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Uncensored CART Commentary
by Ed Donath

’05 Will Get You Ten
(Marketing Suggestions)

1/20/03

ATHENS, NY—We can all agree that positive announcements emanating from Champ Car World Series headquarters have, of late, outpaced the negative. Car count, driver signings, tweaks of the ’03 schedule, a fresh logo, and optimistic pronouncements from old and new team leaders alike have greatly aided CΛRT’s beleaguered PR staff, which has reacted admirably by using the sudden spate of good news advantageously.

Just beneath the freshly shoveled surface, however, an underground spring of uncertainty bubbles away; it threatens to freeze over and make a sheet of ice of the clean, dry roadway. Going on the assumption that CΛRT will find the resources necessary to survive its self-imposed two-year “Powered by Ford” interim, 2005 already looms large as a target that will demand expert marksmanship if its tiny bulls eye is to be penetrated.

Not only will a plethora of technical issues demand precise dispatch but an aggressive marketing effort to woo engine manufacturers must also be mounted at the earliest possible date. Since CΛRT has never been known for its marketing prowess—internally or externally—this could prove, in itself, to be the changeover’s most daunting task.

That marketing job that will require a very specific blueprint of the future structure of the Champ Car Company and of its global racing agenda and affiliations. Its selling will require an extremely skilled and tactful presentation, as well. Even if such an ambitious marketing plan succeeds and new partnerships are solidified in a timely fashion, it will still not guarantee fan acceptance and the future growth of the series.

V10’s, air boxes, grooved tires, narrow insectoid chassis/bodywork and the smell of gasoline in the morning are not exactly what the average long-term Champ Car fan has been demanding in his or her e-mails to Grandpa Chris. CΛRT must begin right now to counteract the possibility of a large portion of its fan base saying: “When the turbos are gone so am I.”

It’s never too early to make suggestions, so here are my first ten:

  • Hard sell the changing technology to existing fans by using famous driver endorsements wherever/whenever possible. Enlist former CΛRT Champions—Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Montoya and Cristiano da Matta—to make the point that if Champ Car technology had been at the very top of the food chain they might not have left to prove themselves in F1.
  • Count on current series drivers to stress how eager and grateful they are to be stepping up to higher-tech cars without having to leave the series.
  • Retain as many of the traditional elements of our beloved speed sport as possible. In particular, don’t mess with flying pace car starts and the long-standing points-awarding system.
  • Wherever possible, make decisions by committee. Use loyal fans’ input through online surveys, focus groups and event weekend Fan Forums. Reward those who participate with special consideration after the changeover.
  • Present live exhibitions of the new equipment during every race weekend at the earliest possible date—even rollers and test beds will serve to excite anxious fans over whatever progress has been made to that point.
  • Use cart.com and SPEED early and often for status updates on the ’05 cars. The more included and informed the fan base feels, the easier it will be for them to remain loyal to the series. Waiting until an announce date to suddenly throw back the white sheets over the new cars is not the way to go—there’s too much chance of negative shock.
  • Begin advertising the evolving aspects of ’05 Champ Car racing ASAP. Teaser advertising continues to be the most successful method of marketing any show. A real life example: pre-release hype was the single good thing about Stallone’s Driven. It had many fans believing that the film would be the savior of the series.
  • Do whatever is necessary to make CΛRT’s current partners, Ford and Bridgestone, comfortable with the changes. Strive to keep both companies interested in continuing their Champ Car involvement by enabling them to promote and advertise their specific technological input to the ’05 specs.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, change the name of anything connected with the Champ Car World Series between now and the end of the ’05 season.
  • Never use the word “new” in any advertising or marketing phraseology. CΛRT’s whole deal continues, as always, to evolve with the changing times, technologies and landscape.

Copyright © 2003 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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