Mackey Marketing Group Weblog

February 13, 2013

Let’s split Indy car!

by Brian C. Mackey
Mackey Marketing Group, Inc.

Everyone has an opinion. This is my version taken from numerous ideas I’ve heard and added to over the past several seasons. I don’t claim to resolve all that is wrong with Indy car, but it is intended to move the needle a bit forward toward finding better solutions to very complicated and long simmering problems. “One small step for Indy Car, one giant leap for the Indy Car world” comes to mind. To be sure, Indy Car seems to be in real trouble. And unless they do some sensible, strategically savvy and dramatic changes soon, I fear that Indy Car series as we know it might cease to exist. Pity really. It didn’t have to be.

Many, many industry people and armchair quarterbacks, including me, have placed the lion’s share of the blame squarely on the Indy Car “split” as the determining factor in Indy Car’s spiral to obscurity. And that would be mostly right. But not entirely so.

It’s not just that the split occurred. It’s also how the competing sides elected to react to it. Mind you, both were fighting for their business lives, or so they thought. Back in 2004, I wrote an article called “Enemies Among Us.” It was candid, open and purposely naive. It called for less derisive dialogue between competing racing “tribes,” not just Indy vs. Champ car but in all of motorsport. For Indy/Champ Car, I suggested both sides consider their common lineage rather than arguing that one open wheel series was better than the other. But in the end, they split the market, gained nothing and NASCAR wheeled away with a greater share of the motorsport audience. A contrarian viewpoint was that both featured open-wheel, single-seat pure thoroughbred race cars; a faster, sleeker and sexier version of race car. Indy and Champ Car could have individually boasted and collectively compounded the notion that they shared in this common passion called open wheel racing. It’s the timeless “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” proverb and Indy Car and Champ Car should have considered it to a greater degree. Helping to illustrate just how disastrous the split was is the fact that Indy and Champ Car were racing cars virtually the “same” in appearance to many casual race fan observers. In a broader sense, many of my friends couldn’t tell the difference between an Indy Car or a Champ Car no matter what, and how many times have you heard nearly ANY open wheel car referred to as “Grand Prix” car by non-expert commentators? Even Formula Fords! To knock a series competing in cars so similar to your own would seem to be counterproductive. And I think it was.

Far easier said than done, hindsight is 20-20 and obviously, it didn’t go down that way. Now we are left with a unified, but far weaker series. With no one left standing to fight one another, Indy Car is scrambling to find ways to get back to where they started. So many ideas, so few that appear to have resolved the problem to the degree needed. Staffs seem to be constantly changing/leaving and with different staffs come different directions and priorities so that it is hard to maintain positive momentum. Yet, for me, a simple, perhaps obvious and rudimentary change in the way Indy Car competes seems to be right in front of all of us, yet I don’t see much focus on it. Could a modestly simple idea revitalize the series and commence a path back to racing relevance? In 2010, Indy Car introduced the Mario Andretti Road Course Championship trophy. It was given to the driver who scored the most points on the road course events. To me, as a marketing guy, this development could be looked at as pivotal. Yet, I’ve heard very little about it recently and certainly, there has not been a dedicated focus to make the Mario Andretti trophy a principal talking point in the redevelopment of Indy Car. I literally could only find a line or two about the trophy buried deep in the Indy Car website. It’s a relatively simple idea with I believe, massive implications.

Here is what I mean. Indy Car is in need of some dramatic and ground-breaking new reality. They need something that will propel Indy Car back into the forefront and leadership role. They have their back against the wall. From my marketing perspective, let’s split INDY car (I can hear it now — OMG RU CRAZY? — NO NO NO NO NO) and create two separate “divisions”. OK, OK, let’s not call it a “split”, as history has polluted the water beyond toxic. Let’s call it a re-organization of Indy Car. It’s been talked about before, but taking the initiative started by the Andretti trophy, let’s redesign the series into two divisions, Indy Car and Champ Car (or more PC versions “Indy Oval” and “Indy Road).” Same cars. Two different body kits, one for ovals and one for Road/Street courses. Teams and/or drivers could compete in both divisions or only one. Two division champions and one overall series champ. There are oval track drivers who do well on ovals and road course drivers who compete better on road courses. Now they could compete in separate divisions and the teams could compete with them and have purpose for competing in one or both. The schedule would be developed for each with no conflicting or overlapping events. All races under the umbrella of the IZOD Indy Car series. Same TV package until they get a better one. Points are scored in both divisions, separately and collectively. Highest scores win. Simple really. And here is an additional element that might help make the change more interesting. The road course division would have a crown jewel event on the road course at Indy in the same way the oval track division has their crown jewel event at Indy with the Indy 500. As has been mentioned in and elsewhere, ditch the NASCAR event, and replace it with the INDY Road Course division championship event in the fall.

Remember, I’m just a marketing guy. But we have just added considerably to the potential sponsorship inventory that could be developed to support both divisions. IZOD could remain as title of the entire package, but each division could have title sponsors of their own. The series has opened up competition for more drivers and teams who have smaller budgets and can’t compete in both divisions, but might compete in one or the other and yet have a purpose or goal in reach with their individual division championship. It would be akin to winning the pennant in baseball, yet one big step shy of the World Series. The big major teams could/would compete in both.

