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Indy Racing League Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Racing League Media Conference

Richard Abramson
Brian Barnhart
Gene Simmons
January 10, 2006


THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to thank you for joining us today on the fist Indy Racing League teleconference of 2006. Today marks a special announcement for the Indy Racing League and a unique marketing alliance has been formed between the League and Hollywood-based Simmons-Abramson Marketing. Simmons-Abramson Marketing is made up of rock legend Gene Simmons and entertainment veteran Richard Abramson. The agreement will see Simmons-Abramson Marketing engaged in League marketing events, public relations, sponsorship, merchandising and branding efforts. Today's announcement is also highlighted with the debut of the campaign "I am Indy." The campaign is anchored by a signature song co-authored by Simmons. The effort marks the first official theme song for a modern professional sport. The song can be found by visiting us at www.IndyCar.com. Joining us on today's call is Gene Simmons, Richard Abramson and Brian Barnhart, the Indy Racing League's president and chief operating officer. Gentlemen, thank you all for joining us on today's call. Let's start with you, Brian, and just give us your thoughts about today's announcement and why the League chose to partner with Simmons Abramson Marketing.

BRIAN BARNHART: Tom, this is obviously a special day for the IndyCar Series and the Indy Racing League as we are announcing a unique marketing alliance with Simmons and Abramson Marketing. We spent a lot of time with Gene and Rich the last few weeks, and their enthusiasm for the sport is unparalleled. The IndyCar Series is all about some of the most competitive racing, diversity, talent and skill in the world, and Simmons-Abramson shares our excitement in the IndyCar Series and we look forward to working with Gene and Rich in communicating that attitude of daring and courage to all of our fans as we move forward. It's a very unique partnership, and like I say, what really stood out is their enthusiasm for what we're doing. They believe in the sport, they think it's cool and hip, and I think they're going to find unique ways to communicate and market and promote our sport to audiences that can respond to these attitudes.

THE MODERATOR: Many of you out there will recognize Gene Simmons as a member of the rock group Kiss. However, Simmons has long been recognized in the entertainment world as a leader in branded entertainment. Richard Abramson has distinguished himself as a marketer, record promoter, film producer and financier. Abramson has been in the entertainment industry for nearly three decades. Before we open it up to questions, we'll just get opening comments from the newest partner of the Indy Racing League. Gene, thoughts on today's announcement.

GENE SIMMONS: First let me start off by saying something very important, it's near and dear to our hearts, and that is this is a tug of the heart for us. We're deadly serious about this. We're serious about this as a heart attack. We intend to go places where perhaps no one initially thought of going. We're going to turn over every rock and get everybody's attention on it. Our job, if you will, is to be the missionaries of Indy. We're going to make sure people around the world, especially America, recognize the coolest of the cool is Indy because it is America. It's the landscape of America. It's multinational, it spreads across all lives. We're already had the highest level discussions with CEOs of various companies. We don't want to tell you too much too soon, but as soon as we're ready with specifics, you'll be blown away. We're here because we want to be here and we consider it a privilege to be in business with you guys, and the reason, by the way, we call the entity Simmons-Abramson Marketing is because we don't hide behind a corporate moniker, no big fancy optimum and industry, none of that stuff. We stand by what we say and we mean everything we say, and if somebody is going to get blamed, it starts right here. We're serious about this and we're proud to be in business with you.

