• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

OF SPONSORS AND SOUND

A laugh is good medicine during challenging times and, for me, that came from a BusinessWeek headline on the same weekend Formula One was introducing its new turbo engines:

"NASCAR's Plan to Turbocharge the Stock Car Racing Series" .

The article, quoting Lesa France Kennedy on what she sees as new positives for the stock car sport, was pretty basic and broke no new news. 

While NASCAR was waiting out the rain and trying to recapture lost magic at Bristol and United SportsCar was still trying to get its act together at Sebring and NHRA staged its first "major" of the season at the Gatornationals, the weekend's real focus was on open-wheel racing.

IndyCar announced Verizon as its new title sponsor. It had been long rumored. It's said to be multi-year and expectations are high Verizon will strongly activate its sponsorship, perhaps building on its experience sponsoring Team Penske cars. "Game changer" has become a cliche in modern America and those were the words Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles used to describe the deal. 

To be fair, the late nature of the sponsorship for 2014 means we should not expect too much in the short term. But I can absolutely, positively say this from a historical standpoint: For this title sponsorship to ultimately be successful, Verizon MUST have its own Jim Chapman or T. Wayne Robertson to provide solid guidance and strong leadership. That's what Izod, and certainly the various Coca-Cola brands which hand-off the NHRA entitlement like an unwanted step-child, did not and have not done. The sponsor needs its own person and team of professionals, not depend on the series. That's especially true of IndyCar, which is badly understaffed on a number of fronts. One thing I'll be watching for is if Verizon will do a better job of personally interacting with media than competitor Sprint does in the Cup series outside of the hard-core NASCAR regulars.

F1 debuted in Australia and, sure enough, there were negative comments about the sound produced by the new turbo engines. I bet those offering such criticisms haven't read the various fan surveys which show spectators want to be able to communicate with each other, and that's extra difficult with a background of high-pitched normally-aspirated engines. Turbo is the way to go given the current automaker needs, too, and I'm strongly in favor of it and was glad IndyCar previously took this path. 

Believe me, I enjoy the throaty roar of the non-turbos. I've been around long enough to have heard the BRM H-16 and the Ferrari V-12. But the Big Picture needs of today means turbos.

How all the new F1 rules will sort out and affect the balance of power among the teams can't be determined by one race. We saw Down Under that reliability is an issue. If it serves to mix-up the Red Bull-Vettel domination of recent years and makes the races more competitive, at least for now, that's a good thing. Especially considering F1's global TV audience declined in 2013.

[ more next Monday . . . ]