What’s in a name? Actually, quite a lot when you’re a player in a crowded global professional sports and multi-dimensional entertainment market.
In a wide-ranging interview session moderated by SportsBusiness Journal executive editor Abraham Madkour and attended by about 200 industry representatives at the 11th Motorsports Marketing Forum at the Venetian Resort, Randy Bernard addressed the reasoning of changing the name of the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and the USF2000 National Championship to INDYCAR.
The CEO informally introduced the new name during the 2011 schedule announcement at The Milwaukee Mile in early September.
“When I came in, I heard from fans that there was a lot in the divorce of 1995 of IRL and CART,” said Bernard, who joined INDYCAR in March after 15 years with the Professional Bull Riders. “IRL had a very negative connotation. We know we lost 15 to 20 million fans, and the first thing I asked myself was how do we get them back? They were once involved in open-wheel racing and passionate about it.
“The more I talked with fans it kept coming up, and then one day Dario Franchitti walked up to me and said, ‘You know, I get a lot of fans who tell me we should change from IRL to INDYCAR.’ It’s a global brand. When you go to Brazil or Europe or Japan and ask someone if they watch IRL they look at you funny. If you ask them if they’ve watched INDYCAR, they probably know what it’s about. We have a hundred years of Indy car history and tradition, and it’s always been about showcasing relevant technology and innovation. And that’s what we want to continue with INDYCAR.”
The move was backed up by an audience poll (95 percent favored it over the Indy Racing League and its acronym).
Bullet points (questions that came up during the 30-minute session):
• What have you learned since coming on board? “Being that I’m not from the motorsports world, it was very important for me to come in and listen. I don’t feel comfortable up here because I’m speaking to a group of motorsports experts. I felt a lot more comfortable asking questions and hearing others’ thoughts and opinions. I wanted to learn from and not offend our traditionalists.
“My job is to understand the sport and its marketability and build it. I want to try to digest as much information as I can and look at where we want to be three to five years down the road and how does that fit into our picture. I have a great staff and management, which has been my saving grace early on.”
• About the commercial side: “We have great momentum, and it really started before I got there with IZOD. We can’t say enough about what IZOD has done for our sport in its first year as the title sponsor. We’ve also signed 14 new partners in the past 12 months, and the total sponsorship spend went from $34 million to $81 million from 2009 to 2010. So we’re seeing great progress.”
• What do you see in IndyCar in 2015? “Five engines. A minimum of five chassis. Great competition. Great entertainment. Bigger crowds and larger ratings. Twenty two to 24 races.”
• There are four races outside the United States. Any more? “Terry (Angstadt) has done a really good job with working on our international plan, and it is our goal to have at the minimum two more races internationally.”
• About VERSUS, which saw its IZOD IndyCar Series ratings and viewership increase over the first year of the partnership in 2009: “I think VERSUS does a great job and of course we want to be in more homes. I also want to point out that we have to continue to do a better job on delivering what we can do. Storylines and engaging our stars is very important.”
• About the NBC Universal-Comcast deal, which is pending approval from the Federal Communications Commission: “I’m very optimistic that it will become the NBC Sports Channel or something like that, which would take our universe from 74 million (homes on VERSUS) to 100 million. If we can grow with VERSUS and continue the momentum that we have, it will play right into our long-term vision.”