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In The Pits: Report merely a road map for IndyCar

- Associated Press - Monday, March 4, 2013

So, the Hulman & George Co. paid a consulting group to evaluate the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and now die-hard open-wheel fans are screaming they could have done a better job for free.

Granted, there are ideas bandied about Internet message boards that are better than some proposed by the Boston Consulting Group in the 115-page `Hulman & Co. Motorsports Strategy' report obtained by The Associated Press, which reported on a handful of the concepts last week.

But, Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles said in a statement that BCG prepared many documents and what was obtained by AP was an early version of "suggested elements" for the long-term strategic growth of the company.

Regardless, some of the suggestions were no brainers:

_ Improve television ratings by "avoiding TV competition with other sports, particularly NASCAR and the NFL."

_ To avoid competition for viewers, "check for local event conflicts before setting dates."

_ Increase the value of sponsor partnerships by targeting "companies with large sports ad budgets and companies predisposed to motorsports (i.e. NASCAR levels).

_ In scheduling international races, cut costs for teams by running multiple races on regional trips; maximize viewership by avoiding conflicts such as F1 and Carnivale and target countries with a "high affinity for racing."

You don't say!

Hulman & Co. is under no obligation to follow anything in the report, including BCG's recommendation that the Hulman-George family hang onto IndyCar and the speedway.

Where the consulting firm may have erred, though, is in declaring that IndyCar was "the best pure racing motorsports league in the U.S." then offering a handful of ideas that essentially gimmick up the series.

Among the most polarizing suggestions are a 15-race U.S. schedule held over 19 weeks, a three-race playoff at the end of the season and a finale on the IMS road course.

Purists don't want a playoff. They don't want a second IndyCar race at IMS, and they certainly don't want Long Beach moved from its traditional April date to a mid-September playoff race.

According to the report obtained by AP, the top 15 drivers in points would automatically qualify for the 18-driver field. The other three spots would be filled the day before the Texas event via a "sprint wildcard" race open to any driver who participated in at least one event during the season. The top three finishers would round out the field.

Points would be reset to zero for the playoffs and would be awarded as usual for the first two races, Texas and Long Beach. The finale on the road course at Indy would receive double points, likely making it a winner-take-all race.

Yeah, purists should love that.

The 15-race hypothetical schedule, by the way, includes seven cities not currently on the IndyCar schedule. It dumps Barber, the Alabama road course that's been good to IndyCar, stalwart Milwaukee, which Michael Andretti rescued last year, and Iowa, where the passionate fans fill the stands every year.

Then there's BCG's marketing ploy of paying a "big personality" to join the series.

Not only would that enrage the purists, it's probably the most flawed idea in the entire report. The only way a paid A-list driver would have any long-term affect on the series is by being competitive, and there's a pretty shallow pool of talent willing and capable of jumping into an Indy car and running up front.

Formula One drivers don't really count because the key is getting a driver who moves the needle with the American audience. So that leaves who? The Busch brothers? Brad Keselowski? Remember, it's got to be someone fans will tune in to watch and someone who will be competitive.

And there's got to be an incentive for the driver to go to IndyCar. That's going to cost the series money. A lot more money than the check BCG cashed.

Let's assume Kurt Busch took no salary from James Finch last season and agreed to drive for only 50 percent of his race winnings. That would have earned him $1.7 million driving for a low-budget team. Without a salary.

How many IndyCar drivers make $1.7 million a year, winnings and salary combined? Not many.

None of that takes into account how dangerous having one big personality would be in marketing the rest of the drivers. Perhaps nobody at BCG ever heard of Danica Patrick.

Still, not everything in the report is outlandish, and some of it makes sense. The ticketing structure at IMS probably does need to be overhauled. If the most expensive seats sell and the mid-priced tickets don't, then raise the cost of the stuff in high demand and adjust the price of stalled inventory.

The report contains pages and pages on restructuring team costs and sanctioning fees with tracks, diagrams on rewarding performance with purse money, observations on how to improve operating efficiency through eliminating redundant positions at IndyCar and IMS and targeting key sponsors not currently involved with the series.

In the end, the BCG report is just a road map Miles, the CEO, could choose to follow for two aspects of the Hulman & Co. businesses.

He doesn't have to do anything BCG suggested. He can tear the report up, use it to line the bottom of a bird cage, or, the more likely scenario, sit down with IndyCar's key stakeholders and use portions of the report to kick-start discussions on what direction the series and the speedway should go.

That's what he indicated he'll do in his Friday night statement, saying: "The work BCG has done provides conversation points around several important areas of our business as we shape our thinking about the future, but our strategy has not yet been finalized."

Hired in November to run the Hulman & Co. businesses, Miles' most difficult task will be righting IndyCar. It's going to be a monumental task that he won't be able to do alone, he won't be able to do this year and he won't be able to do with a report.

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