Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Could Kickstarter Fund An IndyCar Driver?

For those not familiar with Kickstarter, it's been making huge waves in both media and gaming circles in the past year or so. The idea is that it can be used as a source of "crowdfunding" for projects that migt not otherwise see the light of day. In return to donating money towards the accomplishment of a project, backers are often rewarded with anything from a simple word of thanks to a copy of that item. (For example, pledging to fund the development of a video game often has a reward level of getting a copy of the game upon its release, along with perhaps some promotional items if you pledged at a higher level). It isn't a sure thing, and some projects have been notorious busts, but there are also big success stories.

We all know that funding in racing is a dicey proposition. Drivers such as Justin Wilson have already tried a fan-funded approach (see: the Justin Wilson Investor's Club), and a couple of racing teams have tried selling stock to fans before. So could the Kickstarter model work to get an IndyCar driver the funding for a ride?

Well, first off, you'd need to look at the cash needed. For our purposes, let's say we have a driver that's aiming for the Indianapolis 500. You're looking at about $500k for a smaller Indy-only program. Now, you'd need to have a driver with a strong social media following, but that's not all. You'd need a good story so the Kickstarter gets picked up either for its novelty or interest through several media outlets to get the word out.

Perhaps most importantly, you'd need goals to whet the fans' interest to donate more. So perhaps at the 35 level, the fan gets an autographed shot of the driver. At $50, perhaps they get a t-shirt. If you have a limited number of very high-level slots (say at the $500 level), it might include a meet n' greet or special event with the driver for the Month of May.

Still, if you had to raise that much in funds, you'd have to set some realistic donation levels, give it plenty of time, and have the right driver in terms of social media outreach and the ability to hook interest to give the effort a shot at funding. Frankly, I'd be immensely curious to see a driver try it, because I'd like to simply see if it could be done. I think if it caught the imagination and got picked up by enough outlets it could, but it would be no sure thing.

Someone mentioned midget racer Jessica Bean has a crowdfunding effort in place, though it works a bit different than Kickstarter. With a goal of $10,000, she's raised half that in about three months. It makes me wonder what someone really active online, like an Alex Lloyd (especially with his Jalonik hookups), Pippa Mann, or even Bryan Clauson could do if they tried to get the funding needed through Kickstarter to run Indianapolis. I suppose if I had tried everything else, I might give it a whirl. I know I'd throw in for any of those drivers to get another shot at the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. The question is, how many other folks could be persuaded to do the same?


  1. One of the problems vis-a-vis Indycar is that Kickstarter really works best if there's a business model being proposed that just needs to get over an initial hump with revenue soon following. While it's possible that an Indycar driver could suddenly get so popular with an Indy500 run that he/she picks up sponsors from it, it's really a dicey proposition. Remember that the late Dan Wheldon **won** the race and didn't pick up a ride for the rest of that season; recall, too, that even a driver like Tony Kanaan had trouble, and F1 longtimer Rubens Barrichelo is now racing in Brazil because of sponsorship woes. If you're not on team Penske or Gannasi, or your name's not "Danica Patrick", funding's a tough thing to get.

    At the same time, I don't want to sound too pessimistic over this, because it *is* a wonderful avenue to prove your worth as a fan draw. How powerful would it be to go in front of sponsors after an Indy 500 - or better yet, a successful run at Indy - and be able to say "You need proof of my fan base? They funded that race for me." So it's not impossible for Kickstarter or some other sort of crowdsourcing to aid a driver in such an endeavor. It's just that there's also the risk of "Ok, what next?" after the race if sponsorship doesn't arise.

    I hate to say it - I mean, I **really** hate to say this because I'm primarily an Indycar fan, and this other series hardly needs any help, but: Given the popularity of NASCAR, I fear such a project would be more successful to fund a run in one of their races because it would also have a greater chance of attracting a long term sponsor after the fact. Sponsors would flock to fund the Next Great Stock Car Driver, but they're hard to move for even great Indycar ones nowadays. Which saddens me beyond belief, but that's a whole other post.

  2. I think it's a slick idea. I think it could work in a one-off race like Indy, even if to not get the full amount but to help an up-start team.

  3. Kamui Kobayashi has used a similar approach to try fund a 2013 F1 ride, but although he gathered several millions $, he ws left ride-less in the end. But considering the amount of money he received, the initiative can still be considered a success IMO.

  4. Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s just kicked off a crowdfunding campaign today for his 2013 Stadium Supertrucks ride!