I realize that many old fans will say that Indy Car is simply adopting, revisiting and bringing aboard a reconfigured CART series. You know what, that would be correct. But to deny a more solid future by holding on to blaming the past is not a credible solution. The division concept brings a new angle to Indy Cars. One of my personal problems with Indy Car is the look of the current car. I think it is just too bulky, awkward and “dated” looking. I am not a fan of “spec” series racing, particularly for purpose-built racing cars. But this car was purported to have been designed to help the safety of the driver on ovals making its design a necessity and I defer to that priority. But recalling that the DW12 was initially designed to accept different body kits, the idea of a sleeker, more traditional ChampCar-like body kit that would compete exclusively on the road/street courses is an attractive idea to me. Yet, we also address and maintain the constant high velocity safety issues of the oval track requirements. Until Indy Car fully develops the varying body kit strategy, this is a worthy way to commence the process of initiating multiple body kits.

Downside? I suspect there is some, change comes with that. My own personal marketing orientation might not always include the more operational aspects of change. The most obvious is a series with two body kits for one car to compete in all events. But insurmountable? Indy is far bigger than that challenge, I hope. Perhaps it would be the schedule. But, it doesn’t have to happen overnight, it doesn’t have to be perfect, and I don’t see how this idea is inherently complicated. Indy Car already has the Mario Andretti trophy to use as an initial template. The 2013 schedule is lopsided with street/road courses compared to ovals. But if Indy Car could reprieve an early season oval event like Phoenix used to be and another oval event or two the season would be much closer to half oval and half road/street course events. And of course, there’s no rule that it be exactly half and half – just representatively so. Redistribute and massage the timing of the events to reduce the gaps between the two divisions. Car counts might be a possible issue if not enough teams initially elect to compete in both divisions. However, the existing Leader Circle program should keep teams competing in both divisions. The intention is to GROW the series as a whole and over time there would be more teams, more drivers and more opportunity to win a championship(s). Costs would be similar to present day, and body kits for both series would be an option, not a requirement. However, it would be required to run each individual body kit in each division. No Indy Oval bodied cars in Indy Road events and obviously, none vice-versa. The scoring of the events contribute to each relative division and/or series championship making it unlikely that a driver could finish in 2nd place in both divisions and not win the overall championship while two differing drivers might win the separate division crowns. Maybe the Indy 500 and IMS road course events could have “special” point totals to enhance their relative importance to the series. That would enable Indy Speedway to remain at the center of both divisions and the series as a whole, something that the Hulman family has been reported to want.

Upside? Growth. An opportunity to change the dynamic of Indy Car racing and broaden the appeal while not restricting it. Ovals and road/street courses remain a critical part of the whole and a unique element to Indy Car competition. The division concept doesn’t hurt the image, the history, the intrinsic appeal or the safety of the Indy Car series. It enhances it.

I surely believe it’s time to relegate to the ash heap of history the dreaded series split. It’s not now, nor should it have ever been one series OR the other. Once the regrettable split occurred, the “or” was a ferocious waste of time, resources and precious fan following. With the Indy division formula and “reorganization” we have regained some residual strengths from the collective past. We have added some new twists that add creative development moving forward. It’s a starting point and with it, we initiate progress that signals a new day for Indy Car. And that would be something worth cheering for.


August 13, 2012 publishes another entry in our on-going debate.

Filed under: Uncategorized — mmgatl1 @ 12:51 pm

For a number or years, we’ve had an on-going friendly dialogue with regarding their viewpoint that the television package that Indy Car has is a “noose” around their neck. We have disagreed with this position and yesterday they published my article on this topic. Many thanks to for publishing my opposing viewpoint without editorial comment. A class act.

Here is a copy of the article:

Reaction to dismal IndyCar TV ratings A reader writes, Dear Your recent article on Indy Car (as well as ALMS’s) “dismal” network rating numbers reminds me of several articles I have written going back to 2008 ( ), including articles that have appeared on ( or ), which illustrates the point that network coverage is no guarantee of ratings success. Admittedly, the Olympics skew heavily in the current outcome but as I have tried to communicate, the Indy Car television package on Versus (now NBC Sports Network) is not, respectfully, “a noose around Indy Car’s neck,” but perhaps more accurately an indication of Indy Car’s strength as a promotion platform; a mere reflection of Indy Car’s current level of popularity. It is up to Indy Car to find the new fans, as well as rekindle additional older ones, that can bring Indy Car back to some semblance of historically higher levels of fan popularity. Television coverage itself has virtually nothing to do with it until this first goal is closer to being realized.

To explain, I need to go back in time. Years ago, I sold television time at a local ABC television station in Virginia. At the time, I learned that selling advertising time was hugely influenced by two things – each relative to the other. A media buyer, the person often buying the advertising time, was primarily interested in: 1. Ratings for a specific demographic, and 2. Cost per thousand or CPM. The balance between these two elements was the critical step in determining whether a sale was made. The size of the audience reached was reflected in the cost of the advertising time. A smaller audience that reached a better targeted demographic might well be a better “buy” than a bigger audience that did not reach the advertiser’s desired target. Size alone was all but immaterial to an advertiser. The CPM figure was adjusted based upon the size of the audience reached. The Olympics audience will cost much more (size), while the Indy Car audience will not. And that dear reader, is why the Versus television package was/is an appropriate television partner. Advertisers are drawn (or not) to the Indy Car demographic as a means to reach their desired target. What it does illustrate is that the amount of money that can be charged for the advertising time to reach the Indy Car audience has shrunk in recent years because of the size of the viewer audience.

