in the TV News Hall of Shame as a pioneer in more-overtly injecting liberal bias into "objective" reporting.

I would not be surprised if, despite more hype, Katie will have underperformed expectations by the end of its first season.

Over in the presidential race, we should have some new polls. As these will be the first after both the Republican and Democratic conventions, the numbers should give us a real good read on the state of the race. Next up: The Debates.

Speaking of hype, NASCAR's 10-event Chase for the Sprint Cup begins in Chicagoland. This version has the look of being all about Jimmie Johnson's attempt to reclaim the Cup and JUNIOR! The absolute best thing that could happen to NASCAR would be for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the Chase opener and stay in the top three in points all the way to Homestead. IF that happens, the real strength of Junior Nation will be tested against the powerhouse programming that is football. Jeff Gordon's amazing second-place run at Richmond added a little pop going into the Chase, but Kyle Busch not being in it takes away a little excitement.

IndyCar's Izod series wraps with a 500-mile return to Fontana, Calif., and Auto Club Speedway. Hold your breath. While the Will Power-Ryan Hunter-Reay contest for the championship should be the event headline, I'll have two other things on my radar screen: Attendance and what my friend Bob Jenkins says will be his final race telecast.

After taking a financial bath with the rain-out of the U.S. Nationals at a track it owns, NHRA gives its six-race Countdown to one last Full Throttle series class championships another shot. If NASCAR is hoping to ride Junior to ratings success, so NHRA will be with rookie sensation Courtney Force. She needs to win early and stay in legitimate Funny Car title contention going to Pomona if drag racing is to make any impact vs. the Chase and football.

Let's see what happens this week. And how the media-at-large plays the stories and does -- or doesn't -- pay attention.


As one who has been calling for a unified American sports car series for years, I welcome last week's announcement of a "merger" between Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series. In strictly business terms, it was more of a "buyout" with Jim France and the NASCAR holding company that already owns Grand-Am taking control. Similar to when Tony George and the IRL effectively bought-out Kevin Kalkhoven and Champ Car. Be happy, fans, but watch for the details -- so many things have yet to be determined or announced. ALMS bet its house on manufacturers wanting to spend significant money on "Green" racing and that didn't happen. Certainly not in the headline Prototype class. NASCAR, of course, has been steadily increasing its "Green" PR campaign but I'd be cautious of going all-out the way ALMS tried to do. No one buys a ticket or watches on TV/Internet because of what kind of fuel someone is using! One of the highest priorities must be building a solid Prototype class -- without that, sports car racing is like drag racing without Top Fuel and Funny Cars. ALMS' existing GT class is terrific and should be continued "as is" as much as possible. But Grand-Am has had it right in a simple two-class structure while even passionate ALMS fans could not possibly follow or understand its complex and confusing multiple class structure. The new entity, which begins with Daytona in 2014, MUST AVOID THAT MISTAKE. Americans have a short attention span and it's not "sellable" to run so many different classes, so it's mandatory to combine where possible and eliminate where necessary. NASCAR's business resources, I'm sure, will be employed for this series just as for Grand-Am. I would suggest finding a significant role for my old friend, Ed Triolo, the longtime Porsche exec who now works for ALMS. Finally: ALMS' official association with the ACO, which organizes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, provided international credibility and name value. But the ACO hasn't always understood that the needs of an American sports car series, its public and its corporate participants, aren't necessarily the same as those in Europe. Keep the tie-in with Le Mans ONLY IF it makes reasonable sense, but remember this: The "NASCAR" brand is way more valuable in the U.S. than that of "Le Mans."

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Monday, September 03, 2012

WILL COKE's NEW NHRA SPONSORSHIP BE THE REAL THING?

WALLY A LUCK GUY: Courtney Force kisses her Wally trophy after first NHRA Funny Car victory in Seattle. Unfair or not, the TV ratings and media coverage success of NHRA's Countdown probably rides on Courtney being a championship contender all the way to Pomona. (Photo courtesy of Ron Lewis and John Force Racing.)


We're all about the Business of Racing here which meant I was on last week's NHRA media teleconference to make official what I vagued hinted at here several weeks ago: That the underperforming Full Throttle energy drink brand will yield its drag racing series sponsorship to fellow Coca-Cola Co. niche product Mello Yellow. The contract is through 2018.

