IndyCar owners weigh in on new marketing plan, team payouts, end of Indy double points Saturday’s Supercross Round 6 in Tampa: How to watch, start times, streaming info

THERMAL, California. Last week’s “Containment Days” and the return of the annual “Spring Practice” Open Test (which debuted at The Thermal Club) were also marketing cramming for the NTT IndyCar Series paddock.

In addition to returning to the track for the first time since last season’s finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, it’s time to find out about IndyCar’s promotional plans for the 2023 season.

These include some ambitious ideas being pursued by IndyCar owner Roger Penske and his top management at Penske Entertainment.

Most notable of these is the documentary series 100 Days to Indy, which is being developed by VICE Media and will air on The CW this spring. IndyCar hopes to attract a younger audience and generate new interest, much like the Netflix documentary series Drive to Survive did for Formula One.

“I love it,” IndyCar team owner Michael Shank told NBC Sports. “We’ve heard from the president of The CW Programming and Entertainment and the head of VICE. I love the fact that the president of The CW is an avid Indiana guy who loves the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar. I think we have a special weapon with that attitude.

“If we give it proper content, we will have an exciting show that people will want to follow and cling to. I don’t know if we’re going to be as successful as Netflix with Drive to Survive, but we have some lovable characters. If they have time to develop, as they did with Drive to Survive, that’s the key.

“What is the key to keeping it running? They explained it to us. This is a business and they need to keep an eye on it. It’s up to us to create exciting television and make it dramatic.”

There are other marketing initiatives in IndyCar’s plan. They have been introduced to IndyCar team owners, team leaders and drivers, but this comprehensive marketing plan has yet to be made public.

Penske revealed some of those plans in an exclusive February 3 interview at The Thermal Club.

“On February 2, we discussed our marketing plans for 2023,” Penske told NBC Sports. “We will spend several million dollars on our Tune In Campaign to generate more interest. 100 Days to Indy is important in attracting new fans. These are all marketing and PR campaigns aimed at making the series more interesting and reliable for customers who expect us to continue to grow.

“We are happy to start. Everything looks very, very positive for us in 2023.

“Demonstrations are important because we are looking for new fans, new people who want to be interested in sports, because it will also attract sponsors and other factors related to the economy of sports. It’s very, very important.”

The “Tune-In” campaign will be featured on NBC and local markets. These will be individual riders who will promote each race weekend.

“This is a very comprehensive marketing and PR program that is being developed this year as we head to St. Petersburg to kick off the season on March 5,” Penske said. “We will increase spending by more than 60 percent, and $17 million of that amount will go to our marketing efforts. Much of this amount will be spent early on.”

Team owners will help invest a portion of this increased marketing budget. The amount each Leaders Circle member receives will be reduced from $60,000 to $100,000 per car.

IndyCar does not disclose the exact amount of this payout because it is a private agreement between the show and the team owners.

According to team owner Bobby Rahal, Leaders Circle payouts fluctuate from year to year. He told NBC Sports he’s happy to support this effort because it’s a wise investment that could pay off with additional features down the road.

“I understand we are all partners in this,” Rahal said. “If he keeps pushing the IndyCar arrow higher and higher, the return will come. I don’t mind.

“It’s an investment and that’s how you should look at it. Everyone or almost everyone understands this.

“If it moves the arrow forward, then money well spent. If it develops the sport, the whole sport benefits from it.”

Team owner Dale Coyne runs one of the series’ leanest operations, but he’s also a strong proponent of an aggressive marketing campaign.

IndyCar has one of the most competitive products in auto racing and some exciting storylines. In many ways, this is one of the best-kept secrets in the sport.

Penske and IndyCar intend to use the marketing campaign to raise awareness.

“The money will go to a good cause,” Coyne told NBC Sports. “We need to raise our TV numbers. We have competition there. We have NASCAR and there is more Formula 1 in this country than ever.

“This is a competition. We must get together and join the game.

“We have to get after this. The press and social media are talking about “Drive to Survive” which they say is so important to F1, why don’t you try and do something about it? I think it’s important.”