Q. Richard, quickly, your thoughts on today's announcement, as well?

RICHARD ABRAMSON: Well, Gene and I were talking a few weeks ago because we had planned -- this is kind of a personal thing. We had planned on originally, before we got involved with Indy, spending this year working on movies and doing some other stuff that's close to our hearts. But you know what, everybody is doing that. This is one of the most exciting challenges that I've faced in my life. Gene and I talk about this, I don't know, 40, 50 times a day it seems. We send emails back and forth, we've got people scurrying around. It means everything to us. What we want to do is we want to figure out how to get the great Indy message across. Once we went to a race, and Gene went to a couple races last year and so did I, it was like, "Oh, my God, this is unbelievable." The drivers are like rock stars in rocket ships, these cars go 225 miles an hour. They're all cool, hip people. We've got to get this word out, we've got to make it known to everybody, and we've got to try to figure out -- the challenge for us, and we will succeed, we will absolutely succeed, is to take Indy and to make it accessible to every man, woman and child in America and around the world. The "I am Indy" theme, which we're very proud of, both as a musical piece and as a theme for the campaign, will be heard and known by everyone. We're not going to -- Brian and Tony George and all the great people at Indy, they put on a terrific race and a terrific product. We have nothing to do with that. We're not going to change a thing or advise they change a thing, even if we could. What we're going to do is make sure every single person on the planet knows how great this is.

Q. Thank you so much for coming on here today. There's a question for Gene and Rich. Were you fans of Indy racing before you got interested in this project? And what were your early experiences with auto racing? And then when you came into it, what was it that drew you in?

GENE SIMMONS: Very good multi-faceted question. I don't know if you've ever run for politics, but you would do very well. Here's the simple bullet point that you should understand, that nobody is as much of a racing fan as the person that sits inside that rocket that goes around the track at 220 miles an hour. I don't want to cornball you with sound bites or anything like that. Everybody is a certain distance away from Indy. The fan who's the fan who doesn't go to the races that watches Indy on television is on one level; the fan that shows up at the event to watch the races is on another level. There are people whose lifestyle, everything, breathes, lives, eats Indy. I just want to be clear about the following, and that is we don't care on what level you love Indy, you know, if you watch it on TV, if you know about it, because we intend to take Indy in areas perhaps that we haven't been before. There's going to be Indy Girl clothing lines, there's going to be Indy fashion shows. The idea is to virally spread this message because above and beyond the sport, we intend to make this a lifestyle. Here's what we mean: There are probably some guys sitting right next to you who are wearing a tee shirt, one of those sport shirts, and on that shirt is a guy on a horse swinging some kind of bat playing polo. The guy that's wearing that has never played a polo game in his life, has never been on a horse, but somehow that image has become part of America. Our notion is really very simple, not to stress -- at least our message is not to stress how many rpm's go around the track but more to talk about the United States of Indy notion. And by the way, there's nothing like going to an Indy race. You get seduced by it. There's a vibe in there. And I'm into NASCAR, we have all kinds of stuff, including the Hot Rod Association, NHRA, something going on in Indy that other sports don't have; it's called family. We met Tony and Laura, salt-of-the-earth kind of people. By the way, they'll tell you, you look into each other's eyes and you get it. You either get that they care about this more than just a sport, and we've met Tomas, and we're going to meet the rest of the drivers in a few days. This is going to be the kind of road that perhaps we haven't traveled together. We think out of the box, we move fast, we do our own promos, we go to the highest level of people, and our job is to make sure that they understand what Indy is about, more about the drivers and the sport, less about how many rpms it goes around. That's our job. Brian will tell you all the specifics about all that stuff. You have to understand, we're in a world of Romans, and when in Rome you've got to speak Roman. So to the masses our job is to make sure that message is clear and is a tug of the heart, less technical, more emotional, less sport, more icon, less about sort of the idea of people going around the track and more a part of this is America. Big story, and it needs to be told.

RICHARD ABRAMSON: That's our job, the Indy people's job, is to put on the great races. Are we lifelong fans, no. Are we fans now, unbelievable. To be honest, before I became partners with Gene about four or five years ago, I had never been to a Kiss concert, but I'm a Kiss fan now. I'm especially a Gene fan. Once we saw the product, went to the races, heard the cars, once we started to even meet the drivers, we were immediately captivated by it and knew we could do a great job in getting that message across.

