Sunday, March 17, 2013


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 column:

[ more next Monday . . . ]