AUSTIN, Texas – As INDYCAR moves full throttle into the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles reflected on his first drivers meeting back in 2013.
Miles is the CEO of both INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and is the architect of some very positive progress the series has enjoyed in recent years.
“I remember very well my first drivers meeting at Barber Motorsports Park,” Miles recalled. “I knew what I was going to say to them, but I had no idea what I was going to get back. Back in the corner of the room was Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan. All they wanted to talk about was TV. ‘How are you going to fix this TV problem?’
“It showed me that they were focused on the growth of the sport and had enough sense to understand we didn’t have the right platform the way the rights had been licensed. The commercial improvement of the series has been the highest priority of my time since 2013.”
Miles began looking at ways to create a better TV package. At that time, five races were televised over the air by longtime partner ABC with the remainder of the schedule on NBCSN. Because of the way the contracts were structured, ABC was the exclusive television provider of over the air network races but disappeared from the scene after the first weekend in June.
Miles wanted to get one network partner for all IndyCar races when the TV contract came up for renewal in 2018.
Meantime, NBC was showing a real interest in motorsports. The two sides negotiated a deal that brings the entire IndyCar Series schedule to NBC’s family of networks with eight events on NBC, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500. It will be the first time in 55 years that the Indy 500 has aired on a network other than ABC.
Nine races will be televised on NBCSN, creating a near 50-50 split between broadcast and cable. With the same TV crew working the entire schedule, the storylines of the season can be told from start to finish all by the same storytellers.
“The NBC deal will really bear fruit,” Miles said. “If we pulled all of our staff that is either marketing or communications or production in here, the level of work, the daily communications in detail and planning is unprecedented than what we have had in the last few years. It will pay off, I’m sure.”
Enhanced coverage of INDYCAR, including live practice and qualifications, is part of NBC Sports Gold’s INDYCAR Pass, a streaming service that can be purchased for $55 and includes a full video library of IndyCar content.
Miles has also been able to solidify IndyCar’s sponsorship base. Worldwide technological company NTT is the new series sponsor, replacing Verizon after a five-year run.
“NTT is not so much consumer-driven, but the company wakes up every morning to develop technology,” Miles said. “They are serious about seeing what they can do for us.”
Miles explains intramural elbowing under the rim for position between balancing the racing and the cars while others think it should be more about engaging fans.
“We can take more data off the cars and put it on our NTT App, that is available to everyone to download,” Miles said.
It doesn’t end there. In fact, it’s part of a longer list of new partners.
“The one that should be talked about more is Speedway,” Miles said of the large chain of gasoline and convenience stores owned by Marathon Oil. “On the IndyCar side of our street, they will supply the fuel. But from my perspective in building the series, this is an amazing company.
“It’s owned by Marathon, it’s Midwestern-based but is now very national with 4,000 retail/convenience store outlets that 2 million people a day go through. The strategy is to throw all of the ideas in May, not just in Indiana, but broadly, see what ideas work best and roll out those ideas and initiatives where we race, where they have a concentration of stores.”
Firestone has signed a longtime contract extension to remain the sole tire supplier of IndyCar. Firestone is also investing $17 million into a new race tire manufacturing facility in Akron, Ohio.
Gainbridge, an investment firm, has become the presenting sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 over the next five years with a reported price of $1.5 million per year.
“I couldn’t be happier about these additions, and I’m happy with the schedule we have put together for this year,” Miles said. “We want to make more of a crescendo at the end of the season. I’m delighted that NBC is going to air the final two races of the season at Portland and Laguna Seca.”
What about taking IndyCar overseas? There are some countries interested in hosting IndyCar races.
“We’d love to get to Australia because of its history and interest in IndyCar and the nostalgic yearning for those days,” Miles said. “We’ll see how that is going to work out.
“When Brazil gets its economy righted, there is a great fan base there. There is nothing happening at the moment, but when that economy is capable again, it would be a focus for us. Japan is tough because (of) my insistence on a strategy.”
Miles does not want to crown a champion abroad or have an international race after the season begins in March. He would be interested in a few international races in late January or early February.
“That’s why it won’t work in Japan,” Miles said. “There are some climates that don’t work in February, and Japan is one of them.”
He is also interested in a race in Mexico City as part of the regular championship schedule.
“Sooner or later, I hope we find a great place to race in Mexico,” Miles said.
There remains work to finish. One is a TV partner in Canada. Miles said a Canadian television partner will be finalized in time for the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 10. INDYCAR also took over its international licensing for TV rights, creating new partners in Europe and around the world.
“Hopefully, over time, there will be more engaged channels of communication for us,” Miles said. “It won’t all be linear. Some will be direct-to-consumer, but it will be very interesting.”
Every year, rumors begin to circulate that Miles is going to leave INDYCAR and run for mayor of Indianapolis or governor of Indiana. Miles laughs every time he hears that.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Miles emphasized. “I love growth. As long as I feel like we are making a difference and continue to grow the series, I’m interested.
“I’m not running for mayor. I’m not running for governor. I’m not running for anything, and that’s unequivocal.
“But I’m not staying home. This has been very fulfilling so far, and we are getting to the point where it’s going to get really interesting.”