A lot of people have questioned why Bernie would be
buying CART. They can't understand what's in it for him. Why would he
purchase CART when he has F1 they ask, especially given the weakened state CART is
currently in? And what can he possibly do for CART? He's powerful in
Europe, but what about the USA where F1 hasn't exactly been a major success story?
We have mentioned many possibilities on these pages over the past six months, now
let's put all those thoughts together and make some sense out of it.
Leverage 2 for 1 First and foremost, Bernie recognizes
the potential threat to road racing that the oval track cartel potentially
presents. By buying CART he shores up road racing worldwide by getting two
top-level series under his umbrella. This gives him more to leverage with TV
broadcasters, sponsors and manufacturers. He can offer them more options and
a combined marketing effort. By adopting the exact same engine for both
series, he brings more value to a BMW or a Mercedes who can now leverage their
engine investment worldwide, including a strong presence in North America instead
of just two races per year in the biggest market in the world (NAFTA).
Media Exposure CART needs media exposure, and it needs
it quickly. Bernie has a vast worldwide media network for F1. We are
already seeing CART news beginning to go out to those outlets. If Bernie
buys 50% of CART, you can expect that effort to be ratcheted up significantly.
Bernie does not buy a business to lose money. He will make sure his new
investment gets plenty of media exposure, which is crucial to its growth.
Cash Infusion CART needs a major infusion of cash to
really kick start it. People in the USA talk about the wealth of the Hulman
George family. Well Bernie is worth some five times what the Hulman George
family is worth. If he wants to, he can outspend them into oblivion if Tony
George decides to try and hammer any more nails. We suspect Tony George will
be forced to put his hammer away and focus on trying to grow his oval track
business, something I don't think is possible because NASCAR has monopolized the
oval track market. Oval track fans are completely tapped out and if Tony
thinks the France family is going to allow another series to erode their coveted
oval track market, he's more naive then even I thought.
Marketing Bernie is a marketing maven. Because of lack
of sponsors and manufacturers in the series, and because of CART's cash position,
its current marketing effort is pretty much non-existent, a mere blip on the
screen compared to F1 and NASCAR. Once Bernie buys into CART, he's going to
make use of his massive marketing machine and turn the Champ Car series into
something people know and talk about. Hopefully he calls it F1A (for Formula
1 Americas) and leverages the branded "F1" name. Instantly people around the
world will know that CART isn't a go-kart or a shopping cart, but a F1 series with
a slight twist. The CART and Champ Car names are not branded (i.e. something
the average guy on the street instantly recognizes), never were, never will be.
CART lost the use of the IndyCar moniker, and that was a branded term - everyone
knows what "indy" car is.......though judging by the steep slide of the Indy
500 since Tony George decided to create the IRL, Indy Cars are becoming less
Alternating Weekends I have long maintained
that Bernie can't meet the worldwide demand for F1 races. He could
use the F1A /CART series in those markets that can't afford a F1 race or
who can't find an open slot on the F1 calendar. What I expect to
happen, and something Chris Pook alluded to Monday night in Long Beach, he
can feed F1 fans a race almost every weekend, just like NASCAR does.
I think you will see CART and F1 racing on alternating weekends, with very
few race date conflicts. He can use his marketing and advertising
machine to focus on F1 one week and CART/F1A the
next. His large Army of journalists that follow F1 can shift from F1 one
week and F1A the next.
Weekly Magazine Ever read Bernie's Formula 1 magazine?
A first class publication. What about Autosport? Ever see all the
coverage F1 gets in Autosport? Amazing, simply amazing. Haymarket owns
Racer in the USA and Autosport in the UK. Bernie can afford to fund a weekly
Autosport-like magazine in the USA put out by their Racer group in California.
Autosport covers every minutia of F1. F1A/CART needs that sort of weekly
coverage in the USA in a large-format magazine like Autosport. Bernie can
provide the money necessary to get such a weekly magazine off the ground.
Engaging the fans All that sounds good, but can Bernie
work his magic on the USA racing fans who are enthralled with everything NASCAR?
