Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have four guests joining us this afternoon. They are Brian Barnhart, president and chief operating officer of the Indy Racing League. Ken Ungar, senior vice president of business affairs for the Indy Racing League. Matt Alexander, vice president and general manager of Chicagoland Speedway. And Craig Rust, president of Watkins Glen International. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I want to thank you for joining us. Ken, let me turn things over to you for the announcement of the 2006 IndyCar Series schedule.
KEN UNGAR: Thanks, Tim. Good afternoon to everyone. In 2005, the IndyCar Series has seen more excitement on the track, more television promotion, and more media visibility than any time in its history. Season to date attendance is up 17%. We're very proud that our television viewership season to date is up 26%. Our website traffic is up triple digits race over race. Our trackside merchandise sales are up 50 to 100% at every event in our schedule. The 2006 schedule is a great step forward for our sport, giving us unprecedented momentum and consistency. The 2006 schedule will run approximately eight fewer weeks than has been run in past years. The tight lineup of races that have been released today will make for increased fan interest, more sustained story lines from week to week, and a more defined season. Finishing before the NFL and college football seasons get into full swing will definitely increase overall exposure for our sport. Our broadcast partners, ABC and ESPN, were the catalyst in moving in this direction, and the prime mover in helping us get there. The league also worked closely with its teams and tracks to evaluate how a compact schedule would impact the sport as a whole. When this idea was first considered over two and a half years ago, we thought it would be impossible, and we were nearly right. By far this is the most difficult and complex schedule we've ever produced, and we're very proud of it because it lays a great foundation for our future success. Thanks, Tim.
TIM HARMS: Thank you, Ken. Brian, let me ask you a question just about, as Ken mentioned, taking eight weeks off the schedule, making it more compact, how does that affect the teams competing in the IndyCar Series?
BRIAN BARNHART: I think one of the biggest thing it will do, it will challenge them even further. I think as competitive as our series is, and I think it's the most competitive form of motorsports in the world now, it's going to add one more variable to the team's ability to be prepared in a shorter time frame from race to race, week to week. It's just an added challenge to the teams, the drivers and their ability to be prepared, to respond to situations from the week before, to anticipate the weekends coming up. It will just add more excitement, drama, make the championship chase more compelling.
TIM HARMS: Craig, let me ask you a two-part question. First of all, obviously the IndyCar Series is only 10 days away from its first visit to Watkins Glen. Tell us a little bit about the excitement in the region for this year's race and then second give us your perspective on next year's race coming the week after the Indianapolis 500.
CRAIG RUST: We're real excited. Those familiar with the facility, our schedule this year, people have been talking about the inaugural event all summer long. We had an event this past weekend and continue to sell many tickets to the fans that came up this past weekend. We've got two festivals planned, community support, and the final two weeks as we lead into this. It's exciting. Everybody's real pumped up about it. With that, going into '06, we're real supportive of the league's goal with the schedule. Ken called me, I understand what they're trying to do, and I am supportive of it. From our perspective, having the ability to promote our event and use the popularity of the Indy 500 should really help us as promoters. The history, the heritage of both the facilities is well-known. We think we can help continue the momentum out of the 500, help the league continue that growth into summer. Certainly a 500-mile race at Indy followed by an almost three and a half mile road course on one of the country's most historic road courses, both on ABC television, I think it's going to be a great two weeks of racing.
TIM HARMS: Matt, the IndyCar Series has a history of close finishes at Chicagoland Speedway. We saw another one this past weekend. The race there, as always, typically late in the season, played a vital role in the championship battle. Give us your thoughts, being the venue now where the championship will be determined in 2006.
MATT ALEXANDER: You're right. Brian Barnhart and Ken have created a fabulous package. For some reason Chicagoland Speedway and the mile and a half course sits up very well for IRL racing. We keep having these historic incredible finishes. What it's great about that is as we keep introducing the sport to new Chicagoland motorsports fans, we're galvanizing more and more fans, and there seems to be more excitement, not only from the general public fan standpoint, but also from the media. This year is no exception, where it seems like a little bit more and more excitement happens every year. We're incredibly excited to take on the responsibility of hosting the last race in the series. I think ending in a big market like Chicago makes a lot of strategic sense from IRL's perspective and the fact we've only been around for five years, to be given that responsibility, we're very proud of that fact. We don't see why we won't continue the trend of building that momentum up in the Chicago market of IRL fans and continue hopefully to have these incredible finishes because obviously the product out there speaks for itself. As long as we can do that, get new fans, get the media to come out and see our place, then the sport really sells itself. That continues to prove itself year in and year out at Chicagoland Speedway.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and open it up for questions for our four guests.