I found it bizarre this was done in the middle of the week before the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals -- the sport's most prestigious race (postponed to this weekend due to rain) -- but that's NHRA for you. (See below for another example.) P.S. -- I thought it also was a PR/competitor-relations blunder not to include a prize money increase as part of the new deal announcement.

I might well have been the only media person on the teleconference who also was on the call when Coke revealed the NHRA title was shifting from Powerade to Full Throttle. Big Time promises were made on that call, about activating the sponsorship and promoting drag racing, few of which seemed to come to reality. I'll have a lot more to say about this down the road in my CompetitionPlus.com column.

But very pointed and direct B of R questions were the order of the day for me in talking with NHRA President Tom Compton and Coke's Senior Vice President Sports and Entertainment Marketing Partnerships Sharon Byers . The transcript of that Q&A follows. They now are on the record and we'll see if this becomes fact or more fiction. An important bit of news for sponsor-seeking racers was Compton responding to my question if the new contract re-opens the energy drink category for team sponsorship and he said yes. That's the kind of question that needed to be asked because this was fundamentally a business, not a sports, announcement. The chatroomers probably still would not know about this if I hadn't asked.

Q: Sharon, I was actually on the media teleconference call when the announcement was made that Powerade would be transitioning over to the Full Throttle brand, and I'm actually looking on my computer screen at the column I wrote at that time, and the Coca Cola representative on that conference call talked quite a bit about activation in non NHRA markets, and so I'd like to ask you, is this program going to include specific activation beyond the NHRA core audience, and if so, could you give some examples?

A: Yeah, I mean, that's a great question actually. We got that question from our bottling community when we announced it to them last week, so absolutely. There's a ton of power in drag racing overall, whether it's in market or outside of a race market, and our intention is absolutely to take this as broad as we possibly can.

Q: Can you provide some specific examples, for example, when the announcement was made several years ago, there was talk about the retail promotions, NHRA signage on trucks, promotion in non race markets. It's unclear to me how much of that actually happened, but beyond the general statement of it's going to happen, do you have specific commitments to activating beyond the NHRA core audience?

A: This is taking place in 2013, so we're actually in the process of planning this out with Tom's team along with Gary (Darcy, NHRA senior vice president of sales and marketing). But obviously we'll pull in a lot of driver appearances, we'll do some national promotionals, consumer take rates, take large customers, like Dollar General are very interested in taking this nationwide. So we will do the power of Coca Cola's marketing. We're going to take it to the finish line on this one.

Q: When you say driver appearances, do you mean in retail outlets?

A: Yes.

Q: I haven't heard it specifically said other than a reference to age demographic why Coca Cola corporate feels that the NHRA is the best available fit for Mello Yello. Could you be more specific on why the demographic works in your opinion?

A: Yeah. I mean, Mello Yello's consumer base is a youth based consumer group. Really the history that Mello Yello has had in motorsports really helped us tip it over the edge with some other brands that we were looking at between the relationship with Kyle Petty, what we did with Days of Thunder, and we really wanted Mello Yello to get centered and focused on a huge passion point here in America, and we just felt with all of those tenets, the NHRA was a fantastic fit for that brand from a consumer base, from a customer base, and just overall strategically.

Q: For Tom: When changes in the telecom industry resulted in NASCAR switching its series name from Nextel Cup to Sprint Cup, Brian France said a change like that is "not ideal." Next year will represent the third ID change in six years for NHRA. Do you agree with Brian France and have concern about that from a public ID standpoint?

A: Actually I don't. Two parts to that: One is I think we're very fortunate to be enjoying basically 17 years under contract with the Coca Cola Co., and we've already received calls, Tweets, things today from fans and the fans here in Indianapolis that have come up and said what a great move, that's terrific. Our fans know where to find us, and I think with the power of the Coca Cola Company behind us with the Mello Yello brand, it's going to be a good thing for the sport, terrific actually, as opposed to largely being in convenience stores as Full Throttle is. And again, they're still going to be part of this program. Mello Yello is available in grocery stores, big box stores. The distribution is much greater, so the touch points are many.