That may be his biggest challenge. We have seen that CART can pack them in
on race day in the grandstands, but its TV ratings are abysmal. How will
Bernie get them interested enough to tune into TV on a weekly basis? Fans of
any sport worship their athletes, their heroes. Bernie is smart enough to
understand this. NASCAR drivers are heroes to its allegiance of fans'. On
Sunday afternoon, they are doing one thing, and one thing only - watching their
heroes bumping and banging around the high bank ovals of the USA. Ditto for
F1 fans worldwide, but because F1 races on only 16 weekends per year, whereas
NASCAR races on 37 weekends, its hard to keep the fans interest and continuity.
That's where CART/F1A comes in. Add F1A's 20 races and F1's 16 on
alternating weekends, and all of a sudden F1/F1A is racing on 36 weekends per
year, just one shy of NASCAR.
Merchandising CART's merchandising is pretty much
non-existent, at least compared to NASCAR. NASCAR merchandise is everywhere
in the USA. We expect that Bernie will put a lot of focus in this area going
forward. I doubt it will ever reach the level of NASCAR, but certainly
CART/F1A merchandise will become more readily available.
Common Platforms Don't be surprised if CART's ladder
series has a F3 and F3000 rung before long. I have stated this is what needs
to be done to bring CART/F1A in line with the rest of the world. I doubt
Bernie would have it any other way. Chris Pook alluded to that Monday night
in Long Beach. If Toyota does not want to supply the engines, they will use
the Nissan engines from the Dallara Nissan Telefonica F3000 series, a series
recognized as less expensive than the FIA F3000 series, and just as competitive.
Because of how the rules are structured, it costs far less to field a Dallara
Nissan Telefonica F3000 team than a current Toyota Atlantic team, and they produce
twice as much horsepower.
More Manufacturers and More Sponsors I am sure that
Bernie talks to a lot of sponsors who can't quite afford F1. He can push
them to his "other" series at perhaps half the amount. As for the engine
manufacturers, I hear he and Pook have them already lined up for CART/F1A and you
will see them announced in the coming months for the 2005 season.
Standing Starts I haven't been able to convince CART
to adopt standing starts for three years now, even though they are far more
exciting than CART's rolling starts. With gasoline normally aspirated
engines coming in 2005, I am willing to bet we will see onboard starters and the
ability to do standing starts at venues wide enough to allow it. Bernie will
see to it.
A Stronger USA Presence One reason F1 has struggled in
the USA is because 1) Bernie does not have staff in the USA looking after his
interests. Now he will. 2) The USA public thinks NASCAR is racing.
Road Racing isn't as well known as oval racing because of NASCAR's tremendous
marketing effort. Bernie will raise the awareness of road racing in the USA
through his CART/F1A series, one would think in a big way. Will CART race
overseas more under Bernie? I think so, but I don't expect a major overseas
shift. Just some strategic additions such as Italy or France, and Beijing,
China or Seoul, South Korea.
Investment in Circuits Compared to the rest of
the world, the USA's road courses are pitiful. While a lot of money
has been spent building new oval racing facilities in the USA, not much
has been done to build new road courses. Road America desperately
needs garages with corporate suites built on top. The track needs to
be able to entertain corporate guests. Mid-Ohio needs a major
widening so drivers can pass, and Laguna Seca needs a major
reconfiguration because passing is nearly impossible. Portland's
Main Straight Grandstands are old and dilapidated and the circuit needs
garages and corporate suites. All road courses need Jumbotron
screens so fans can see the action all around the track. If CART
wants to be the premier road racing series in North America, it had better
see to it that its road courses are fan friendly, team friendly and
sponsor guest friendly. Bernie has been known to see to it that sort
of stuff is done in Europe, sometimes investing his own money.
As you can see, there are many possibilities. As I wrote back
in September, CART, Like the Phoenix,
about to rise from the ashes. I think it's a matter of weeks now.
If Bernie buys CART, it may be the biggest motorsports news in the USA in a
decade, and it certainly will get the attention of the oval track cartel (NASCAR
and the IRL), a topic of a future article.
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