Back in the day, television had a virtual lock on advertiser’s mass media budgets. Now, move forward in time some twenty or thirty years, and add in the complex mass of media choices, and the real noose that is around Indy Car’s neck emerges. How does Indy Car (or even racing as a whole) reach its audience in such a way as to attract new advertisers and partners? To begin with, “exposure” as a stand-alone commercial value is virtually worthless in this new world of communication. Interestingly, the Olympics does not provide commercial exposure during the actual content of the telecasts yet attracts massive commercial sponsor support. “Exposure” is certainly not unique, not particularly powerful or indeed even relevant. Until the industry as a whole moves far beyond the world of “exposure”, the sport will be lost somewhere back in the 20th century wishing for a time more like it used to be and perplexed as to why it can’t achieve it.

Today, television itself is having to adjust to this new world of communication. It has challenges all its own. To rely on network television as the savior it might once have been to bring new fans to Indy Car via “exposure” is a fast track to failure. Indy Car needs to focus on the one element that can bring about a more successful commercial outcome and ultimately, better national network rating numbers. More fans. It is clear to me that Indy Car is working toward that goal given its own set of internal parameters. But it isn’t easy. A new television package won’t take them there. More fans will. Because without them, Indy Car charts a course squarely toward becoming irrelevant to advertisers and sponsors, with or without network television.

Most respectfully,
Brian Mackey,
Mackey Marketing Group, Inc.

About Mackey Marketing Group, Inc.
We are a veteran full-service motorsport marketing agency founded in 1986. We believe that our experience and fundamentally creative approach to motorsport marketing is the key to future growth. Our office is located in Marietta, GA. Our website features additional articles and blogs that outline our approach to creating the kind of motorsport marketing campaign that resonates with fans and corporate sponsors alike.

July 7, 2011

Rule #1.

by Brian C. Mackey
Mackey Marketing Group, Inc.
Atlanta, GA

First, let’s back up and get one thing straight. That is that racing’s fundamental strength as a promotional platform is its influence upon an audience of race fans. Simply put, racing fans have shown superior (some might say “incredible”) loyalty to racing sponsors and that translates into greater sales for the sponsors. At its core, it’s as simple as that. To me, it’s the “NASCAR” story of success.
Now if the argument goes that Versus is killing Indy Car due to low rating numbers, while at the same time telling me that 80 million homes can receive the signal, it would seem there is a disconnect. It is this disconnect that is the problem. There seems to be plenty of homes that receive the Versus coverage of Indy Car. The problem is that no one is watching it. If sufficient interest in Indy Car existed, the rating numbers would improve, even on Versus. This will be the first true indicator that Indy Car is recovering. When Versus ratings consistently and substantially improve, it will signal indisputably that Indy Car is forging a comeback. Alternatively, if Indy Car simply broadcasts the signal to a greater number of homes via a commercial network, how is it that a proportionately increasing number of people will tune in just because it is there? Yes, ratings would be marginally better based upon a greater number of TV homes and Indy Car would get larger TV viewership by grabbing more of the “casual” viewer. But, even then, the result would continue to be lackluster rating numbers based upon the even larger pool of potential viewers. To rely on the over simplified solution of increasing the broadcast signal distribution via commercial networks is setting aside the fundamental problem that brought us here. Indy Car needs more fans. My argument is if you can’t get viewers from Versus coverage, what makes you think you can get them by simply changing networks?
Finally, as a means to generate more fans, television is a weak substitute to attending an event. As I’ve said many times, events beget fans. Television reinforces them. Once a fan, the fan will watch the events they don’t attend on television and likewise, television coverage will spur fans to attend more events. They will see the ads. And they will buy the sponsor products. That is how it works, fundamentally, or at least, used to work. Until we as an industry can rediscover this process, sponsor interest will continue to decline, especially in this economy. At the end of the day, sponsors are in the game for one reason. They want fans to buy their products. Casual viewers who watch sporadically on TV won’t necessarily do that. However, race fans have proven to be a legendary and time tested source who will. It is why race fans are such a turn on to sponsors. Racing and sponsors in the know have eagerly ridden this pony for nearly fifty years now.
Rule #1: Get Indy Car more race fans (see first paragraph).
Rule #2: Accomplish rule #1, and sponsors will follow.
Indy Car must continue to focus on rule number 1. No other distractions or long term goal can interfere with the simple objective of generating more fans. To me, Indy Car management seems to be clearly focused in this direction and despite setbacks, provides a basis for continued optimism and downright hope for the future of the series.
Because Versus or no Versus, without more passionate fans, there will be no Indy Car, or perhaps more accurately, no Indy Car sponsors.

