• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM: If Bernie Ecclestone is to be believed, Formula One is the only major sporting series in the world not concerned with attracting new and younger fans. Ecclestone's financial success of F1's commercial activities is unquestionable, but his age, legal problems, the series' out-of-control costs and now his latest pronouncement has only increased concerns about his capability to lead going forward.

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morning of his last weekend as a driver -- just a few hours before his teammate was killed and Stewart's entry was withdrawn.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 . . . ]