IndyCar Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
October 18, 2013
THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined by Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, the parent company of IndyCar; and Gillian Zucker, president of Auto Club Speedway.
Yesterday the IndyCar Series released its 2014 schedule, featuring 18 races, and highlighted by a new Indianapolis road course race, and three double-header events.
Mark, could you talk about the overarching strategy with next year's schedule.
MARK MILES: Happy to do that. Nice to be here. I left Indianapolis, and the weather was not nearly as desirable as it is here today.
Yeah, we think that the changes in the schedule are meaningful for us and kind of portend a future direction. It's also I think kind of a schedule in transition toward where we expect to be more fully in 2015.
The most conspicuous change is obviously at the end. We appreciate Gillian and her team's belief in the importance of this. We believe that we can have a fulsome, discernible schedule that makes it easier for fans to follow if we condense the schedule.
We're going to start in 2014 about when we did this year but we're going to end on the Labor Day weekend and culminate our season on Labor Day.
That condensing, it's important to note, is not less. So the idea is essentially the same amount of racing in North America, but getting rid of these off times where we appear and went away for I thought too long and then came back.
Frankly, we think we'll have a better opportunity to have more fans pay more attention to the culmination of the IndyCar championship if we do that on Labor Day before the NFL and college football get into full fury. That's the strategic rationale behind it.
It also gives us the opportunity, we think, to investigate an international market. By 2015, I think it's likely we might start in North America earlier in March, I can't tell you whether that means mid March or even a little before that, in North America. That gives us the opportunity we think to take advantage of demand for IndyCar racing in any number of southern hemisphere countries.
Our kind of pro forma at this point suggests we might be able to find three great places to race internationally in February, and be back in North America and stay here from March through Fontana of 2015.
It's a seven-month season. It doesn't mean less racing. In fact, in total, if we can do that, it's more races to follow and essentially the same number of races here in North America. So we think that's important.
It's been well-received by a number of our stakeholders. It's been well-received by broadcasters. That's the direction we're headed.
THE MODERATOR: Gillian, if you can add to it, the IndyCar Series will once again return here to Auto Club Speedway for the third consecutive year to close out the season. Talk about the momentum that's building for this event.
GILLIAN ZUCKER: We are very excited not only about tomorrow night's MAV TV 500, but certainly being on the '14 schedule, as you heard Mark say, looking forward to 2015. Fans in Southern California have most definitely proven that IndyCar racing is something that is important to them. We're excited it's here to stay.
We feel we've brought a strong presence to the season finale and the racing here last year I think really delivered on our promise there is no better place, we believe, in the world to see IndyCar racing.
We know the fans are thrilled about having the finale here. We've heard from them about how excited they are having the diverse schedule we've been able to bring.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go to questions.
Q. Mark, going back to the calendar, what is the reaction of teams and drivers to have a season finale the 13th of August next year? If I know correctly, the IndyCar television company, NBC, will also broadcast 2015 NASCAR. Do you think that will have a positive impact that maybe a NASCAR fan will become an IndyCar fan? Finally, next year are there any plans or announcements of new teams joining IndyCar?
MARK MILES: Does he get three questions (laughter)?
In all candor, the initial reaction to the early times when we began to talk about the idea of having the culmination of the year on the Labor Day weekend was sort of a raised eyebrow from many of our stakeholders.
The more we put the data in front of them both from the television point of view and the more we could show them it wasn't less racing, and, in fact, we think we're going to add to our schedule by starting earlier in March, and potentially February as well, the more people began to believe in the strategy.
We have got to make this sport more compelling for fans, easier for fans to follow. I have no doubt that in all 12 months of the year we could find a place to race, but I don't think that's the way to attract fans. We have to be more relevant in the national media, international media, and among broadcasters. I think a discernible season with a clear start and end is one of the things we've got to do to do that.
You may find conscientious objectors, but as recently as Houston where we met with all the team owners, I think there was a general support for this strategy.
We've had a lot of discussions with NBC and our other partner, ABC/ESPN. We're going to announce our 2014 television or broadcast schedule before very long. I think it will be improved from the point of view of continuity. Again, I think it's going to end up that it will be clearer that a certain broadcaster has a certain part of our calendar and the other broadcaster has the other part.
In all likelihood, NBC will be broadcasting our races when they're broadcasting NASCAR races. I think in and of itself that's a good thing. They're determined to have what they call the most powerful motorsport vertical. So between Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR they have the dominant content.
Those have overlapping audiences, overlapping fans, and different fans. I think, again, it will be easier for our fans to find us. There will be fewer overlaps between IndyCar races and broadcasts and NASCAR races and broadcasts, and I think that's a helpful thing.
I think there's still a lot of conversations going on. I don't have any new news to give you about teams.
Q. At the end of June going into July, it's six races over four weeks. I don't think that's ever been done by a major racing series before. Do you almost look at that as being a little ambitious for the teams to navigate?
MARK MILES: Well, it's more strenuous. I was delighted when I think about a minute after the schedule was made public I got an email from Bobby Rahal saying, I like it. Not that it was a surprise to him. Glad to get it electronically.
I think our teams, our drivers, all the stakeholders in the paddock, are incredibly professional. They understand, again, the strategy. They will make the extra effort to be ready to race.
Q. Gillian, this is a symmetry for you and for this track because you're getting a Labor Day date again. It's just the different circuit. Talk about that, how this came together for you guys.
