• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, March 31, 2013

ROBBY GORDON's LATEST ADVENTURE


Robby Gordon's new Stadium Super Truck series debuts this Saturday night (April 6) at University of Phoenix Stadium. I'll be there covering for the Arizona Republic but since the race will run past the deadline for the print edition please go to AzCentral.com to read my race story.

I've talked to Robby a few times in recent weeks and will have a story in the Republic this Friday to preview the event. I won't write here what will be in that story but the business model Gordon has created for this series (sanctioned by USAC) is of interest.

Let's just say Robby's not too enchanted by the current NASCAR business model, so after a few years of running his own team, he's parked his Cup car. His Charlotte (there's a test track there available to any series driver) shop builds and maintains all of the Traxxas Slash-esque trucks and entrants pay a franchise fee (first 30 are locked-in but 16 are expected at Phoenix) for what is essentially a turn-key operation. Individual teams can then sell their own sponsorship deals. Arie Luyendyk Jr. is partially funding his effort via fan contributions at www.ArieTruck.com . Jegs.com is backing Ricky Johnson. Jeff Ward and Justin Lofton are confirmed and JJ Yeley told me during the Phoenix NASCAR weekend that he's in, too.

There's no auto manufacturer participation right now. That's not to say there won't be in the future. I'll explain that more in Friday's story but Robby did emphasize to me he wants a series where drivers competing elsewhere can come without a commercial conflict.

There's $60,000 in prize money at each of the 12 events with $500,000 to the series champion. Gordon has a deal with NBC and NBC Sports Network for delayed coverage. Other venues include Long Beach, the Los Angeles Coliseum and NFL stadiums Soldier Field, Georgia Dome, Metro Dome and Cowboys Stadium, among others.

The series, of course, is modeled largely on the popular one Mickey Thompson operated in the 1980s. Gordon (and Jimmie Johnson) ran there. Gordon's group essentially runs the whole show, including setting-up and cleaning-up the track.

Given his own off-road history and "my way" attitude (I did the PR for Robby's Meijer-sponsored team at the 2004 Indy 500 when he was doing the Double with Richard Childress), I'm not surprised Gordon has taken this on. He's explained to me why he thinks the time is right and why there's a place for yet another racing series. We'll all get a first chance to evaluate it all this Saturday night. 


Since there's no live TV of Gordon's Stadium Truck race I'll plan to do a little Tweeting of news/results from University of Phoenix Stadium. I'll also Tweet the links to my Friday advance and Saturday night race stories. @SpinDoctor500

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, March 24, 2013

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS?

Oh, how the mighty fall -- and fast.

Of course the Indianapolis 500 is the best example in motorsports -- from the all-time high of (Nigel) Mansell Mania 20 years ago this May to a race largely of nobody drivers in 1996 while the "stars" ran at Michigan in CART's U.S. 500. Indy -- and the open-wheel series no matter who is in charge -- has never recovered.

But there are many other examples. Boxing and horse racing quickly come to my mind. And, in an example ripped from today's headlines, there is NBC's Today show. The departure of two consecutive popular female co-anchors, a badly miscast replacement, and her botched removal (done so badly one might have thought the IMS Corp. had pulled the plug) for a lightweight dropped the highly-profitable morning show from the No. 1 position which had seemed as constant as death and taxes to behind ABC's Good Morning America. It says here Matt Lauer (who was in over his head as a reporter on Robin Leach's old Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous) will never recover his standing with morning TV's core female viewership.

NASCAR got itself into trouble with the woeful Car of Tomorrow and its unloved rear wing, as out-of-place in stock car racing as Michael Moore at CPAC. Spectators and viewers were turned off and the sanction's latest attempt at a comeback is rooted in the showroom-esque Gen-6 car.

All of the above, and plenty more, should serve as a case study for the High and Mighty National Football League.

Obviously scared by the suicides of players and former players and lawsuits and the tide of public and scientific and medical opinion, the NFL is rapidly rewriting its rulebook to try to deal with concussions and brain injuries. What arguably was the sport's most exciting play, the kickoff return, has been neutered into boredom. Quarterbacks and receivers have extra protection from those classic "hard hits." And, last week, came word that running backs won't be allowed to initiate contact with a lowered head as Hall of Famers have done for decades.

Don't misunderstand: I'm all for safety -- in every sport. But the NFL, which so dominates TV ratings and thus TV rights fees, commercial rates, sponsorships, media coverage and other categories, does risk alienating fans as it transforms itself into a "safer" game. Rush Limbaugh already is influencing his sizeable audience with such talk.

No one will admit it, but . . . I guarantee you smart executives connected to other sports series and leagues are at least thinking of how they might grab some of the NFL's mojo -- and money -- if the public votes "no" on kinder and gentler football.