Q. This question is for Brian: Brian, is this a new age of aggressiveness in marketing the IRL?

BRIAN BARNHART: Well, it's certainly unique, no doubt about that. And yeah, it is aggressive, and I think that's a stance that I think we have to take. I think we're really excited to see Gene and Rich bring their entertainment sense and entertainment marketing ideas to the IndyCar series, and I think it is at a point in time where we need to be thinking outside the box, and with what they bring in terms of connections and opportunities, I'll tell you what, in the time that we have spent with them the past few months, it's been amazing the doors that can get opened and the possibilities and opportunities that this marketing relationship are going to create. Yeah, I think it's very aggressive and I think it's exactly what the IndyCar series needs.

Q. What kind of sport has ABC thrown behind this and ESPN, or has it gone on yet, that conversation?

BRIAN BARNHART: Well, we have a long-term relationship with ABC and ESPN. Our television package is in place through the 2009 series, and they're very supportive of what we're trying to do here because in a nutshell, what we're trying to do is grow the value of participation in this sport and to grow the IndyCar series. I think they're going to be very supportive of any direction the league takes that helps make that happen. Again, because they're in the entertainment industry, there's some familiarity there. ABC and ESPN are committed to the series. We're going to see some new changes in terms of our broadcast as we move into 2006, and they're going to be a good part of it, an integral part of it, just as Gene and Rich are, and I think it'll be a good marriage.

Q. To Gene Simmons, you've been in the freak nation before; welcome back. We talked to you about drag racing, and now you've moved to talk about Indy, but Indy has a lot of advantages to it from the IRL, the 500, the Brickyard, USGP. Does your contract include all of that?

GENE SIMMONS: Well, I'll let the legal guys answer it, but in a simple word, yes. We've been brought on, privileged, I should say, to take a look at the entire Indy world. The reason you keep hearing the word Indy from us is we believe our side of the equation is to simplify the message, which is to say Indy is of course IndyCar, the Indianapolis 500 and so on and so forth, but there's something here that tugs at your heart. It's a personal sort of pledge of allegiance; Indy as in independent, Indy as in individual. The driver who gets into his modern rocket on the ground and individually decides how to go down the highway of life, if you will, and you'll be hearing me at least say the same thing over and over again, and I'll tell you why: But if it's true, it will always be true. The idea of Indy is a big idea, and if we stretch it out to a non-perhaps IndyCar fan, the word Indy is much more seductive, much more importantly it's much easier understood because everybody is an Indy. We have to spread the Indy message to everybody, not just guys, not just girls, not just white, not just black, not just American but around the world, which is why we came up with the notion, and our political platform, if you will, our mantra, "I am Indy," it's our theme song, it's what we believe in, and it's a personal statement that's a sort of a personal allegiance to the United States of Indy.

Q. With looking at the USGP, the problems that it had last year, will you be able to address that? Is this a way of solidifying the USGP in the United States, or just how will you be able to capitalize on that brand around the world?

GENE SIMMONS: Well, we're only involved in IndyCar. We appreciate what everybody else is doing, and we're big fans of anybody that gets up every day and celebrates being another day above ground. But our mandate, and we intend to deliver, is to take IndyCar together with everybody involved to places where it's never been before.

Q. Does this mean that Gene Simmons will still have his involvements? As I said, we've talked to you about drag racing. Will that still be a part of the Gene Simmons interest level and marketing plan?

GENE SIMMONS: Well, Gene Simmons was never involved in NASCAR or any other entity, Kiss has. Whether Kiss continues or not as an entity is another idea. You're an individual and America is a country. Sometimes America does things you agree with, sometimes not. But you as an individual are allowed to do what you believe in. This is something we believe in. Again, we're putting our names right on there. If you have something to say to anybody about what we have to say, it's our names, our reputations, and what we believe in is right on there. We're easy to get to, SimmonsAbramson.com.

Q. My question was for Gene and Richard. What kind of marketing initiatives did you like over what the IRL has done in the past, and what do you kind of see that you need to change or specifically what kind of things would you like to promote more?

