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If You Build It....

Regular readers of these pages will know that one of the DSC Ed’s bugbears has been the lateness and lack of security of the Calendars of several Series and Championships in recent years, though with a major improvement made in a couple of cases with the timing of release of those datelines for 2013.

There’s still work to do in recognising that the ambitions of the promoters need to be balanced with the financial realities that risk taking imposes on their customers but I’m very happy to acknowledge progress.

Growth is the key and it’s with that firmly in mind that this column has been written.

Motorsport has long been in competition with a bewildering series of choices in an increasingly competitive leisure market – Will an individual or family opt to go to a motor race, a football game or a shopping mall or Sunday market? 

That’s had repercussions in a number of ways, in the way that people watch motorsport (and other sports), in what they expect at the track or at home and in the way in which events, and the sport as a whole, are marketed.

One contentious aspect of that process though was brought into very sharp focus with an email that landed with me recently.

It contained a quite extraordinary document with some even more extraordinary numbers.  The document has been reported in part in major daily newspapers in a major European country as evidence of major malpractice at a motorsport venue that could barely be more precious to the sporting and general automotive world as a whole.

It is (actually rather than allegedly) a document produced by the venue’s marketing department that shows both the claimed attendance, per event, from 1994 through to 2008 AND the actual number of tickets sold.

Suffice to say there is more than a touch of disparity between the two lines!!

Just a couple of examples – The venue in question is/ was a Formula One circuit and whilst in the most recent five years listed over 200,000 and 300,000 punters were claimed the total never exceeded 80,000 – with the most recent year claiming 311,000 against an actual total of just over 66,000!

There are other equally dodgy and worrying claim: reality disparities right through the document, in all an overstatement of crowd numbers (and therefore revenue) by just shy of 9 million over a 17 year period, which leads to several conclusions and prompts the use of some unpleasant words.

Firstly these figures are lies – Pure and simple these people started by lying to their customers and ended up lying to themselves and everyone else.

Almost as bad is that it’s a slippery slope.  Once you start doing it it’s almost impossible not to continue doing it.  You only do it to either boost the marketability of future events and/ or to massage the egos of those involved – The first is dishonest, the second is just plain stupid.

The worrying part is that whilst this is an extreme example it’s hardly unique!

And here’s the point – With a new Unified Series on the way in North America, with an FIA WEC globally looking to establish itself and with a reset button pressed at SRO there is the opportunity to start afresh. 

I’m a firm believer in the tenet that “If you build it they will come”. 

Create an engaging enough product and promote and market it effectively and it will succeed – Maybe not in the first year but building from there.  Instant success is not guaranteed, usually quite the opposite, but there are those out there that ‘get it’ that see the opportunities to be in there early and to build.

Don’t be rattled by modest crowd numbers in year one and year two, just keep to the plan and do better and push harder the next time.

Learn that a crowd under 10,000, or even 5000, is not a disaster it’s merely a start. 

Offer every single person that came in year one a 2 for 1 offer in year 2.  Ask them questions too – What worked?  What didn’t?

Put together a Schools programme – really put some effort into creating something with curricular value as well as some thrills. 

There are brilliant people in those paddocks that deal with real science every day and are capable not only of explaining it clearly but in an entertaining fashion too – Get that right and bring in the kids by the bus load  (Silverstone has plenty!)

Put on a Science fair on the Thursday/Friday with the kids camping for the weekend and with incentives for parents to attend on race day at £1 a pop - Then watch the numbers grow once more year on year.

And make sure that everyone that wants to gets an opportunity to see the whole circuit.  Send those buses around the track with a top driver on the microphone at the front to tell the passengers what they are doing, and where they are doing it – A braking point, a cornering speed – It all means more when you can REALLY see what they are talking about at track level. 

And don’t charge them extra for this, make it part of the event, cut out a minor support event and make sure that they get the chance to not only meet the teams but experience more too.

Send a top driver around in a road car with a race car setting off to chase it down, and get a driver ‘on the mike’ from those cars to explain the differences as the ‘challenge’ unfolds – If they’ll watch this sort of stuff on Top Gear they’ll surely love to see it live! 

I remember this being done by Chrysler in 2000 at Silverstone with a roadgoing Viper being chased down by a firebreathing Oreca factory car – It made for a great display at what otherwise would have been dead track time. 

Just how big a head start could Oliver Jarvis have in a roadgoing R8 and still have Allan McNish in an R18 catch him?

And then there’s the autograph session - I can recall a BTCC meeting at Brands Hatch, back in 1994, in the days before the cars sprouted too much aero, when there were factory teams by the bucketload.

At lunchtime they sent a pair of road cars from each marque around, evenly spaced around the Indy Circuit and then opened the gates – Atop each car was a driver, and that was the autograph session! 

We all got to walk the track, meet our heroes and get a chat and an autograph – Magical stuff – In these days of ambulance chasing lawyers that might be more difficult but there was surely a lesson there – After all I’m writing about it positively 20 years later!

How about a GT Academy on the day – The fastest time at the circuit gets a short cut into the process AND a hot lap with a Nissan driver at the end of the day?

There are lessons from the recent past and there is innovation available now – Nissan’s crane mounted ‘flying grandstand’ at Le Mans was a great example of that.

None of it is overly simple to deliver, all of it comes with at something of a price tag, but all of it is, and was, real.  All of it helped to create an event, and an aspiration to return to another, to add value, and to add bums on seats. 

Whatever you do, do it well, do it with polish and do it erring on the side of the customer being the important party.

But don’t, not ever, treat your customers like fools or cash cows, don’t claim 5000 spectators are 35000 because what are you going to do the following year?  Admit the falsehood or claim growth?

Treat them, all of them, as the vital advocates that they are because they stand a better chance of bringing new blood back the following year than any over-exaggeration of ‘success’ will ever do. 

Give them just a little more than they expected, a little more for their hard earned cash than they thought they’d get, a little more access, a little more respect, fewer reasons to feel that their general admission ticket in some way devalues them.

Do that and they will go home with smiles on their faces and tell people about it – That is what marketing is all about – growing the customer base – Now there’s a novel concept!