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May 10, 2011

It’s 2011 already. We need to start thinking that way.

by Brian C. Mackey
Mackey Marketing Group, Inc.
Atlanta, GA

Much has been debated in recent seasons regarding Indy Car’s television broadcast coverage. Much of it negative. Numerous stories and comments have appeared that continue to describe Indy Car’s Versus cable network coverage as inadequate and doomed to ultimate failure, the television coverage itself, if not the entire series. The reasoning goes that without credible rating numbers, the sport cannot attract sufficient sponsorship funding to be a viable commercial venture. All of that is true. But it’s also wrong.
It’s so very “20th century” to believe that relatively passive television broadcasting of an event is sufficient to satisfy today’s marketing objectives. Simply broadcasting to a larger audience is not going to cure Indy Cars marketing challenges. More modern thinking will.
As an illustration of how to develop a modern motorsport marketing platform, from a marketing perspective, I would point to Ken Block. Who? Ken Block, the (now) rally driver. I think all might agree that his motorsport campaign receives, at best, modest traditional television coverage. He receives network coverage through the X-games, but that seems about all. He has been the subject of several feature oriented stories, but little commercial network, not much cable and certainly not much in the way of ratings to utilize as the basis for his marketing of the rally team. If he were to primarily rely on television rating numbers, his rally car would be painted vanilla white, with not a sponsor to be found – like many of his rally predecessors. In fact, I tried to sell some “rally” oriented sponsorship 15 -20 years ago, with no results. From the traditional standpoint, rallying is a virtual “impossible” to sell to sponsors, particularly back then.
Yet, traditional he is not. What he has accomplished should be a lesson to every race team, including Indy Car teams, looking for the combination that will bring positive marketing results to their sponsor partner campaign. Consider his numbers that are relevant, viable and most importantly, marketing potent. As of this writing:
• His facebook friends number 1,472,643. Danica, Indy Cars biggest star, has 25,357. Helio has 7,110. The Indy Car series itself numbers 39,365.
o Danica’s, Helio’s and Indy Car’s combined friends equal about 5% of Block’s.
• Ken Block’s YouTube videos totally destroy any comparison to Indy Car. His top three viral videos on YouTube number 30,500,229, 25,058,188 and 22,855,603 views. By comparison, Danica Patrick scores highest as might be expected with 2,602,479 for her SI swimsuit video and 1,689,547 views on her commercial.
o Block’s Gymkhana 2 video was 2009’s #4 most viewed viral video.
o Block’s Gymkhana 3 video got more than seven million views in its first week.
• If you Google “Ken Block” you get 11,400,000 returns. Compare that to “Danica Patrick” 5,300,000, Helio Castroneves 540,000 or “Indy” and you get 145,000.

So, picture yourself a marketing man. You’re being pitched on sponsorship of a certain property, be it an Indy car team (as an example) or Ken Block (hypothetically). Ken has a rally program that features limited “traditional” media compared to Indy Car’s television coverage, albeit on Versus, but it is national television cable coverage. But Block is not selling television coverage, or at least not relying on it. TV is merely a piece of a larger pie and a by-product of a multi-layered media campaign. What he has developed and is developing is a relevant, smart, interactive, modern and exciting platform of motorsport to offer sponsors. He utilizes today’s “media” choices extremely well and has extended his influence far beyond what might be reached via television coverage alone. His videos are creative, visual and entertaining. The response to them has been, in a word, sensational. His viral videos are among the top viewed on the internet, period. Now, you’re that marketing guy at a sponsor desk and you’ve just been presented with these kinds of numbers, this kind of interactive relationship, this level of commercial platform viability and you have to choose. Block or the Indy Car team……

Ken Block’s approach is basically available to all of motorsports with the proper and creative application of a modern outlook on motorsport marketing. It’s not easy, mind you. Block’s challenge now is to keep it fresh and relevant. It’s extremely difficult to be that creative and stay that creative, but in fundamental terms, we all can duplicate what Ken has done. I believe that Versus is not the problem. In fact, their coverage of Indy Car racing is quite commendable. Maybe it could be better, but that is not the debate here. 20th century thinking is.

I would advise all of us in motorsport to seriously consider the strategies employed by motorsport campaigns such as Ken Block’s. Many kudos to him and his marketing team for creating this level of sponsor success. If motorsports were to adopt as much of his strategy as possible, the television debate would be cured as well. Ratings would surge as the popularity of the sport soared among FANS, not passive television viewers.

Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Take a quick look at Block’s rally car. It’s covered with sponsors. I hope and trust he can keep it going with fresh and quality creative. In the meantime, I suggest we all follow his lead and re-think the process of attracting sponsors. It’s 2011 and there is so much that can be done.

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April 11, 2011

A New Day in Motorsports

by Brian C. Mackey
Mackey Marketing Group, Inc.

Recently, a thoughtful article appeared on the internet that questioned the seemingly counterproductive strategy employed by the ALMS in regards to their television package, particularly the recent 12 Hours of Sebring. The article was taken down by its author once it became unintentionally a viral lightning rod that sparked numerous responses, both pro and con. Therefore, I can’t reference it within this article context.

However, from my perspective, now some twenty-five years on in the motorsport marketing business, one simple element has been missing from many of these similar and parallel discussions. While something is wrong with motorsports, many look for answers from the same well of options. While most can agree that motorsports’ commercial appeal has declined in recent years, the solution that is often mentioned overlooks the root cause.

The simple fact remains is that what once worked in the motorsport marketing business, now doesn’t. Or at least not sufficiently to alter the course of motorsports’ decline. This challenge is not limited to one series, one kind of motorsport, be it Indy Car, ALMS, NHRA or NASCAR, or even Formula One. The problem rests with the sports’ inability to fully grasp that “exposure” is essentially a benefit of the past. Companies that sponsor events, including motorsports and race cars, have moved far beyond the concept that their brand is receiving “top of mind” awareness and building “exposure” as a means to justify the commercial investment in splashing their logo on a sporting event or race car. Where 25 years ago, I could call upon companies and occasionally convince them to place a sticker on an entry in the Indy 500 because “every sports publication, every sports page, every TV sports report, might display a picture or a mention of the commercial affiliation” will no longer carry the same weight in a 21st century marketing environment.