RICHARD ABRAMSON: First of all, promote more is just get the word out better and bigger. I think one of the things we're doing, and we're going to have some big announcements over the next few months, is changing a little bit -- well, I don't want to give it away, but there's some big announcements coming in terms of -- well, I'll just leave it at big announcements coming. In terms of what they've done in the past, I look at they've been on ABC, been on ESPN. I think one of the -- it's not a problem, we're just coming at it -- I don't want to comment on what they've done in the past. We're taking a different approach, we're taking an outside-the-box approach. We're taking a fan approach, and what we're trying to do is just bring it to a much wider audience. That's what we're going to do. It already is pretty hip and cool, and when you realize that that's what it's about, we're going to make sure everybody really understands that. We want to involve Hollywood more, we want to involve music people in it more. We want to get more individual people involved as opposed to flocks of people. I think it's going to become evident in the next few weeks some of the things that we're going to do, some of the stuff we just want to make sure we've got completely nailed down before we announce it. But in terms of the past, this is kind of like a new era for Indy marketing, and everything should go from now into the future.

Q. I guess some drivers criticized Danica Patrick more over some of the other drivers. Is that something you need to get away from rather than isolating one or two drivers?

GENE SIMMONS: Anyway, anyhow we can get the message out there to the masses is good. You've got to remember most people don't go to events, are not Indy fans. Our job is to -- you notice we keep saying Indy instead of IndyCar. We understand it's the IndyCar series, we understand what it's about. But in the same way that when you go to see, for argument's sake, the Rolling Stones, they don't call it the Rolling Stones. People don't want long, convoluted messages. I'm going to go see The Stones. When the message is clear, you can't simplify it any more. Kiss, by the way, you can't simplify it any more. If you go see Emerson, Lake & Palmer it's ELP; Crosby, Stills & Nash, CSNY. We're not simplifying a message, we want something that's got a nice point like an arrow that can go far, sleek and hit any target we choose. To answer your question specifically about Danica, what a glorious story, what a wonderful story. It means it appeals to women. All of a sudden you're on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That's cool. That's a good beginning. Danica I'm sure will be the first one to say, look, this is a great story but it's only one of a lot of great stories, and we intend to make sure that all these stories get out there. The stories, by the way, are the people who actually go around the track at 220 miles an hour. That's what "I am Indy" is all about.

Q. Congratulations on your announcement. This question is for either Gene or Richard. A lot of fans have already pulled away from the IRL scene due to the fact that they feel that the drivers are divas, they feel that they're inaccessible, they feel that IRL has become too Hollywood, and it's a completely unreachable series for them as fans. What would you say to the fans right now with this announcement to sort of ease their minds and say, hey, we are doing this for the good of IRL?

RICHARD ABRAMSON: I don't know that people consider -- you may be closer to fans than we are, but the people we talk to think that it needs to be more interesting and more accessible. I agree with you on that part. As far as them being divas, I think they're all individuals. I think this idea that we're talking about, rock stars and rocket ships, we do want -- one of the things that I'd like to see personally is people to be able to get a little bit closer to the drivers. They came up with a good idea last year of introducing the drivers, but they're too far away. There's some new things that are going to happen at the racetrack now that I believe will get people closer to the drivers; they'll see what they look like. We're going to do some special things to get people to understand who these guys are. I think they're interesting characters; I think as Gene has been saying all day, it's the United States of Indy because it's a melting pot. There's people from all over the world that come here, and I think we're going to be able to figure out how to get people behind it and behind certain drivers. So people will pick drivers and go after them based on maybe where they're from and everything else. We're going to encourage the drivers to get behind, work all the markets, work in all the markets where the races are. We're going to try to make them just more accessible. I don't think that making -- everybody loves Hollywood, everybody loves Hollywood stars. I'm not sure that making drivers Hollywood stars is necessarily a bad idea. I think they have to be accessible to the people, and I think they have to be cool and hip and exciting, and they already are, we're just going to make them a little bit more accessible.



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