Cohesion, brand messaging improvement key for Hulman’s new hires

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Consider Mark Miles the head coach of the Hulman & Co. organization, and this football analogy describing IndyCar’s future strategy will work.

Miles, the head of IndyCar’s parent company, finalized his leadership team on Thursday with the hires of C.J. O’Donnell as Hulman Motorsports chief marketing officer, and Jay Frye as chief revenue officer. So consider these two part of the coaching staff: maybe your offensive (pushing the product) and defensive (protecting the financial bottom line) coordinators.

The rest of the coaching staff, as it were, are Derrick Walker (INDYCAR president of competition and operations), Doug Boles (president, Indianapolis Motor Speedway), Robby Greene (president, IMS Productions) Gretchen Snelling (general counsel) and Jeff Belskus (president, Hulman & Co.).

“We believe that that separateness led to a less than effective, than maximally effective way to deal with our stakeholders,” Miles explained during a teleconference on Thursday. “It doesn’t make sense to us optimally to segregate based on kind of the location. Really the businesses are part of the same industry, same ownership, and largely the same stakeholders and customers.”

Collectively, they’re the new administration working together for the first time as a group, to bring about change to a struggling organization.

IndyCar is the opposite of a bad football team, for example. It has a great product, but remains largely invisible to the general public. Whereas a bad football team, i.e. the Jacksonville Jaguars this year, puts out a bad product but still gets a decent ratings number both on local and national levels.

The task for Frye and O’Donnell, who have each turned around organizations and brands in the past, is to do likewise for IndyCar. You might be thinking, “Well, aren’t these two just the latest to try?” The initial message from the conference call was positive that changes seem legitimate in coming.

“It’s been really kind of unique since this was announced today, my phone has been blowing up, and a lot of them have been from friends of mine who are prospective sponsors,” Frye said. “So I think the opportunity is definitely there to do some really good things actually relatively quickly.”

The biggest task on the sponsor standpoint is finding a replacement for departed title sponsor IZOD.

“Once that partner is identified, that actually helps address a lot of the things we’ve talked about,” Frye explained. “One is activating the sport, one is promoting the sport, one is getting the fan engagement together, which is very important to the overall health of the sport. Really the first week we’re going to kind of figure out where we’re at, try to get the groups blended together, get a nice plan and goals and direction, and then once that’s done we’re going to hit it hard to go out and find a great title sponsor partner.”

O’Donnell added that beyond the partner activation, an the PR and marketing effort will be improved and enhanced.

“I’ve got definitive assurances of that,” he said. “In fact Mark and I have had several conversations about adding capacity to the organization to really develop it into a world‑class marketing and PR team.”

For O’Donnell, the chance to come full circle to Indianapolis is a dream come true after 20 years with Ford and associated brands.

“I have to add a passionate sort of personal note to this,” he said. “At one point in time in my life I had an aspiration of actually driving at Indianapolis, and I knew someday somewhere I’d get a chance to participate in the business.”

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”