Q: Could you just speak to the question I asked Sharon about activation beyond the NHRA core fan? Is that something that was a specific negotiating point in putting this deal together?

A: Obviously Mello Yello is a much larger brand. It has tremendous resources. The bottling group as Sharon mentioned was very excited about this announcement because there's an association with motorsports and Mello Yello. The brand planning is still in the works right now, but as always, we're looking to reach beyond the race markets and do things on a national basis which will now be much more able to do with this brand. So I think, yes and yes, we'll be doing much more activation around the races, and there will be opportunities to do things beyond the race markets on a national basis that probably weren't wouldn't be as effective with Full Throttle. And again, Full Throttle we're happy to have still as a partner on a certain level.

Q: Tom, does this change or re-open the energy drink category for individual team sponsorships, or is that still locked up?

A: Yes, it does. Obviously our partner is Coke, but for race teams, race teams are the most important form of sponsorship, and we have such a great partner in Coke. They understand that, and they're willing to let competitors come in now in the energy category and be on cars, that's correct.

Q: Starting in 2013 does that take effect?

A: Yeah, next year, next season.


It can be absolutely maddening to be an NHRA fan or to report on the drag racing industry in a positive way. Latest example: The 2013 schedule includes the Arizona Nationals (quite possibly the last at Firebird Raceway) on Feb. 24, the SAME DAY AS THE DAYTONA 500! And one week before NASCAR will be at Phoenix International Raceway. As I used to be a sanctioning body official, I don't need any lectures from NHRA or anyone else about how complex it can be to schedule races. I see the season will open the previous week at Pomona so, obviously they couldn't go one week earlier, or one week later. BUT . . . This conflict with Daytona GUARANTEES net less media coverage for NHRA and its sponsors. Drag racing simply cannot put an event up against football's Super Bowl or NASCAR's Super Bowl.


FAST LINES: Other BIG B of R news from last weekend -- Office Depot not renewing its co-primary sponsorship deal with Tony Stewart. That leaves a huge budget gap for an organization getting Danica's GoDaddy money next year but still looking for funding for the Ryan Newman car . . . DuPont is selling its foundation automotive paints business. Remember Jeff Gordon's Rainbow Warriors' vivid color design? That helped showcase DuPont's paints. In the long-term, whether other DuPont business units will pick up the sponsorship will be an important question . . . Track problems weren't the only complaints coming out of Baltimore last weekend. Based on the E-mails I received, media operations weren't the best, either. Among the issues related to me -- A much longer walk to the media center to accommodate an "off-limits" sponsor area; conflicting news conferences at different locations; PR/promotions people "suggesting" questions to be asked at a sponsor news briefing; and, yes, food.


As I have noted here before, I rarely watch SportsCenter any more. For years it was a daily appointment for me, but in the current ESPN philosophy, it has too many gimmicks, too much content based not on news but on programming, and has too many anchors and reporters there for reasons other than journalistic (or even broadcasting) talent. Here's a good read regarding the lack of legitimate news judgment:
http://www.thewrap.com/tv/blog-post/espn-journalistic-standards-emperor-no-longer-wears-clothes-53481?page=0,0

Meanwhile, one of the emptiest of the ESPN Empty Suits, Jonathan Coachman, was used on NASCAR Now. I guess that was his reward for saying Stewart's helmet throw at Bristol "was one of the best things I've seen in a long time." After his NASCAR gig, Coachman then went on ESPN Radio to brag about it and called NASCAR his "second home." Real NASCAR fans should feel insulted, on a number of levels. For one thing, Coachman's "first home" is professional wrestling.

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, August 26, 2012

MOSELLE's WAY WAS THE RIGHT WAY

As motorsports has become more political, more corporate, more cut-throat, more impersonal, it has struck me hard how much the likes of Lee Moselle are missed.

Moselle was a classic example of what I'll call a Gentleman Promoter. Not "gentleman" as in a pay-as-you-go "gentleman" driver, but a solid, successful businessman who happened to stage major racing events. And did so with class and humanity.

