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Sturbin: Odd Marketing Plans Smell Of Desperation

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 13 2011

Bernie Ecclestone, right, the president and CEO of Formula One Management, may have come up with the oddest marketing idea yet. (Photo courtesy of Formula One United States)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

There is reason to believe Formula One powerbroker Bernie Ecclestone has contracted a serious case of cabin fever during the recently extended offseason.

Or, maybe it’s just evidence of the onset of dementia.

This has nothing to do with the Kingdom of Bahrain’s decision to withdraw as host of the season-opening Grand Prix of Bahrain due to ongoing political unrest. F1’s acknowledgement that the safety of all parties outweighs a weekend of entertainment that, hopefully, can be rescheduled was the right call.

I’m talking here about the idea floated last week wherein F1 officials are considering using sprinklers to mimic rainfall during a race(s) in a bid to create wet-track conditions and theoretically jazz-up the show.

Only one question needs to be asked here of Mr. Ecclestone: WTF? And with all due respect to President Obama, I’m not talking about “Winning the Future.”

Let me get this straight: Formula One teams spend millions of dollars designing, constructing and testing cars that, by the rulebook, end up racing within thousandths-of-a-second of each other for a truly world championship…and Bernie thinks it would be a neat idea to all-of-a-sudden artificially throw a wet track here or there into the mix via sprinklers. Furthermore, tire-supplier Pirelli reportedly also likes the idea.

I repeat: WTF?

This is the dumbest gimmick yet in what is becoming a growing number of marketing ideas designed, apparently, to keep “fans” with the attention spans of ants interested in what’s actually happening on-track.

Case in point, INDYCAR’s recent offer of a $5 million bonus to any non-IndyCar Series driver

Is there room for ringers on an IndyCar track? (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

who can win the season-ending oval track event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October. Never mind that an entire 18-race season could come down to, say, a repeat of the dramatic one-on-one involving Dario Franchitti and Will Power from 2010. Let’s stick a ringer into a 200-plus mph car and hope he/she doesn’t impact the championship outcome, much less the SAFER Barriers.

And I’m sure many open-wheel purists still are questioning the reasoning behind the Firestone Twin 275s scheduled for Texas Motor Speedway under the lights in June. Instead of one 550-kilometer event, separate 275-kilometer races will be run with half-points and half-purses awarded to the winners. The idea isn’t new, as 17 such open-wheel doubleheaders were staged from 1967 to 1981. The format has been resurrected by Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s innovative chief executive officer, and TMS president/promoter Eddie Gossage in an effort to draw new fans to the series and give the Fort Worth facility a signature event.

While regular qualifying will determine the starting grid for Race 1, a “blind draw” scheduled during a one-hour break will determine the starting order for Race 2. How any cars wrecked in Race 1 will be repaired or replaced and factor into Race 2 will be among the story lines sure to keep ‘em riveted to their grandstand seats and tuned into the broadcast on VERSUS, or so the thinking goes. We’ll see.

These are the latest examples of artificial formats being introduced as motorsports vies with stick-and-ball standards for the disposable dollars of fans in a soft economy. You can count NASCAR’s 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup and the NHRA’s six-race Countdown to the Championship in this group, too. Neither of those formats, however, is as potentially insulting as F1 watering tracks to create interest.

But if Mr. Ecclestone is so worried about his product being dull, then why not really farce-it-up? Why stop with artificial rainfall? Name the F1 venue of your choice on a sunny day – let’s go with historic Monaco – and imagine that half the race will be run under “normal” conditions. At halfway, the Safety Car will be sent out and the field will return to the start/finish line and parked via running order.

Meanwhile, a section of the circuit will be watered-down via those sprinklers. And another section will be oiled-down with the lubricant of choice – creating a wonderful new marketing opportunity for one of the oil giants to push product.

And yet another section of the track will be covered in dirt and rocks and tire marbles in a bid to attract off-road fans to the wonders of F1. The beauty of this last set of obstacles is that they could be modified depending upon the venue. For instance, when F1 makes its initial appearance in Austin, Texas, in 2012, that final segment of obstacles could be a patch of freshly created cow pies…adding new meaning to the phrase “stinking-up the show.”

The top three finishers emerging from this concocted mess will not go directly to Park Ferme. Instead, they will be directed toward a pair of giant ramps, with burning rings at the highest points of each. Parked side-by-side between the ramps will be something like a dozen or so Ferraris – or whichever manufacturer bids the most for the marketing rights. Could be 17-18 Kias, if they got the cash.

From a standing start, the top three drivers and their aerodynamic F1 machines will each get one shot at jumping through those burning rings from Ramp A to Ramp B. Whomever completes the task with engine running and teeth intact will be declared THE WIN-NAH of the once-prestigious Monaco GP.

Borrowing from the world of dirt-track racing, said winner will then be seated in a big wooden “throne,” similar to the one reserved for the champion of Sprint Car racing’s King’s Royal at Eldora Speedway, complete with flowing robe and crown. And the entire experience will be topped-off by a bikini contest, featuring a conga line of ladies standing atop a flat-bed trailer. Last time I witnessed such an event was on a hot summer night at Cowtown Speedway in Kennedale, Texas, where who won the various class features was an afterthought.

How’s that for farcing-it-up, Mr. Ecclestone? Admit it, my suggestions cover many key demographic groupings, including those “fans” with the attention spans of ants. And if you disagree with me – to paraphrase “Redeye” host Greg Gutfeld – then you, sir, are crazier than Charlie Sheen.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 13 2011


  • Terry says:

    The next thing we will see is the front row cars doing low rider tricks and bouncing front ends.
    SERIOUSLY FOLKS………They need to have cars that look alittle different from each other ….with some VARIOUS engine makers COMPETEING ……with looser rules and more TEAM innovations…..like the old day’s when fans were interested.
    This …..is a mistake they could learn from NASCAR…
    Bottom line is reflecked by SELL’s and COST’s….Indy has cut out all the COST’s they can ….teams need to put some money back into the cars ( not yawn driver ) to bring back ( SELL’s )fans.
    THEY WANT TO CHEER THE CAR….NOT just the driver.

  • Sue Rarick says:

    Solving F1 (and Indy cars) problems is relatively easy. Eliminate all wings, Reduce tire size, Reduce tub widths and as a final stroke, eliminate everything from the drivers wheel except readouts, radio button and paddels.

    The races would then be put back into the drivers hands.

  • SB says:

    Sounds as if Berniehas been watching too much Nascar. They have created LOTS of gimmicks in the past few years (the top 35 rule, the ‘chase’, the lucky dog and plenty of race alike cookie cutter tracks. Has he noticed the ratings trends for Nascar over the past few years? I know htey are off to a faster start this year so far, but we haven’t hit the ‘ho hum’ part of the season yet. He might want to reconsider using BZF as his template for success.

  • Mr. Tony Geinzer says:

    I wish that a lot of these gimmicks had sticking power in a soft economy, but, I feel that the collision of an aging fan base and a newer,younger,hipper fan base is not a good thing with the sport as I believe a lot of the drive has to do with the NFL Lockout and I believe Ecclestone is on a early stage Alzheimers Dementia Crash and Burn as he is as incompentent as Al Davis Family.