Hello, Brian France, Mark Miles, Tom Compton and Scott Atherton?


Formula One can be cold, cruel, bizarre and byzantine. Add to the mix corporate team ownership, politics, Eurozone regulations and God-only-knows how many lawyers and you get this, a disclaimer posted at the end of the Mercedes team's press releases. (Thanks to Tim Wohlford for alerting me to this.)

This document contains forward-looking statements that reflect our current views about future events.  Thewords "anticipate," "assume," "believe," "estimate," "expect," "intend," "may," "plan," "project," "should" and similar expressions are used to identify forward-looking statements. These statements are subject to many risks and uncertainties, including an adverse development of global economic conditions, in particular a decline of demand in our most important markets; a worsening of the sovereign-debt crisis in the euro zone; a deterioration of our funding possibilities on the credit and financial markets; events of force majeure including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, political unrest, industrial accidents and their effects on our sales, purchasing, production or financial services activities; changes in currency exchange rates; a shift in consumer preference towards smaller, lower margin vehicles; or a possible lack of acceptance of our products or services which limits our ability to achieve prices as well as to adequately utilize our production capacities; price increases in fuel or raw materials; disruption of production due to shortages of materials, labor strikes, or supplier insolvencies; a decline in resale prices of used vehicles; the effective implementation of cost-reduction and efficiency-optimization measures; the business outlook of companies in which we hold a significant equity interest; the successful implementation of strategic cooperations and joint ventures; changes in laws, regulations and government policies, particularly those relating to vehicle emissions, fuel economy and safety; the resolution of pending governmental investigations and the conclusion of pending or threatened future legal proceedings; and other risks and uncertainties, some of which we describe under the heading "Risk Report" in Daimler's most recent Annual Report. If any of these risks and uncertainties materialize, or if the assumptions underlying any of our forward-looking statements prove incorrect, then our actual results may be materially different from those we express or imply by such statements. We do not intend or assume any obligation to update these forward looking statements. Any forward-looking statement speaks only as of the date on which it is made.


The Izod IndyCar series certainly needed a good start to its new season and got one with an entertaining street race in St. Pete. Now, the real question: Did it translate to TV ratings? The fact that NBC Sports Network's presentation of the Australian Grand Prix got roughly half the audience last year's race on Speed did is a cause for concern. Of course, it all was overshadowed by the Denny Hamlin-Joey Logano finish in California.

 

Must read Gordon Kirby salute to a great guy:
http://www.gordonkirby.com/categories/columns/theway/2013/the_way_it_is_no376.html


Last week on Twitter: I did two breaking news alerts on Robby Gordon's new Stadium Truck series plus a memory at the start of the 20th anniversary of (Nigel) Mansell Mania: @SpinDoctor500

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, March 17, 2013

DESTINATION NBCSN

NBC Sports Network made its first full-season rebranded debut as a Big Time motorsports media destination last weekend with the Australian Grand Prix. The next step comes with this Sunday's (still, barely) "Izod" IndyCar season opener in St. Pete.

I have serious concerns with the choice of Leigh Diffey as anchor of both series. His is a presentation best consumed in small servings. So how he'll play out almost weekly over two series . . . well, in fairness, I'll reserve judgment for now. It's a mistake, however, for NBCSN to have retained Mr. Irrelevant: Wally Dallenbach Jr., and moved Jon Beekhuis to the pits. We've seen Beekhuis as a pit reporter before and it should be obvious -- even to Mr. Irrelevant (who showed at Fontana he doesn't even bother to learn the rules) -- that Jon is better positioned upstairs. 

The best news I've heard in some time came with word that Monaco will be shown live on the NBC broadcast (not cable) network. With the announcers and key production people actually on site (lame duck Speed didn't even send its crew to Austin, Texas.) To the best of my memory live network Monaco will be a first and that offer no doubt was a big selling point with Bernie Ecclestone and Co. in grabbing the rights away from Speed (soon to be Fox Sports 1.) The Big Issue will be if the production will boost the name-recognition value of F1 drivers in this country.

Ratings and household audience, of course, are what counts. Combining the majority of events of both open-wheel tours on NBCSN will be a meaningful Business of Racing story over the upcoming months.

However, I ultimately expect that NBCSN will be a bidder for a piece of the next NASCAR contract. Certainly in Sprint Cup. Who knows? Maybe even the Nationwide series, which has gone from "a diamond in the rough" for ESPN to an obvious annoyance to be worked around -- especially come college football season.

