Baltimore

Insight: How the GP of Baltimore posed a case study in promotional challenges

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As the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is set to be released tomorrow, one race you won’t be seeing listed is the Grand Prix of Baltimore, one of the championship’s most recent cracks at a new street race.

While Andretti Sports Marketing is already full speed ahead with planning on promotion of its new events in Miami (FIA Formula E) and New Orleans (IndyCar), company president John Lopes outlined a case study of what can go wrong in the promotional process: Baltimore.

IndyCar’s most recent on-again, off-again domestic street race (Brazil is set to reappear in 2015 after a one-year hiatus in 2014) occurred in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor from 2011 through 2013.

But while the event had a big-time feel on the ground, it eventually met its demise after going through a sea of red ink, several different promoters and scheduling conflicts.

Lopes explained the challenges that Andretti Sports Marketing dealt with when trying to save the event, which it took over in 2012, and how it ultimately wasn’t sustainable.

“Baltimore was an example of, whenever we were selling, it felt like we were outsiders. It was a case of ‘You’re not from here,’” Lopes explained in an interview with MotorSportsTalk at Andretti Sports Marketing’s Indianapolis headquarters.

“It’s a special town, and it was a great market with great people and a great community, but it had trouble embracing the race due to problems with the promoter the first year.

“The second promoter wasn’t successful, there was meant to be a third and then we jumped in 90 days before (in 2012).”

Making sure the race even happened in 2012 was key because IndyCar was operating on a reduced 15-race schedule from the previous season.

Races at Loudon, Kentucky, Motegi and Las Vegas were all dropped from 2011; Baltimore was one of only two of the last six races scheduled in 2011 to continue into 2012 (Sonoma the other).

“With a 90-day notice, the folks in that room put 131,000 people into the event, which is perhaps one of the most amazing stories by a promoter, ever,” Lopes said. “But we still had the problem of apologizing for what had happened the year prior.”

Lopes said divvying up who got what cut of the money from the event made things more of a hassle than at other events.

“The big thing with Baltimore was that it was in three different taxation zones. Everyone took chunks out of the event,” Lopes explained. “There was state; county; the convention center had to take $250,000; the city had huge taxes, the fire department brought their stuff. So it was difficult for the event to gain any traction.”

Scheduling issues, and with IndyCar’s insistence on a Labor Day ending point plus college football games at M&T Bank Stadium and sporadic Baltimore Orioles games at Camden Yards ultimately doomed the Labor Day event.

Getting state support and investment, as IndyCar is getting in NOLA next year with an additional $4.5 million invested by the state, shows a full commitment to that new event.

“As you know the state put $4.5 million into this thing, which shows it matters,” Lopes said. “That never happened in Baltimore. Nothing injected revenue into the event.

“You can say a lot for city services, but the state of Louisiana has really jumped behind this new event. It is guaranteed to be successful. With a new promoter and a territory wholly controlled by IndyCar, I think it’s off to the races.”