Since the 1980s, CART and later IndyCar have looked to NASCAR as their main competitor in the US. But ever since the “Move to Survive” era began in Formula One in 2019 (and it has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020), IndyCar has more competition than ever.

“Formula 1 surprised us all,” said Coyne. “I used to say that you have to be a government to run a Formula 1 race, now you can just be a promoter.

“You can sell enough tickets and make enough season tickets, look what Las Vegas and Miami have done. The authorization fee is crazy money, but when you sell all your tickets and all your apartments, you can pay the sanctions fee. Now it makes sense to arrange a Formula 1 race.

“When we can get IndyCar to that position, it will work for all of us.”

Team co-owner Shank is also a strong supporter of expanding marketing, but admits he would like it to be funded without any Leaders Circle funding. He said his team did not budget for the pay cut until it was announced.

“I’m not thrilled that I have to get out of my pocket on this deal, but I also fully support what Roger and Greg Penske are trying to do here,” Shank told NBC Sports. “I’m looking forward to seeing how things go. I’m a little torn but I just need some effort and that’s what we have.

“I’m ready to see what happens now. Jim Meyer and I are fully involved in this. We have equipment worth millions of dollars. We want it to pay off. We need it to pay off.

“I hope that from a commercial point of view, we can somehow compensate for this. I didn’t foresee it and didn’t hear anything about it until it happened. Jim and I had to think about it, digest it and move on.”

Penske also revealed that Indianapolis Motor Speedway received an additional $30 million in major repairs.

Penske purchased the iconic facility, along with the IndyCar and Indianapolis 500, from the Halman George family on November 4, 2019. This ended 74 years of running the Indiana family, which began when Tony Hulman purchased IMS from Eddie Rickenbacker in November 1945.

Another major decision that was announced to the team owners and drivers at The Thermal Club was the cancellation of double points for the 107th Indianapolis 500.

The double points concept was originally revived when IndyCar added 400 mile races at Pocono Raceway and Auto Club Speedway (in Fontana, California) to create the “Triple Crown” format. It was eventually redesigned to include the Indianapolis 500 and the season finale at Sears Point, California to increase interest in the IndyCar championship.

The double points in the final were eventually lost but remained for the Indy 500.

With the biggest field of the season at the biggest race of the year, this created the opportunity for a big points gap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway exit.

Very high performing drivers won, but the team could have dashed their championship hopes with a poor finish at Indy.

It was twice the points, but also double the penalty.

“What’s very interesting is that no one who has ever won the Indianapolis 500 has ever won a double-point championship,” Coyne said. “Indy is winning at Indy.

“Everyone here would rather win the Indianapolis 500 than win a championship.”

Bobby Rahal won the Indy 500 as a driver in 1986 and twice as team owner with Buddy Rice in 2004 and Takuma Sato in 2020.

“I’m in that lineup too,” Rahal told NBC Sports. “You don’t need tricks to make the Indianapolis 500 special. The Indy 500 is special in its own right.

“In 1982 they gave up a few points depending on the length of the race. It was just a gimmick and without it the race is more than worth it on its own. You need glasses, but the glasses must be standardized regardless of the distance. It was like that from 1983 to 2013 when they added double points.”

Two-time IndyCar champion Will Power of Team Penske was openly critical of the double points at the Indianapolis 500. He felt the risk was greater than the reward.

“Getting rid of it allows people to work their hardest without worrying about losing a lot of points,” Power, who won the 2018 Indy 500, told NBC Sports. “It was a double penalty if you didn’t finish well. It’s such a big event, no one should be holding back because it’s double points and you’re sitting there fifth.

— I think it’s a good decision.

Power admittedly struggled in last year’s Indianapolis 500 finishing 15th, but his main contenders for the NTT IndyCar Series championship also had problems in the Indy.

The only driver to benefit from the double points was Indy 500 winner Markus Eriksson, who held the championship lead for most of the season. He was able to stay in contention for the title until the season finale.

The government continues to win…


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