As for IndyCar -- after hosting its major pre-season media day at an obscure (if nice) road course in the open-wheel hotbed of Alabama (it did make logistical sense) -- comes the green flag for a series still without clear-cut leadership or a clear-eyed vision for its future. Despite legitimate calls from fans and cheerleader media for a focus on the actual racing, those who actually pay the bills (team owners, track operators) or are needed to pay the bills (corporate sponsors) know the No. 1 most important overriding issue remains the ownership and management of the series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. The leaked portions of the embarrassing Boston Consulting Group's out-of-touch-with-reality report sure didn't help. That document was so way-out it might as well have been written on Pluto.


Which leads me straight to this: Let me suggest it's time for racing execs to stop wasting Big Money on outside consulting firms. With the Boston Consulting Group debacle still fresh-in-mind, last week brought SME Branding's "United SportsCar Racing" name (boring and something anyone could have thought of in five minutes) and logo (conveys nothing to anyone except, perhaps, hard-core sports car fans -- look at the NBA or baseball logos and you immediately visualize the sport) for the ALMS/Grand-Am series in 2014. The presenting SME partner described them as “modern, aspirational, authentic, unique, exciting.”  I'll give him points three and four. ALMS President Scott Atherton said: “When it came to the branding of our newly merged entities, we felt we had one chance to get it right – and now we believe we have done just that." Sorry, Scott, NO. Will you still consider this name a good choice three years from now? NO, it won't make sense, quite possibly forcing another name change and another round of public confusion (New viewer: "United? Does that mean there was a time when it wasn't united?" That split history is best forgotten) and expense. That's the truth despite the self-serving claptrap from the Branding exec about "a long-term proposition.”
(Yes, I know, a fan contest was a part of this process.)

Question: How much cash business will this new name, logo and branding generate? That, my friends, is the REAL Business of Racing issue at play here.

There will be five classes, which I consider at least one too many for a public which has signaled that simplicity counts a lot, but I know this has to be to maintain car counts. Zip announced about series sponsorship or TV. In a way, it's nice that the traditional IMSA name was retained for the sanctioning body, but given the obvious realities I'd have put it under NASCAR sanction.   


P.S. 1 to last week's blog: One other minor detail: Brad Keselowski's Nationwide series sponsor is a company with headquarters in SCOTTSDALE! Making the professionally inexcusable truly professionally incomprehensible.

P.S. 2: I promised to name the names of those who, on a positive note, have provided good PR assistance to me this year. In random order:

Elon Werner, Dave Densmore, Megan Englehart, Drew Brown, Anthony Vestal, Jeff Wolf, Scott Woodruff, Tom O'Connor, Joe Crowley, Jennie Long, Kristi King, Kelly Wade, Jon Edwards, Ryan Barry, Dave Ferroni, Jennifer Jepson, Stacy Pearson, Amy Konrath, Nancy Wager and John Chuhran.

And some others who have gone at least a little out of their way to be extra cooperative, helpful or kind:

Jeff Gordon, Mike Helton, John Force, Ashley Force Hood, Courtney and Brittany Force, Antron Brown, Danica Patrick, Ron Capps, Larry Dixon, Jack Beckman, Del Worsham, Clint Bowyer, Jeg Coughlin Jr., Jack Roush, JJ Yeley, Michael McDowell, Dave Rieff and Alan Reinhart.

Thank you, all.


Based on a couple of recent E-mails, I see the need to restate how I'm using Twitter: 1. As a old-fashioned ringing-bells headline news alert service; 2. As a way to raise awareness and distribution of my media activities; 3. As a blog between blogs when the situation demands. Examples of all three happened last week. @SpinDoctor500


Flip a coin on what's been the biggest PR disaster of the last two weeks: The White House canceling visitor tours or NASCAR fining Denny Hamlin.


Why drag racing fans should be mad as hell. My new CompetitionPlus.com column:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/24422-michael-knight-why-drag-racing-fans-ought-to-be-mad

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A CHAMPION'S RESPONSIBILITY

The "responsibilities" of being a champion have been in discussion in the major racing series for a long time. We talked about it even when I was CART's first communications director starting in November 1980. During that time I was lucky to work with two first-class champions in Johnny Rutherford and Rick Mears.

A review of racing history shows some have taken the duty more seriously than others.

These days, it's a much more pressing issue. The national economy, multi-million dollar sponsorships and broadcast contracts, TV ratings, at-track attendance, souvenir sales and the bursting social media scene have demanded it. That's known as the Business of Racing.

Consider all the 2012 post-season talk about Brad Keselowski. Very savvy and active on the social media front, Brad K's youth and more-relaxed style had people calling him NASCAR's champion for a new generation. Remember, this is the guy who got Roger Penske to wear jeans (once, anyway) and produced some memorable post-Homestead interviews after enjoying his sponsor's product in celebration of the Sprint Cup. (Brad admitted to a "buzz.")

