Within the racing world, another article written about two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso racing at the Indianapolis 500 is a little overdone.
At present, it is easily biggest story of the year within the sport. A decision by the McLaren-Honda F1 team to withdraw its star driver from the series’ crown-jewel Monaco Grand Prix in favor of another open wheel series is something definitely to take note of.
Within IndyCar racing, not a day of practice went by without continuous updates from the media on the Spaniard’s progress. During the race itself, his driving merited the headlines, leading much of the race until his engine expired just 20 laps from the end.
When the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship chose to abandon its traditional “Daytona Prototype” formula for something more closely aligned with the technologies and manufacturing concurrent with their European counterparts, the new era of today’s DPi formula was created.
Short for “Daytona Prototype International,” the intent was to take the platform of modern European “LMP2” machinery, a international specification of prototype cars that are built for commercial use, and adapt it to specific American needs. More specifically, the LMP2 category in Europe is mandated to NOT be a manufacturer’s category, allowing only four producers of prototype machines to take part, and all being required to run Gibson produced engines. This was meant to be a major departure from Europe’s LMP1 platform, which is specifically made for factory involved efforts (such as Toyota, Porsche, formerly Audi, etc.). With the raising costs of development to compete in LMP1, European rule makers decided LMP2 should be a prototype strictly for “privateer” teams; small organizations with minimal commercial funding, or more often a wealthy amateur taking on one of the driving roles.
With the announcement of Monster Energy Drink’s title sponsorship of NASCAR’s premier category, now re-named the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup, a new era has dawned for the series. Perhaps most significantly, in an era of stagnant or declining ratings, at-track attendance struggles, and the continued fight to grab the attention of a digitally engaged, millennial generation, it’s an interesting time for the sport. Here are the key storylines to take away.
Lower Asking Price. With Sprint knowingly leaving NASCAR for an extended period of time, it’s been curious to see the announcement of Monster as the new title sponsor relatively late. The announcement was made in December, indicating a very late closing of the deal, and late start to the series’ re-branding efforts. It’s widely rumored the delay came in the asking price, with NASCAR estimating a nine-figure buy-in, however the Monster deal allegedly came at the low end of eight figures. Is this a sign of an increasingly declining value? It’s tough to argue against.
With 2017 upon us and the official takeover of Liberty Media controlling stake in the commercial rights to Formula One, a new era is upon us. At a reported $8 billion sale to become the majority shareholder, the world renowned media and distribution company has made the biggest investment in history in to the sport. However, with budgets for teams at an all-time high, and the sport struggling to maintain its footing compared to the “glory days,” 2017 and beyond will prove an interest learning and proving ground for the sport. Here are several storylines to look for.
Formula One Without Bernie Ecclestone. Easily considered the most divisive figure in Formula One, depending on who you ask Bernie Ecclestone is either the reason the sport has achieved such a level of success, or the single person holding it back from it. Having held up the sport’s commercial interests since the 1970’s, it’s easy to argue that Ecclestone single-handedly transformed the sport through the 1980’s and 1990’s. Unifying the teams under one negotiable umbrella, Bernie shifted the power of the sport from the race promoters to the series officials and teams, capitalizing and developing television and media packages that at the time had not been properly utilized. Creating a multi-billion dollar property, both teams and series management have profited from the sport’s multi-decade growth, however in recent times the health of the sport has been questioned, oftentimes at the expense of Ecclestone’s increasing financial demands from all of the series partners. In other words, Ecclestone was ruthless, determined, and single-minded on growth through relentless licensing and rights processing. For 30+ years, no one has ever asked “who’s in charge here?” Can the same be said of Liberty Media, which is by nature more of a management company than the cult of an individual leader? Is the time right for a larger management approach? Motorsport has notoriously only prevailed with a single-handed, autocratic management. Time will tell how the current management will succeed.
With 2016 coming to an end and a new year approaching, the last 12 months of racing have provided an intense series of storylines. Watching everything from a NASCAR legend seal his status among the greatest ever, to the perennial bridesmaid finally take a sought after Formula One World Championship… and then wasting no time announcing his retirement. For the business of motorsports, however, there have been a tremendous series of storylines dominating the framework. Below are the five most intriguing business stories of the motorsport scene in 2016.
The Departure of Target in IndyCar Racing. Target has been a long-time member of the IndyCar community, dating back to 1990 when joining forces with new team Chip Ganassi Racing. From that moment on, the partnership would flourish, with Ganassi and Target being synonymous, developing a new business model for motorsport in the process, and creating a trackside product that would win the Indianapolis 500 four times, and an impressive 11 championships between IndyCar and ChampCar over a 20-year run. Despite the Ganassi organization being as strong as ever on the track, the in 2016 the announcement was made that Target would be ending its IndyCar affiliation, but still maintain their efforts with Ganassi in NASCAR. Behind the scenes, the move coincides with a management change at Target, with CEO Brian Cornell taking over in late 2014. The red flag in all of this is the inherent thin-line that IndyCar teams hold with sponsorship, unable to rely on the strength of ROI alone, and instead relying on relationships with key executives (which Ganassi had held prior), which inevitably will always change.
Prior to NASCAR’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway just over one week ago, series chairman and CEO Brian France stated that the sport was healthy despite continued declines in TV ratings and attendance. "... We are still very pleased with our position in sports. The audience isn't going away at all. It's sliding to different places, consuming in different ways."
When the ratings came in from the series’ nail-biting finale, the race actually saw a 25% dip from the previous year in overnight ratings, down to 3.32 from the previous year’s 4.41.
To put this in perspective, the NFL’s season-ending Super Bowl did a 46.6 in 2016, and this year’s World Series Game Seven achieved a 25.2.