Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Measuring INDYCAR’s Success This Season

There’s been almost a bewildering amount of news coming out of INDYCAR so far this week—single-file restarts back at several ovals, Conquest Racing sounding as if they’ll be missing the first races of the season, the carousel that is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing continuing to spin, qualifying heats at Iowa—and it can be overwhelming to the fan. Honestly, most of us are just to the point where we want to see racing. I love silly season as much as the next person, but I drove by a snow-tipped Indianapolis Motor Speedway the other day, and I wanted to see some IndyCars screaming in anger, then and there. (Of course, the temperature in the mid-30s would have made that a very poor idea, but you get what I’m saying). There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the upcoming season, and coming out of State of INDYCAR is a lot of optimism that it will be a good one.

Of course, to the Series, items such as TV ratings, attendance, and the bottom line are going to be the big benchmarks of whether or not the upcoming season is a success. To the fan, who helps feed and drive all of those by their participation, there will be other measures of success. I wanted to quantify some items we could come back and check the progress of over the course of the season, to truly see how INDYCAR is performing over the course of the season. I came up with four big areas to consider over the course of the upcoming season.

The first area, of course, is the On-Track Product.

-How is the racing product each race weekend?
-Is the new car performing well on ovals and road/street courses?
-How is the engine battle coming along?
-Are there compelling story lines for fans to follow?

The second area is Fan Accessibility. (Usually, this is an overall strength of INDYCAR).

-Do fans feel connected to the sport?
-Are they able to interact with and learn about their favorite drivers?
-Are there good online resources to learn more about the sport and the drivers/teams therein?
-Are experiences at the actual track friendly and positive experiences for fans?
-Is proper Series merchandise widely available for fans?

The third is Media. (Some of this is out of INDYCAR’s hands—but if ABC spends their first race ignoring the battles upfront and talking about how much everyone will miss Danica, that’s on ABC, but the buck still stops with INDYCAR).

-Are off-track special events regularly or reliably streamed?
-What sort of media tie-ins do we see (ex: INDCAR 36), and what is the quality of these shows?
-What is the broadcast/coverage quality from the networks and channels (ABC, NBC Sports, IMS Radio) tasked with covering the events?
-Is social media utilized to enhance coverage of events (may also fall under fan accessibility)?
-Are the ladder series and smaller teams given screen time as well as the top-tier teams?

The fourth is tough to quantify, but we’ll put it under Communication (though Leadership would also suffice).

-Are decisions the Series undertakes competently and clearly communicated to the fans?
-Does a sense of fair/impartial judgment follow decisions that might impact the on-track results?
-Are plans for the future of the sport made in a way that seems to value fan input?
-Does the Series follow through with promises made to the best of their ability?

Now, some fans will value some of these items more than others. Some will say it’s all about on-track action, and you can keep the rest. But I’ve tried to create a balanced portfolio of what might drive fan enjoyment and opinion on the relative success of the Series from an involved fan’s perspective. I hope to revisit this a few times over the course of the year, but of course would love to hear any feedback as far as what you think. INDYCAR has many reasons to be optimistic going forward, but that doesn’t mean we can't check in to see how things are going. After all, success starts with fan engagement.

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