People wondered how Miller beer and Ford and NASCAR's Integrated Marketing Communications Department would use Keselowski in the media and ad campaigns. That was a different sort of "buzz."

But the responsibilities of champion extend beyond the driver who hoists the trophy. I would argue they extend to his team and maybe even his sponsor. At least, to a sponsor who "gets it."

Which brings me to the other week's Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. As I have since 2007, I was covering for the Arizona Republic. I'll skip the specifics but at both PIR and the previous weekend's NHRA Arizona Nationals, I spent a lot of my own time on what I'll call "political PR." I did so because it was good business and the smart thing to do. Happily, a handful of people in both series understood and it was Mission Accomplished.

But, once again, I was dismayed at the non-performance of the majority of the NASCAR PR community. Including that of the Cup championship team.

It is clear too many of these people don't bother to do basic homework. You'd be amazed at how many didn't (or still don't) know that the Republic newspaper is connected to AzCentral.com to Channel 12, the NBC network TV affiliate in Phoenix. The Republic is the state's largest newspaper. AzCentral.com is the No. 1 site for news, sports and entertainment info. Channel 12 moved out of its own studios and into the Republic building downtown. Put it all together and this is the state's largest newsgathering organization.

Considering the size of the market, and it's demographic diversity, and the fact that NASCAR Chairman Brian France's first racing job was running a track in Tucson and he has been quoted by me in print that that means he has an extra special interest in the success of motorsports in Arizona, one might reasonably think the NASCAR PRites-at-large would make an extra special effort here on behalf of their sponsors and the industry as a whole. I see no evidence that happens. (Of course there are a few exceptions, and they stand out, believe me. Fair is fair and I'll acknowledge them by name here soon.)

The spotlight of that failing, at least for this past race, is on the championship team. Apparently beer, motor oil and cars aren't sold in AZ. Ditto trucks leased. I say that because there was not a PR word from the title team to Arizona's biggest newsgathering operation.

There is no legitimate explanation because there is no legitimate excuse. Penske's multi-billion dollar empire was built, in basic part, on the fundamental of making sales calls. But his in-house so-called "PR" operation seemingly doesn't know a fundamental part of the job is to make such sales calls -- talk with the media. But when the person in charge, upon his occasional media center visits, talks to some but completely ignores others (a fact duly documented by several Jim Chapman Award committee members), is willfully ignorant and/or not respectful of historic good coverage, and oblivious to how it makes common sense to outreach to past, current or potential media "customers," it all adds up.

(Another case of the supervisors not supervising and the overseers not overseeing.)

Jim Chapman, who knew and respected Penske (and vice versa), would be shocked and left aghast.

These guys didn't bring their A Game to a huge market, one NASCAR's boss is on record saying is of special interest to him. (Being responsive to that is what is known as Good Politics.) What they brought was their F Game.

Bad business? You bet.

Poorly representing, and not delivering maximum value to paying-the-bill sponsors? Yes.

Not fulfilling the responsibilities of champion? Absolutely.

[ more next Monday . . . ]



Sunday, March 03, 2013

OF PIR and REALITY

The backflip is back.

Two hectic NHRA and NASCAR race weeks are over in the Valley of the Sun. I'm linking some of my Arizona Republic stories below -- please go to www.motorsports.azcentral.com for more from me, Mark Armijo and others. Even if you think you read everything there was to read about Danica Patrick during Daytona, please see my Q&A with her, which got spectacular "play" in Sunday's paper. The questions asked were of SUBSTANCE -- and you might find her answers about the responsibility of being a role model, the media, and other things of interest.

Meanwhile, two things happened in the past week to prove yet again how far some highly paid (and hyped) people are out-of-touch with real-world reality:

I sent out a Twitter about the absurb proposed IndyCar schedule from Boston Consulting Group, as reported by the Associated Press. Why bother suggesting things that by contract -- and common sense -- aren't possible, certainly in the near-to-mid term? This is supposed to be a serious business organization? Just ridiculous.

Then, Sunday, on ESPN Radio, Bob Ryan and Mike Lupica chatted that the most important story of the year -- not just in sports, but everything -- is the Dennis Rodman visit to North Korea? Really? Two mouths living in their own, isolated, self-important world.

Monday notebook (Danica crash, etc.):

Sunday Danica Q&A:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20130301danica-patrick-embraces-her-differences.html

Kyle Busch wins Nationwide race:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20130302kyle-busch-wins-again-at-phoenix.html

Saturday notebook (Danica, Junior, Yeley and IndyCar):
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20130301danica-patrick-not-expecting-daytona-results-phoenix.html

Thursday: Gordon, Bowyer return to scene of brawl:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/20130227dust-has-settled-at-phoenix-international-raceway-but-has-feud.html

[ more next Monday . . . ]