Exposure is not the problem, whether on TV, at the events, or anywhere else. I would contend that media coverage of motor racing, including most specifically television, is quite expansive, particularly compared to 25 years ago. In today’s technology-filled world, exposure is relatively cheap and often far cheaper to attain than the cost of motorsport participation, which obviously, if the commercial model is to succeed, is the amount of money needed for race teams to compete. This gap is essentially today’s sponsorship problem.

To fully understand the issue, I suggest one looks back a few years to the mid to late 1980s, to a time when NASCAR was fully engaged in developing a powerhouse that still carries a remarkable, if not a bit strained in recent seasons, impact and scale of commercial support that seemed unlikely at best, unbelievable at worst, to those who viewed the phenomenon from the outside. “Who would spend millions of dollars to put a logo on the side of a race car?” would be the familiar and uninformed refrain. It wasn’t then, and it most certainly isn’t now, primarily about the amount of publicity a company would receive as a result of painting their corporate colors on what was then a “Winston Cup” car.

The problem is that during those heady days of explosive growth for NASCAR, and everywhere else, is that many of us THOUGHT that exposure was the driving force behind the commercial appeal. We as an industry seemed to rely on it and embraced it. And a lot of sponsorship was sold as a result of it. Rest assured, I’m not suggesting that exposure is not a benefit of sponsoring a race car. What I am saying is that exposure is not the underlying reason for motorsports’ success and growth during that period. Exposure was more simply a by-product of it and a means to measure it, as in the number of people in the racing audience. An audience’s reach does not automatically equate to its ability to interact and influence it.

The real reason for NASCAR’s success was quite simple. It was the fans.

I recall attending a marketing seminar back then where they played a video of a television report that, with some tongue-in-cheek and a chuckle, documented NASCAR fans loyalty to sponsors. The audience snickered at these “good ol’ boys” (and women) who wore sponsor adorned t-shirts and insisted their families purchase “Tide” detergent. But when the lights came up, the seminar presenter reminded the audience that while we may find this level of involvement to be a bit amusing, it was precisely the kind of relationship that we all would want to aspire to achieve if we were to realize similar success for sponsorship and event marketing. In a similar vein, I recall some research from that era, that indicated that some 30% of the television audience that viewed a specific race on TV responded that they purchased a NASCAR sponsored product advertised during that telecast ( and I’ve never forgotten the terminology used), PURELY due to the sponsorship of the race car. PURELY. 30+%. Forget all the other advertising, NASCAR fans bought the product PURELY due to the NASCAR involvement. And that dear readers is why Madison Avenue signed on with gusto.

NASCAR had a unique relationship with its fans that drove the success. The sponsors of these drivers were more than anonymous participants. They weren’t obscure or distant strangers. They were fellow enthusiasts sharing in the success of a favorite driver through interactive marketing campaigns that featured their participation. NASCAR fans weren’t concerned about watching the race on TV, even though they did in increasing numbers, nor did they attend all the races, even as they traveled to more and more of them. But what they did do was essential. They purchased products. It wasn’t the television exposure that did that. It was the people who watched it.

Fast forward 25 years. What can be done today to revive the stagnant if not fading marketing effectiveness of this sport? I contend that the answer does not lie in the past. We can no longer rely on the tools we have used that traditionally “seemed” to be the answer. That means “exposure” is not going to lead the charge. It may provide a sampling of benefit but must reflect just one piece of the pie, not the whole pie. But what will replace it? The answer must be to modernize our thinking to more reflect the times we are in. From that perspective, I applaud ALMS’ effort to forge new paths seeking the answers. While it may be debated whether they missed the mark with electing no “live” television coverage of their flagship event on any traditional broadcast outlet, I do think the basic underlying thinking is precisely spot-on. The mistakes of these initial efforts can be corrected, but the philosophy that initiated them must remain intact. Motorsports needs relevancy to new audiences if it is going to replicate the success achieved by NASCAR or even come close to it. Today, racing’s future is dependent upon our collective utilization of a modern array of marketing and communications tools that will accelerate the sport to new, younger and active audiences. And we must always strive to recreate the interaction between fan and sport that comes tantalizingly close to what NASCAR achieved over the past decades. I don’t believe that “exposure” oriented emphasis will accomplish that. It’s too passive and it’s too old school. Simply broadcasting a signal to more homes, rather than focusing on the relationship between the audience and the sport, is the all important and critical difference. In the future, it may well be too simple to say that network is better than cable, or that internet is too small to be a viable contender. Moving forward, the answer will lie in motorsports’ ability to influence a far greater proportion of a much more highly targeted audience, made as large as possible via a varied and disparate channel of interactive strategies, including television and other traditional motorsport marketing strategies, that results in a significant and measurable response for commercial partners. Fans must respond by interacting with sponsor products. To oversimplify, fans have to buy sponsor product and services, rather than the sponsor’s competitive brands. If the sport can document a strategy that clearly illustrates pathways to higher and higher levels of direct interaction between sport and fan, we’ll find the sport again leading the way in corporate support and activation. For a sport that likes to “push the envelope,” this new challenge is well within our capacity to accomplish. To me, it looks like the recent efforts of the ALMS as well as Indy Car suggest that we are indeed witnessing the beginning of a new day.