Q. Brian or Ken, I was wondering about the Pikes Peak race. I was talking to Rob Johnson. He said that you weren't able to really find a firm date that worked for both sides. Was that the biggest sticking point or were there other factors involved?
KEN UNGAR: There were a number of issues. That was certainly one that Rob had mentioned to us. There were just too many substantial unanswered questions regarding the future of this track, including the future ownership of the facility and the lack of a SAFER barrier. The track had told us about the issue regarding the date. But we all felt confident, especially in light of the track's announcement before this year's event that presales for this year's event exceeded the previous year's sales. Bottom line is, if issues can be resolved, we would certainly look to add that event back in our schedule.
Q. Can you tell me an exact date that you were looking at?
KEN UNGAR: The date that we were looking at was August 20th.
Q. Were they just unwilling to go with that date? It's been there around that same time the last two or three years.
KEN UNGAR: As I mentioned, there were a number of issues. That issue was one mentioned to us by the track.
Q. You said the date was August 20th?
KEN UNGAR: Yes.
Q. I know there's a little bit of talk about St. Petersburg perhaps getting the opening date instead of Homestead. I was wondering what the ultimate decision was to continue to keep Homestead as the opening date and what are the benefits to having that market as the opener?
KEN UNGAR: As we've seen in past years, there's always a lot of talk before the scheduling process is done. We considered many different factors in making the schedule that's both best for the sport and best for its individual promoters. We've been proud of our association with the Homestead-Miami Speedway and the Toyota Indy 300 is a great opener for us. It was determined in the end that opening in Miami with the size of that market and the exposure that we get in the lead-up was the best schedule for our sport. That's where it ended up.
Q. Is it also better to start there, since most of your races are on ovals, was that a consideration as well?
KEN UNGAR: I'd have to say in all honesty that was a consideration, but it certainly wasn't the prominent consideration in our mind. It was more exposure, promotion, logistics, things of that nature.
Q. Brian, can you tell me how running Watkins Glen after a month of the Indy 500 does anything but put the smaller teams at a disadvantage?
BRIAN BARNHART: Well, I don't know that it does. You're done with your basic stuff on Sunday of bump day. That gives you that week to do your final preparations on the race car. At the same time you can be turning the spare car into your road course car, getting it ready for Watkins Glen. I don't think, especially with the quality and depth of teams we've got in the series right now, that that's a huge hurdle for them to overcome. They'll be ready to go road racing the following week after Indy, then head down to Texas after Watkins Glen.
Q. I'd like your take on the fact that the mantra of the league for the past couple years has been growth, growth, growth. This is a series now that will be substantially smaller than it was even just last year. You have to go back a few years before you have a season this short. Can you talk about that a little bit.
BRIAN BARNHART: Well, the short is certainly by design. The number of races, while we're announcing the 14 here, I don't know -- if you remember, I think last year we announced the schedule, then added St. Pete after that was announced as well. There may be a situation where one or two races could come about in the next couple weeks along the same lines as that scenario. You know, I guess the best way I could say it is sometimes you got to take a step back to go forward, as well. We need to make sure we're racing in places that make good business sense. We need to look at it from a competition standpoint. I think this drastic change in the timeline, I think the positives of concluding the season before the NFL and before Major League Baseball, before college football, the pennant chases and the playoff baseball gets going, the positives of being able to do that, this being driven by ABC and ESPN, those positives far outweigh the negatives of losing one or two races from a quantity standpoint. I just think it's going to give us a great opportunity to increase our exposure in the long-term. As Ken mentioned earlier, the sustained story lines from week to week and the increased fan interest certainly will put us in a better position. Now there's a couple of venues that due to the compression, you lose some date flexibility in this compression, everything that was hanging out on the beginning and the end of the schedule, you got to find holes for them in the middle. Not everything was able to get accomplished and end up where we wanted to be. Whether it's Fontana, Phoenix or Pikes Peak, if those issues could be addressed, those are markets we would certainly look to make a return to. If they could be addressed in time, we'll add them in '06. If not, then that's something we'll look to add in the longer term.