GILLIAN ZUCKER: Well, I can tell you a few things. I can tell you, one, the campers are really happy. They really miss Labor Day. Obviously it gives them an extra travel day, some more time to spend in Southern California. They're really, really thrilled about it.
I think the other thing that's really great about this schedule is not just the last race, but the last two races both being in California. It really provides some opportunity for people to spend a vacation out in California and enjoy all the state has to offer. If you really think about what it's like to experience California from Sonoma to Southern California, here in Fontana, it's a pretty amazing vacation opportunity.
I think we're going to see a lot of people come and enjoy the last two races of the season.
Q. How concerned are you about the weather in August?
GILLIAN ZUCKER: I thought you might ask that. I'm sure, like you have, I did my homework. I pulled up the history of weather in this part of California over the past many, many years.
What I saw is it's very similar to what you saw. We'll probably expect average temperatures in the 90s. But the low temperatures are in the 60s. We're working with IndyCar diligently.
In fact, Mark, you have promised we're going to have a little bit later start times?
MARK MILES: I promise.
GILLIAN ZUCKER: I think that is going to make things very comfortable for fans in the stands as they're enjoying the event. But I also note if you go back to 2010, the high here in Fontana was 77 degrees.
Weather is unpredictable. It always is. We're going to go out and do a great job promoting. I think Southern California has proven they're going to support IndyCar.
Q. What is the crowd looking like for tomorrow night? I heard you were up percentage-wise.
GILLIAN ZUCKER: We're up. It's been very strong. I think you'll see we're noticeably up year after year, which we're excited about. Good weather always helps. I think the great weather forecast, we expect a strong walk-up, and we're looking forward to having a good crowd in the grandstands to expect to see a really, really dynamic race and hopefully a very close finish. We're counting on that last lap to determine the championship.
Q. Mark, I understand all the reasons you gave for wanting to condense the schedule. When you were deciding all of this, were you concerned at all about falling off the sports map for seven months?
MARK MILES: As I said, in '15 we'll be on it racing week-to-week for seven months. The off-season, if you will, if that's all that we do, would be five months.
I don't think it's about quantity. I think it's about getting to the fans and having a season for IndyCar racing in North America that's discernible.
We do have some other thoughts about more racing, also international, non-championship races, potentially in Asia, after the end of the championship, which could allow our teams and all their folks even more engagement, employment.
But from the point of view of reaching fans, I don't think it's about how long you cover in the calendar. I think it's about how you capture their attention, have a discernible start and a culmination. I think seven months is adequate, better than adequate. I think it's optimal.
You can look at other successful U.S. major sports, and they don't feel like they have to go year-round to have people pay a lot of attention.
Q. Gillian, how important is it now for Southern California race fans to have two races again, to have NASCAR at the beginning of the year, IRL especially now on Labor Day weekend, how important is that for fans?
GILLIAN ZUCKER: I think a major part of what we are doing with this facility is really making sure we have everything that motorsports has to offer. If you go out into the Fan Zone this weekend, you can see we're hosting a karting championship, there's drifting out there. In addition to that we have the Lamborghini Trofeo Series here. All different kinds of racing that you're seeing here at Auto Club Speedway.
That's something that we continue to work on, is how do we create the most diverse schedule possible so that this really is a motorsports park as opposed to just a superspeedway.
The kind of activity that we have year-round, we're talking over 320 days a year of activity here at the track, including the things we do at the infield road course, oval, go-kart track outside of turn four. You really see a lot of racing here on a year-round basis. Having that diversity of schedule is important to fans. It just gives people a lot to choose from.
Q. Mark, the announcement that IZOD was leaving came late in the season with a short time to replace them. Are you concerned about going into '14 without a title sponsor?
MARK MILES: No, I'm not. We've had some advanced notice and time to prepare for that. We have encouraging conversations going on about title prospects. We also have a number of conversations going about more foundational and more sponsors.
We want to make the right arrangements for a title that will really activate and help us grow the sport. Economically we're in good shape, so getting it right and finding the right partner is the most important thing.
Q. Gillian, are you concerned about moving, with this race being now three different weekends in three different years, do you feel that may help or potentially hurt the race?
GILLIAN ZUCKER: Well, it's always nice to have a firm place on the schedule because people plan in advance. The good news about this, this announcement is being made now. People have a whole year to plan for it. It's not as if we already renewed tickets and we were planning on a certain date and now that date has changed.
We feel very confident that having that out in advance of putting tickets on sale, starting renewals, even before running this year's race, we're more than comfortable that fans have enough time to join us for Labor Day weekend next year.
Q. Mark, in all the conversations you've had with various promoters, we're looking at a schedule that's a net loss of one for next season. Were there any conversations with any of the former IndyCar oval partners or with any of the permanent road courses that we haven't run on in quite some time?
MARK MILES: Yes. There are the whole range of other developing opportunities out there. That goes from potentially new street races to ovals to road courses, permanent road courses. Some would be much newer if not new to IndyCar racing. Some would be more traditional.
We're delighted with that kind of demand, that interest, yet we think that continuity in our calendar is important. I expect that we'll have those discussions and we'd weigh any kind of important changes very carefully.
Like Gillian said, date equity really matters. I don't care what the date on the calendar is, this is the Fontana week. We want people to think that way because of date equity. So we'll be measured in any feathering in of new opportunities with our existing promoters.
THE MODERATOR: We'll wrap things up. Mark, Gillian, thank you for your time today. We appreciate it.
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