January 14, 2011

In defense of Versus. I’m a reluctant advocate.

Recently, an article appeared in a respected auto racing publication that unfairly, I believe, contended that the IndyCar’s television package was an albatross around the series neck. They indicated that the rating numbers were taking IndyCar in their words, “into oblivion.” I wrote a letter in response.

While you indicate that you are one of Indy Car’s staunchest critics of their television package, I seem on the other hand, to be one of their more reluctant advocates. This is not because I feel particularly oriented to being a cheering section for the Versus television package, but rather I’m one who subscribes to the idea that the television package is not the source of Indy Car’s basic problems. On the contrary, Indy Car seems to be addressing a number of issues of importance and the momentum of positive developments signals a change that brightens the prospects of 2011 and beyond. I believe in many ways, the television package will “fix itself” based upon the popularity of the series and not the other way around. Television won’t fix, can’t fix, IndyCar’s decline in popularity. ONLY IndyCar can do that.
Your recent article is I believe, a bit off track. Here’s why.
First, let me warn you that in one of my earlier lives, I was a salesman of television time for a local ABC television outlet. That is important to know because it gave me a quality understanding of ratings and more importantly, extensive experience in interpreting, some might say, spinning, the rating numbers in ways that served the best interests of the television station. I understood then, better than most, the meaning of television ratings and shares. I can “interpret” with the best of ’em.
Here another way to look at things – and as a former “salesman” of TV time, let me make some contrary observations and spin, I mean, interpret them in a way I would if I was selling Indy Car spot advertising:
– In the all important prime time, Versus is the number 3 sports cable network! Behind ESPN and ESPN2.
– Versus has a HIGHER prime time viewership average than Speed Channel!
– Versus has higher prime time viewership average than Speed, NFL Network, NBA TV, Golf Channel or MLB Network!
– Since 2007, Versus has GROWN nearly 20% in prime time. In that same time period, ESPN2 has actually lost nearly 4% of prime time viewership.
– Versus has grown faster since 2007 than ESPN (18%) or ESPN2 (-4%). Versus has grown 19%!
With numbers like these, how can you say that Versus is taking IndyCar into oblivion! It’s all in the interpretation! Yes, I know, I’ve cherry picked the numbers a bit, but that’s the point. Ratings are very susceptible to “spin” and to negatively “cherry pick” rating numbers is equally misleading. Ratings are very often “spin”, how else could we have so many #1 programs?!
I still believe that Versus is an adequate television broadcaster for IndyCar. More than this, they can be a strong partner who will promote and devote real focus on IndyCar as it reflects a “prime” sports property for the network. IndyCar can receive CONSISTENT attention and have regular and attractive time slots to broadcast the events and support programming. IndyCar needs fans and the fans are the ones who primarily tune into television coverage. Without fans, you will not now or ever achieve the kind of ratings growth needed that would allow IndyCar to grow beyond the relative modest audience size of Versus. Period.

December 15, 2010

Brand Exposure is not what race marketing is all about. Influence is.

by Brian C. Mackey, Mackey Marketing Group
In racing circles, brand exposure on a race car is often interconnected and wrongly confused with commercial “value”. NASCAR reaches a higher number of people through events and television and therefore, the reasoning goes, is of higher commercial value than its competing race series. Here’s my problem with this line of reasoning. This is just my opinion but….. for our purposes, exposure is hugely overrated. There, I said it. To establish the value of motorsports as primarily exposure oriented will only hasten the sport’s inevitable slide into commercial obscurity. Until “exposure” is translated into “customers,” there is little reason to spend the amounts of money that is needed to fund a professional racing team. OK, there are exceptions and “exposure” is of some relative importance, a small portion of the marketing pie, but I don’t care whether you’re sponsoring NASCAR, INDY, F1 or SCCA club racing, the “exposure” generated is not the primary reason to sponsor a race car. Why? Because it won’t sell much product/service. The exposure number merely defines the size of the audience that an advertiser (aka sponsor) can influence. Obviously, the larger the “audience” , the larger the potential sales market. To put it another way, splashing your name on the side of a race car is akin to painting a tractor trailer truck with a corporate logo on the side of it, big letters and all, and driving it around the country for a year. The “exposure” would be significant and if you know someone willing to pay me $8MM, $10MM, $15MM or even $20MM to do that, call me. I’ll buy a truck and hit the road tomorrow.
To use old marketing jargon, there is no “call to action” in “exposure”. It’s passive. And it won’t sell much product. To utilize a motorsport marketing campaign properly, you must think of the racing program as the delivery vehicle of the corporate message. Similar to a television program on a TV network, advertisers select specific programming to reach the specific audience. A bigger audience means bigger advertising revenue, but not necessarily appropriate for all advertisers. “The View” reaches a big daytime audience, but doubtful an economical buy if the advertiser is seeking a male demographic. Similarly, an advertiser who is seeking an audience with a demographic that matches a racing program or a function that can be served through motor racing and voila, a potential partner emerges. The process is halfway there. But not all the way. When the advertiser purchases ad time on a TV program, they don’t just show their logo for :30 seconds. If a viewer sees a corporate logo displayed across the TV screen for :30 seconds, whether the audience is in the millions or just a couple hundred, do you believe that the viewing audience is going to rush out and buy the product? Recognizing that motorsport does in fact carry an unusually high level of influence that can accomplish some measure of success simply via “exposure” among a number of die-hard fans (like me) might be tempting to rely upon but in reality will not create in sufficient numbers a reliable and long-lasting response to achieve a successful commercial outcome. Yet that’s what we do with a race car; we put the corporate name on the side of it and often expect the benefit to simply flow to the sponsor’s bank account. No, the advertiser on TV also communicates a message that is meant to INFLUENCE the audience to purchase the product. He “reaches” the audience with the programming, but he “influences” the audience with the advertisement. There is some form of commercial message that is communicated through the ad – the “call to action.” It’s the “buy my product” message. That is what a racing program must develop as a means to justify the sponsor investment. How can motorsports ring the sponsor’s cash register, what is the message that is going to be communicated, how are you going to do it and how are you going to measure the results? Corporations have all sorts of marketing objectives. Motorsport’s job is to service them, from hospitality to lifestyle, to product reliability and celebrity endorsement. Any sport, any event, nearly anything can generate “exposure” and to rely on it as the paramount benefit of motorsport sponsorship is selling the sport far too short. Motor racing is much more “special” than that. Focusing on the priorities of corporate objectives is what motorsport marketing is all about. It ain’t easy, trust me, I know better than most. But “exposure” has very little to do with benefit except defining the size of the audience that is to be influenced.
Mackey Marketing Group website:

