The Frontstretch: A List For A New Leader: Seeking Hope And Change by Matt Stallknecht -- Wednesday November 7, 2012

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A List For A New Leader: Seeking Hope And Change

Matt Stallknecht · Wednesday November 7, 2012

 

Dear New CEO of INDYCAR,

So (insert name of Randy Bernard’s replacement here), you’ve just been hired to be the new CEO of INDYCAR. First off, let me just congratulate you on getting the job! INDYCAR is one of the most popular and storied forms of motorsport on Earth, and there are millions of fans worldwide who follow this beautiful form of racing. But who am I kidding, I’m sure you already knew that. I mean, come on, surely the man who has been promoted to the position of INDYCAR’s head honcho would have a rich appreciation for both the sport, its fans, and its history, right? Right? Right. OK, good; now that we’ve gotten all of that general stuff out of the way, I should probably give you all the juicy details of the job with which you are being tasked.

You see, the sport you are inheriting is in not-so-nice shape at the moment. Some might even suggest that it’s on the brink of destruction. Oh sure, American open-wheel racing wasn’t always this bad. There was a time when the sport was a flourishing fixture in the pantheon of mainstream American sports. However, due to some major bureaucratic in-fighting, poor leadership, and a schism that occurred in 1994, the sport is now barely a blip on the mainstream radar.

Whomever INDYCAR taps as its next CEO has a daunting task ahead in winning the trust of the fans and creating great racing on the track. Photo courtesy INDYCAR LAT USA

Your predecessor, Randy Bernard, tried in earnest to fix many of INDYCAR’s previous mistakes, but due to some more of that bureaucratic in-fighting I mentioned earlier, he was ousted in favor of you. As a result, fans are continuing to leave the sport in droves, and TV ratings and at-track attendance are at historical lows. Your job is to fix these issues while simultaneously finding a way to harmonize the relationships that exist within the sport’s bureaucracy and its teams. Oh yeah, the sport’s budget needs to be balanced, too, let’s not forget about that.

Now, I know what you are probably thinking right now, and the good news is that I and many remaining members of INDYCAR’s fanbase are here to help you. You’re probably thinking “This is a job too big for one man!” or “I don’t have the solution to fix all of these things!” Although you’d never say as much publicly, there is no doubt that you must be thinking them, and my first suggestion for you is to drop that attitude, because that kind of fear helped get us into this mess. I would suggest you not tweet about this stuff, either. I am going to lay out a plan for you that is going to help you save this sport. You don’t even have to lift a finger, just do as I say and the rest of this stuff will work itself out. OK? Are you ready? You are? Good, let’s get started.

The first order of business is all on you. It’s called “be a strong leader.” Actually, check that, you need to be a full-fledged dictator. You see, INDYCAR has never had anyone who ruled the sport with an iron fist. Make bold decisions, don’t let others intimidate you, and stand strong by your convictions. Whatever your blueprint for the future of the sport is, stick to it and do not let anyone sway you from your plan. You need to show the IMS Board of Directors that you have a solid vision and will stop at nothing to ensure that every aspect of it is implemented. But what should that plan entail? Keep reading, we are about to get to that.

Your next order of business is to win back the fans, and before you can even do that, you have to prove to them that you are a person who they can trust. This means full transparency of what is going on inside and outside of the sport, and you’re going to accomplish that via a Fan Council. This Fan Council will be a rotating cast of fans who have access and input on what decisions are being made, and it is imperative that you listen to them. We also want you to address the fans, “State of the Union” style, at least twice a year. And please, for the love of God, DO NOT simply cater to the whims of the team owners. Just don’t do it.

The race schedule is another huge sticking point. Put simply, the one we have right now is a joke. Lower the ridiculous sanctioning fees that are locking big-time oval tracks out of the sport and work on bringing such facilities back into play. There’s no reason why Indy-friendly tracks such as Phoenix, Richmond, and Michigan shouldn’t be a part of the schedule. Ditch the doubleheader weekends and focus on making each individual race special and well-promoted. As for road course racing, you need to cut down on the number of street races. The fans despise them and there are far too many on the current schedule. A number such as three or four would be far more reasonable.

And who could forget the real stars of the show: the cars! As it stands, the sport is severely lacking in terms of innovation. Let the teams experiment with different aero kits and open up the technological regulations so that the sport is more future-friendly. It might be expensive at first, but it will pay off in the long run.

In terms of the on-track product, you simply need to keep doing as your predecessor was trying to do before. The cars, as it stands, are drafty but still difficult to drive on ovals due to the low downforce package which debuted this past year. That must not change. See to it that the high quality of racing on the oval tracks remains high quality. Pack racing is roundly hated by INDYCAR fans and drivers alike, and you will be doing yourself a massive disservice if that style of racing returns under your regime. Unlike the oval racing package, the road racing package needs a lot of work. Work with Firestone and see to it that they build a tire(s) that features a high degree of fall off over the course of a run, similar to that of Formula 1’s Pirelli tires. Do that, and those street circuit events suddenly won’t be quite so boring.

Your final task rests on the television and marketing side of things. Put simply, INDYCAR is in shambles right now as far as both are concerned. ESPN is doing your sport no favors in terms of providing solid mainstream exposure, and the NBC Sports Network isn’t even featured on most people’s dials. Ditch these two networks and broker a deal with a more visible TV partner who is committed to building and expanding the sport. It is imperative that this new partner broadcast every race on the schedule on one single network.

All of these items are tied to the all-important marketing arm of the sport. Start working alongside your marketing partners on an aggressive campaign with the express intent of making the sport obnoxiously visible to anyone with a pulse. Commericals, billboards, viral marketing techniques, make use of every outlet available to you to help expose the sport to the world. Don’t be afraid to build obscene amounts of hype for each and every race. It’s going to take a brash, creative and downright “in-your-face” approach to get this sport back on the map, and it’s up to you to take the bull by the horns and make it happen.

Well, (insert name of Randy Bernard’s replacement here), that’s really all I have to say. I know it might sound a bit cliché, but you must understand the gravity of the situation you have just inherited. This sport is in need of a hero, and lots of people are hoping you can save this sinking ship. It’s going to be tough, and you are probably going to want to give up at some points. But now, more than ever, INDYCAR needs a strong leader willing to do what it takes to put this fine sport back on the map. Can you be the one who rescues INDYCAR from the brink of failure? I can’t yet answer that question, but I do know one thing: the ultimate fate of this sport rests in your hands.

Don’t let the fans down; you are their last hope.

Sincerely,
Matt Stallknecht

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