Moselle, a lawyer by trade, became executive director of SCRAMP -- Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula. That's the group that organizes and promotes events at Laguna Seca Raceway, which used to be part of Fort Ord, and now is officially titled Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Moselle was the kind of man who would offer to pick you up at the airport, show you around the beautiful Monterey-Carmel area, take you to lunch/dinner, and get you back to your hotel or the airport. He would not have thought otherwise. I first met Lee in 1982 when I was CART's communications director and the series signed to make its Laguna debut in 1983. I made my first visit for a site inspection in the fall of 1982. Lee was such a nice guy I almost hated to tell him his small media work facility wasn't up to series' standard. I think he already knew that and built a new media center for our race.

Moselle was one of those old-school people who grasped the value of one-on-one relationships. When the CART race was scheduled, he immediately reached out to series sponsor PPG's Jim Chapman. When the time came for Chapman to make hotel reservations for the large PPG group, he couldn't get what he needed. Chapman telephoned Moselle, who promised to take care of it. Lee drove over to the downtown Hyatt, sat down with the GM and explained, "This is our series sponsor." Chapman got all the rooms he required. It was no surprise Chapman and Moselle quickly bonded on both a personal and professional level. Chapman supported Laguna in every way he could and Moselle returned all the favors.

Moselle spent race weekends and test days not in his office, but down in the pits and paddock, visible and easily accessible. He made it a point to go see drivers, owners and sponsors and ask if all was well. Because he was so connected and respected within his community, many was the time Lee was able to obtain hard-to-get golf tee-times and dinner reservations for racers. Lee used to host a cocktail party on Friday night of race weekends, in part because he believed such hospitality was correct and proper, but it also gave him a chance to allow the SCRAMP Board as well as local government and business leaders to mingle with the drivers. Lee would mail out formal invitations a few weeks ahead of time but he never had to go around and ask the Big Names to attend -- they gladly did so, because of the courtesy he showed them.

Lee was honored as CART's Race Organizer of the Year and always would make it a point to stand up at sometimes-stormy CART promoter/sponsor meetings and say something nice and point out the positives. On one such occasion, he hand-wrote a simple note complimenting presentations Kirk Russell and I made to the big group, and passed it around from person-to-person. I sure did appreciate it! A few years later I had changed jobs, and Lee asked for my help in starting the big publicity push for his event. I happily assigned budget and a Mario Andretti appearance day I controlled to this purpose and Mario spent a day in San Francisco singing the praises of Laguna Seca to media and fans.

Lee died a number of years ago. No disrespect to anyone else, but Laguna Seca has never seemed the same to me. He's one of those people I'll always feel blessed I got to know and call "friend." Especially in this modern era of the Business of Racing, where the trackside atmosphere all-too-often is impersonal and uncaring, Moselle's way would be a good one to follow.


Let me see if I've got this straight: Because Tony Stewart threw his helmet and Danica Patrick pointed, Bristol was a "great" race. Moments of entertainment, OK, but absolutely not a "great" race. This is what passes for "informed media commentary" these days: ESPN Empty Suit Jonathan Coachman said Stewart's helmet throw "was one of the best things I've seen in a long time." Which is why he's one of the emptiest of the ESPN Empty Suits.



Speaking of class, and doing the right thing: Or, in this case, not the right thing. I recently read in Golf Week that British Open winner Ernie Els gets to keep the Claret Jug trophy for one year. But if he wants a permanent Jug, he has to ask the Royal & Ancient Golf Club to order him a replica -- at his expense. That's said to be up to $15,000. A world-class athlete wins a world-class event but has to PAY for the trophy? Ridiculous! When PPG sponsored the CART series, it presented championship Cups to both the driver and team owner. But I know from first-hand experience that when Newman/Haas Racing was champion, Jim Chapman ordered a second owners' Cup -- at PPG's expense -- so that both Carl Haas and Paul Newman had their own. Chapman wouldn't have considered anything else the "right way" to do things. Class.


I've noted here in recent weeks the Wind Tunnel format changes. Now, John Daly, of The Daly Planet, has put his authoritative voice to the subject (a MUST read):
http://dalyplanet.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-untimely-death-of-wind-tunnel.html


NASCAR reinstated Aaron Fike. Read new NASCAR.com writer Holly Cain's excellent and inspirational (I'm sure we all hope it stays that way) story:
http://www.nascar.com/news/120821/afike-sobriety-road-to-recovery/index.html

[ more next Monday . . . ]