November 10, 2010


Mackey Marketing Group announces the addition of the Christopher Paul Group of the UK to its growing and trend-setting marketing affiliations. This U.S. exclusive marketing arrangement offers the ground breaking and revolutionary technology of augmented reality capability to Mackey Marketing’s 21st century approach to motorsport marketing.
“I firmly believe that augmented reality is one of the most exciting new developments to motorsport marketing in many, many years,” offered Brian Mackey, president of Mackey Marketing Group. “It’s a game changer and we’re excited about the potential this new technology can have for motorsport marketers and partners who want to engage the racing fan in new and innovative ways. It will enhance the benefits to levels heretofore unthinkable. As you get your hands around this new technology, the opportunities and applications are virtually endless.”
“We at the Christopher Paul Group would like to add that we are delighted to be working with Mackey Marketing Group as our sole partner in the USA and we look forward to a long and successful business venture,” added Gary Chadwick, managing director of the Christopher Paul Group, Ltd.
Imagine pointing your cell phone at a race car passing by and with augmented reality, a full bio of the car, team, driver or sponsor is displayed on your cell phone; or perhaps it might be where to purchase sponsor products, or the nearest sponsor outlet, or coupon. Augmented reality is a developing technology that enables the user’s device, whether computer or smart phone, to “identify” the object with the device’s camera aimed at a “marker”, which then triggers an interactive and digitally usable enhancement of the “reality” the camera focused on. It opens a level of potential uses that is as varied as the imagination might devise, from the race track to the user’s home computer. Augmented reality is positioned to become as common as the cell phone itself, or the laptop computer.
This new affiliation joins a list of powerful marketing partnerships that makes Mackey Marketing Group one of the leading agencies for advancing the applications and benefits that can be derived from motorsport marketing. Some of the marketing affiliations Mackey Marketing Group has developed include Brand Thunder, leaders in the creation of functional, custom designed web browser themes; RocketBux, a text marketing communications firm that enables race fans to text an opt-in message to receive sponsor offers and benefits directly to their cell phone. These offers might include sponsor coupons that can be downloaded directly to the cell phone and in some cases, saved and then scanned from the phone itself at the sponsor retailer’s point of purchase.
Additionally, Mackey Marketing Group works with the developers of the Venue transformable hospitality unit. This state of the art, fully custom-designed hospitality vehicle offers capabilities for on-site hospitality at race events that features more advanced levels of service and VIP entertainment capability than traditionally utilized.
“Today’s motorsport marketing is at a new level of sophistication,” said Mackey. “We are seeing advanced technologies that introduce new methods for marketers to reach race fans. Motor racing has always been a leader in event marketing strategies and with these new technologies at hand, we rewrite and revitalize the benefits of motorsport marketing in ways I could never have imagined when I started my agency in 1986.”
Companies utilizing motorsports as a marketing function are encouraged to contact Mackey Marketing Group to commence development of a custom designed motorsport marketing strategy that can include these remarkable new technologies as part of their overall motorsport marketing promotion. Mackey Marketing Group is a veteran specialist firm that has been active in the motorsport marketing arena for nearly twenty five years and is headquartered in Marietta, GA, near Atlanta. For more information on the agency as well as its marketing partnerships visit

August 26, 2010

And now a word from our sponsor…!