Q. What was the final decision about dropping Fontana? Was it because it was at the end of the season and you couldn't find a date in between?
KEN UNGAR: As part of our compression process, we worked very hard to find a suitable date for Fontana and suggested a number of different dates. However, with the two Nextel Cup dates, the need to maintain separation between other dates at the California Speedway, and competing events not only in Los Angeles but throughout the southwest in the spring of the year, we couldn't find a date that worked for everyone. We think Los Angeles is a very important market for IndyCar racing and we look forward to sitting down with track officials in the future and working with them towards a possible return, as Brian mentioned, in the future.
Q. You cite separation of Cup races. You also have the same situation in Texas. Was it a matter of you didn't want to race out here in the summer? Was there talk of moving the Fontana race to after Indy?
KEN UNGAR: You're right in that we did have the same issue in Texas, which is why in this year's schedule from last year we went down to one event. It's very important as events are added and as we look at the whole season at a particular track that the promotor in any racing series not saturate the market and not put events so close that you're cannibalizing each other and causing an entire schedule to fail. As you saw in Texas, and as part of our compression process, having all those existing dates at a track really creates a challenge for everyone to make a schedule that works.
Q. This wasn't a kind of reaction after a failure to get a date in Long Beach?
KEN UNGAR: It has nothing to do with Long Beach at all.
Q. Ken, did you have serious discussions with anybody in Quebec City? If so, were they finally abandoned because of the hope that maybe Montreal would become available?
KEN UNGAR: We had a number of discussions with promoters in different Canadian cities, mostly in the eastern provinces. As with the case with all the other events that are added year to year on the schedule, we don't comment on discussions prior to any kind of deal being made. I really can't comment on Quebec City or any other venue.
Q. Ken, is there hope there could be something worked out in the future in Canada, maybe in 2007?
KEN UNGAR: Yeah, we're looking intently at the North American markets, including Canada and Mexico. We hope to race both in Canada and Mexico in the near future. If that's 2006, that's fine. If it's 2007, whenever an event comes along that's right for both promotor and us, that's when we'll do it.
Q. Regarding the decision with not only Fontana, but Phoenix and Pikes Peak, at least sitting on the outside looking in, it seems you've decided to write off the entire western United States as a viable market for the series.
KEN UNGAR: No, that's not the case. Both live events and television, we do very well in the west. The west will be a continued object to expand our schedule. It happens that when you look at compression and the Nextel Cup schedule at Fontana, really the same issue at Phoenix, it just wasn't feasible for us to do an event at those venues. Both Phoenix and LA continue to be good events for us from a television market perspective. We certainly would look at going back. Colorado Springs is a completely different matter from those two events. It does leave us in the situation where our western presence is Sonoma, but when you look at both the possible return to those venues as well as new track construction, including the new track in Seattle, we definitely view the western United States as very much part of our plans for building our schedule in the future.
Q. How does it make sense to your series sponsors and to the individual team sponsors to say we're not going to the second biggest market in the country?
KEN UNGAR: Certainly, Los Angeles is a great market for us. If you look just, for example, at the Indy 500 rating in Los Angeles, it was outstanding for the IndyCar Series on television. It's not really a question of choosing to not be in a market so much as not being able to make a certain venue work with its particular schedule. We have to take it as it's presented to us. With the schedule that currently exists at Fontana, there were more than several dates proposed back and forth. Both ISC and the league worked very hard at trying to make something work. But if it can't work, we can't put a date, just any date on the schedule, that will hurt the track and the series, because that certainly doesn't serve the market well. It's not so much a decision on the market. That issue would have occurred no matter where that track was located. It just so happens it was located in the second largest media market which we need to return to soon.
Q. I understand the date preferred by the Speedway was the Watkins Glen date.
KEN UNGAR: Yes. We had discussed the June 4 date. First, a California date post Indy would have put an unacceptable burden on our teams to make the California date and time logistically. This problem would have only been compounded if we had rain at Indy as we've seen in past years. Additionally, the June 4th date was viewed as optimal for Watkins Glen as determined by ISC as it has to balance all its competing interests internally and come up with a schedule that's best for the fans, for the tracks and their shareholders. That's what occurred in terms of that June 4th date.
