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5 keys to IndyCar's growth

5 keys to IndyCar's growth

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After taking over as CEO of the Izod IndyCar Series in 2010, Randy Bernard spent the better part of the year learning and evaluating the sport. That work allowed him to outline a series of goals for the organization and make a number of changes that he hopes will increase interest in the sport. Here are five issues to watch as he continues to put his imprint on the sport:

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The Long Beach race failed to deliver a bump in viewership.
ATTENTION PLEASE:
The most pressing issue for the IndyCar Series is television viewership. Prior to the Long Beach race, Bernard said he wanted to see a 30 percent ratings increase from 2010, but the 0.2 Nielsen rating on Versus actually dropped from last year (0.3 rating, 490,000 viewers). The telecast’s 323,000 viewers were also only slightly higher than the 319,000 viewers who watched a 2:30 a.m. Formula One race shown on Speed the same weekend. Such results, combined with a disappointing record-low rating for the 2010 Indianapolis 500, will test the series as it renegotiates its $6 million-a-year deal with ABC, which is set to expire at the end of the season.

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Will Danica Patrick return to open-wheel racing in 2012?
THE STAR’S FUTURE:
Danica Patrick is in the final year of her contracts in both the IndyCar Series and NASCAR’s Nationwide Series. Will the star, who is arguably the most recognizable face on the IndyCar circuit, return to open-wheel racing in 2012? Or will she transition over to NASCAR full time? She has been reticent about what she plans to do, and her decision will have far-reaching implications for a sport that’s trying to increase interest in its drivers.

POWER OF THE PURSE: Bernard placed his biggest marketing bet on an eye-catching, $5 million challenge to any driver not competing in the series to come in and win its season finale race in Las Vegas on Oct. 16. The promotion is designed to lure a NASCAR or Formula One driver to the competition, which would elevate exposure and interest in the race. Will any drivers take the bait?

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Helio Castroneves found success off the track with “Dancing with the Stars.”
BUILDING STARS:
Coming into the 2011 season, Bernard said he wanted to make the series’ drivers “bigger than life.” To do so, he created more elaborate driver introductions and invested in a Los Angeles office responsible for placing drivers and the sport in television and movies. Observers point to driver Helio Castroneves’ appearance on the 2007 edition of “Dancing with the Stars” as an example of the type of exposure drivers need. The series’ ability to raise driver profiles will go a long way toward making sponsors more likely to use them in national promotions and, in turn, make them more recognizable to the casual sports fan and potential race viewer.

GOING YOUNG: The IndyCar Series faces some of the same challenges as NASCAR. Its fan base skews older, and as that demographic ages, the series will need to attract new fans. IndyCar has taken a number of proactive steps to do so this year. For example, new rules allow children as young as 9 years old to go into the garage area of all but one race. And at the Indianapolis 500, children 12 and younger will be admitted free when an adult buys a general admission ticket. Those are positive first steps, but will they be enough?

— Compiled by Tripp Mickle

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