James Hinchcliffe Says IndyCar Has Plan to Keep Pace with F1's Growth in U.S.
The significant increase in attention to Formula 1 by U.S. fans could pose trouble for IndyCar and the continuing growth it has seen over
It can be argued that there is more buzz about the three upcoming Formula 1 races in the U.S. this year than there is for any IndyCar race outside of the Indianapolis 500.
Former IndyCar racer and current NBC TV personality James Hinchcliffe, "There's a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes right now that I think a lot of people have been wanting to see."
As excited as IndyCar fans are for the 17-race season to get started this weekend, James Hinchcliffe is also looking hard at the challenge Formula 1 is placing upon IndyCar.
Consider this. The F1 series, which is owned by U.S.-based Liberty Media, will have three races in the United States this season: Austin, Miami and the newest addition to the schedule, Las Vegas, in November. It can be argued that there is more buzz about the three upcoming F1 races in the U.S. this year than there is for any IndyCar race outside of the Indianapolis 500.
Is there a worry that F1 is cutting in on IndyCar's turf?
“Yeah, that's an interesting question,” said Hinchcliffe the former IndyCar racer now on the NBC TV broadcast team for IndyCar. “Certainly, you've got to give credit where credit is due and seeing the growth that from where F1 was domestically here five years ago (to the present time) is pretty impressive.
“IndyCar has also been enjoying growth in viewership and attendance. So, motorsports in general seems to be on an upward trend. And I have a few different reasons for that. First and foremost, motorsports was the first thing back on TV as far as live sports goes during the pandemic. You had a completely captive audience that was starved for live sports. I think NASCAR was the first on and then our sport was after.
“And then you had this Netflix show about Formula 1 (Drive to Survive) that really exposed a massive audience to that world. There's no doubt that F1 was an underserved market in the States, anyway. It was crazy what the numbers for TV were a few years ago, were as low as they were.
“I'm a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all ships. And so, if one series is getting more fans, more true genuine fans of motorsports, then they're going to start looking at other forms of motorsport, as well. You can see F1 fans checking out NASCAR or tune into the Indy 500. I think it's not necessarily a direct competition. We are different products in a lot of ways, even though it's similar products in certain ways. But no, I think what's good for one is good for all, and motorsports just seems to be in a really good spot right now.”
The significant increase in attention to F1 by U.S. fans could pose trouble for IndyCar and the continuing growth it has seen over the last half-decade or so—albeit, slower growth than many in the series would like.
That’s why there’s an onus on IndyCar to find different ways to market itself, different ways to increase revenue and sponsorship for both teams as well as the series as a whole, and pretty much any way to elevate the series’ profile and economic lure.
If IndyCar does not make significant improvements and changes to attract more fans—especially those in the very desirable 18-to-30 year-old demographic—F1 may very well soon leave IndyCar in its tire tracks when it comes to popularity, TV ratings and revenue generated.
“That's a question I want you to ask me in 12 months,” Hinchcliffe said. “A lot of the stuff that's come out recently has been about the work that's been going on behind the scenes with IndyCar during the off-season on that very topic. (Penske Entertainment/IndyCar CEO) Mark Miles (was quoted in) articles and press releases about a massive increase in the marketing budget, a completely different, more aggressive strategy across social and digital, obviously the reality show that will be coming out on the CW, 100 Days To Indy, that’s going to be massive.
“And so there's a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes right now that I think a lot of people have been wanting to see. And it's great to see IndyCar taking that initiative now. So 12 months from now, we can have a conversation about how well it worked and what areas we need to focus more on.
"But I'm definitely real happy to have read and learned about all the efforts that IndyCar is collectively making behind the scenes to try and just push it forward and get it out there a little bit more.”