Q. Brian, you mentioned one of the desires to compress the schedule is to get done before the pennant race got going in college football. It ends pretty cleanly with NASCAR's beginning of its Chase for the Championship. Is that a consideration, too, to wrap it up before they get going?
BRIAN BARNHART: The biggest thing, to be honest with you, you're concerned about is more in line with football, that is the No. 1 television entity out there, is the National Football League. To some extent you want to keep running in opposition to competing against football. There's an argument to be made to be running while the Chase for the Championship in NASCAR is going on because there's going to be some crossover from racing enthusiasts and fans. If there's good buzz about any form of motorsports at that point in time, an argument can be made to be running at that same time. However we just don't think that's enough to offset the negative impact of competing head to head against the National Football League and especially baseball when they get into playoff times as well. Those are just monster numbers to be competing against. I remember last year running our season finale at Texas. I was one of many that went back to the room and watched the Red Sox and the Yankees in the American League playoff championship. I don't think that's something we want to be competing against, is mainly football and baseball playoffs, even though there could be some crossover the race fans following both Cup and IndyCar stuff.
Q. Brian, with the schedule so compact, looking from the outside in, it would seem that the teams are going to have to build more cars and add more employees, thus driving up the cost. Is that a fair assessment? Has that been discussed with the teams?
BRIAN BARNHART: It clearly has been discussed with the teams. We've had multiple discussions with our owners. No, it's not a fair assessment because when you look, the compaction is only really taking place in two weeks. We've moved the Toyota Grand Prix, Homestead-Miami Speedway has moved back, its start date is March 26th as our season opener. Prior to Indy, you basically run Homestead and St. Pete back to back. No big deal there. We'll do our Motegi event before Indy, as well. Come back and run Indianapolis with the same schedule. Then you get to one of the weeks that has been greatly affected, is filling the hole between the Indy 500 and the second home of IndyCar racing, the Texas Motor Speedway. We've got an event now at Watkins Glen so we can continue the momentum coming out of Indianapolis. That's one change from '05 to '06. We have the same week off from Texas and Richmond, then we do Richmond and Kansas the same. The same week off between Kansas and Nashville, then we do Nashville, Milwaukee, Michigan the same, same week off again, then finish the season with the run with Kentucky, Infineon and Chicagoland. So really there's only one or two weeks that are any different. There will not be any significant change to the teams at all in terms of equipment or personnel. Instead of just -- our season right now is just kind of lingers on coming out of Kentucky, Pikes Peak and Infineon. We had a week off before we went to Chicago, then a week off before we go to Watkins Glen, then two weeks before we go to Fontana on October 16th. We're just kind of hanging out there and losing all the momentum that has been built throughout this season. That's why our television partners at ABC and ESPN really wanted to compress this so when you really get down and examine it, it is not a significant challenge and hurdle to the teams in terms of equipment or personnel. It's just a much more positive and great direction step forward for the sport of IndyCar Series.
Q. Brian, there is talk in NASCAR of limiting the number of cars that each team can have as far as different drivers. Everybody points out the fact that Roush has five cars in the Chase. In the IRL IndyCar Series, I guess it would be fair to say that Andretti Green is the Roush of that series. Has there been any kind of talk about limiting the number of cars that one team can enter?
BRIAN BARNHART: No, we haven't had that discussion. I think it's a little different than what exists on the NASCAR side. Andretti Green Racing is a great asset to our series, has provided a champion Tony Kanaan in 2004, Dan Wheldon has positioned himself very well moving into the Watkins Glen race next weekend to do the same in 2005. They're a great asset with their four cars of the Herta, Franchitti, Kanaan and Wheldon. But the competition level's different here. We went through the summer span here when we had eight different winners at eight different races. The same season we have that, we have Dan Wheldon setting a single-season record with wins of six. I don't see it as a similar situation that exists with NASCAR and we have not had any discussions of trying to interfere or limit that in any way.
TIM HARMS: We'll take a closing comment from Ken Unger.
KEN UNGAR: Any substantial and complicated endeavor like doing a series schedule requires a great team to do that effort. We have a great core of dedicated promoters in the IndyCar Series. We bragged about our 17% increase in attendance, but it's our promoters who made that substantial year-to-year increase in attendance happen. I wanted to thank all of them for their help in making the schedule possible. We really look forward to next year on ABC, ESPN, the IMS radio network and XM Satellite Radio. Thank you all for your participation today.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|