Click on the pdf file below.

second and a half pdf

August 18, 2010

The “great” button caper

Sometimes simple things drive home deeper lessons. Such is the case for the “great” button giveaway at the Mid Ohio Sports Car Course. The track was hosting the Indy Car Series and one of my clients was debuting in the series at this event.
His name is Francesco Dracone from Turin, Italy and unless you are a serious student of open wheel racing, you’ve probably never heard of him. Francesco comes to Indy Cars via the Euro F3000 series, a car of similar speed and power to Indy Cars and, in my humble opinion, a better looking and undeniably, better sounding, race car.
Faced with the prospect that virtually no one in the USA has ever heard of Francesco, I wanted to devise a way to introduce him to the Indy Car crowd. With a modest budget, I use the term “budget” loosely here, I wanted to come up with something that would generate some awareness without costing a bundle. I came up with the idea of producing some buttons with Francesco’s name on them. But to emphasize his Italian nationality, and the fact that Francesco always greets and says goodbye with a cheerful “Ciao”, I added the Ciao word to the button. The “Ciao! Francesco!” button was born.
francesco button
I packed the 1000 (!) buttons into my suitcase and took off for Lexington, Ohio to join Francesco in the experience of his Indy Car debut. It’s always exciting to be part of this kind of event and Francesco was very excited about competing in the Indy Car series driving for Conquest Racing. He had never been to Mid Ohio, never raced in the USA, never competed in Indy Cars and never driven at an event that sported this level of fan support and packed grandstands. It was going to be exciting.
Going to an event often means an assortment of marketing and publicity objectives, and here at Mid-Ohio among these were to be my button duties! So here I am, armed with my 1000 buttons and I arrive to meet with Francesco at the track. Now, to be sure, the button idea was mine and while Francesco was supportive of the idea, I wanted the button giveaway to be successful and not fall on its face from lack of interest. I mean, after all, it’s only a button! I brought with me a sign we had made up, saying “Free! Please Take One!” along with a small container to hold the buttons. So I went about looking for a convenient spot to display the buttons. At first, that wasn’t easy. There were no tables around, and the paddock area at Mid-Ohio is a bit cramped and there is not the usual paddock space normally found at an Indy Car event. With no place to put the buttons, the first inclination that this might not work crossed my mind.
Ever an entrepreneur, I devised a small table, made out of a flat discarded shipping cardboard box and placed it over an unused trash container. Voila! A table. The “table” was placed directly next to the garage that housed Francesco’s Indy Car. Now things were beginning to look a bit brighter. Now, I’m ready. I put out my hastily constructed table, placed the buttons and sign on the table and moved away to see what the reaction was going to be for my buttons.
Not much. A few people would come up to the table, read the sign, maybe even more than once, and stare at the table of buttons. But many wouldn’t take one! They just looked at them! Some people grabbed one or even two and walked away. I reminded myself that these were just buttons, not something people would necessarily be too excited about! But I had a 1000 of these things! I didn’t want to take them home with me! At this rate, I had a multiple season stock of buttons!
It was getting close to lunch time and the crowd in the paddock area was at its peak. Thousands of fans were strolling through the paddock looking at the Indy Cars. The area was packed with fans. If these things didn’t go now, they would never go.
So, I took a chance.
I grabbed the button box and from the paddock, began to hand them out like a carnival salesman!
“Get your free Francesco Dracone buttons here! Free buttons from Francesco” I said in a reasonably loud and enthusiastic voice. I started to add a bit of “sales” pitch to my efforts. “Free Francesco buttons here. We’re welcoming Francesco Dracone to Indy Cars. This is his first Indy Car race. Welcome Francesco with a free button!”
The change was instantaneous!
I would estimate that 95% of the people who passed by me took a button. Before long, there was a bit of a feeding frenzy for a free button. I couldn’t give them out fast enough! Obviously, kids loved them and parents liked them too! Some people stopped to ask me about Francesco; “Where is he from?” “This is his first race? That’s cool!” The fans were very supportive of the idea of welcoming Francesco. “Where is he?” was a common question. “He’s over there by the car,” I responded. When it was a female who asked me, the response often was, “He’s so cute! I’ll wear his button anytime!”
In the course of about an hour or two, I managed to give away most of the buttons. My voice was beginning to give out and I was getting a bit tired of it, so I stopped. While I had managed to give away most of the buttons, I was relieved to find that many fans didn’t just pack them away. “Ciao! Francesco!” buttons were easy to spot on fans all over the paddock area. The fans wore them on their shirts, their hats, on their backpack, camera bags, everywhere. Fans asked me if they could get Francesco’s autograph and several trips to the Conquest transporter to grab a few of Francesco’s autograph cards were in order.
As I neared the end of my bag of buttons, and as the race itself neared, I returned the button container to my improvised table and left the remaining buttons for the fans to grab on their way through the paddock. When I returned after the race, they were all gone. Every single one of them.
The lesson learned here is really a very old and basic one. When it comes to promotion, you can’t take too passive of an approach to it. I was reminded that I can’t rely on the fans to take the initiative and grab a button. No, that was my job! It was up to me to “promote” the idea of the button and create some excitement surrounding my effort. The fans were eager to respond and enthusiastic in their support but taking the initiative was not part of their role.
If you’re promoting someone, something, some event, just remember my button lesson. You must take the lead and push the idea yourself. If the message is heard, the response from the fans is fantastic. Racing fans are legendary for their support and enthusiasm toward this sport. Sometimes, we just need to hand them, one at a time, a reason to cheer.
Thanks to Francesco and to Conquest Racing for allowing me to hand out the buttons without too much distraction to them from the job at hand.
For the record, Francesco had a great race. His goal for the event was to race as competitively as he could but without getting taken out of the race with on track contact with another car. He raced strongly and continually lapped the track faster as the race wore on. He finished in 22nd spot of 27 starters, one position behind Danica Patrick. Francesco’s 1:10.5 second lap during the middle stage of the race was his fastest lap of the weekend and more than 1.5 seconds faster than his qualifying pace. It was a very successful first race and the first of what we all are working on to be many more Indy Car races in the future.
Thanks for reading.

Francesco Dracone

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