In Counterpoint, Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft of MoreFrontWing.com face off on topics related to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Neither reviews the other's argument until after the article is compiled for posting. It's up to you to decide who's made the better case!
This week: should a third Canadian race be added to the schedule in 2012?
There are so many reasons why it would be a great idea to add a third Canadian event to the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule in 2012.
For starters, INDYCAR currently has a rare opportunity to pick up a highly coveted weekend on Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, one of the best race courses in the country (and some would call it the best without question). When the Quebec government opted not to chip in its share of the subsidy for the NASCAR Nationwide sanctioning fee for next year, the weekend became open to other parties for negotiation. By city by-law, the circuit is only permitted to host two race weekends per year, and with F1 having returned and secured its place, INDYCAR could have snapped up the only other weekend. Unfortunately, with Randy Bernard stating that he has no interest and NASCAR looking to settle its 2012 schedules shortly, an agreement will likely be reached with the province and the opportunity to run INDYCARs on a track where they most certainly belong appears to be lost.
But a third Canadian event should happen, even if it can't be at CGV. Marketing an American sport in Canada is a different proposition than many people realize. In Canada, the more markets an American sport is able to enter, the more attention it receives across the country. People keep saying that it's critical to shore up the two existing events before adding a third, but the reality is that the best way to strengthen those races is to add a third. Doing so would increase the national chatter about INDYCAR by at least 50% and raise the sport's profile throughout the season, especially if rising star James Hinchcliffe is brought to the country's attention.
An even better reason to get a third event established now is the fact that so many questions are circling about the Edmonton race. A firm deadline has been placed on the INDYCAR event at the City Centre Airport: the last event will take place there in 2013, after which the entire facility will be dismantled to make way for a condominium development. Whether the City of Edmonton will have the ability -- or interest -- to find another place to host the race is anyone's guess at this point. And while Octane certainly did an impressive job in its first year as the event's promoter, they may find that there's more value in uprooting the event and taking it to a larger market such as Calgary when the contract is up. With changes clearly on the horizon for the western Canadian race weekend that will result in some instability, having two strong events already established elsewhere would go a long way toward making that process easier.
However, with all that being said, we've already decided that Randy Bernard shouldn't listen to anyone else when planning the season schedule and that he should do what's most commercially viable. (But that certainly doesn't mean we can't argue about it!)
Too much of a good thing. Walk before you run. Leave people wanting more. Such clichés are easy to rattle off, especially when it comes to adding more IZOD IndyCar Series events in Canada. Thankfully, Randy Bernard knows them all and understands how true they ring.
Back in May, Steph and I debated the merits of adding a second Brazil race to the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule and what impact it could have. Though I agreed that such a race would work from a race viewability standpoint (i.e., being close enough to US time zones that people could easily watch it on TV), I felt that the distance and lack of market for the Series and sponsors made a second race in that market overkill. I feel much the same way about a third race in Canada.
Look, there is no doubt that Canadians love INDYCAR racing, or at least love watching Canadian INDYCAR drivers. I was able to witness firsthand last year in Toronto the passion and enthusiasm shown for Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani, and it was certainly an impressive display. But given the often-stated requirement for drivers like PT and Tag to be in the INDYCAR field, I can’t help but wonder if Canadian support is for the race or for the drivers. With Tracy having only one or two more years left in him and Tag probably not too far behind, can the Canadian races survive and thrive without those stars (as we were led to believe they couldn’t do last year)? And if the existing races can’t thrive, why should INDYCAR be adding more?
It has been well-established that the current IZOD IndyCar Series teams can only afford about 18 races in the current economic climate. Within a couple years, however, Bernard and INDYCAR hope to escalate that number to 20 or more. With the stated desire to maintain an even split among road/street courses and ovals, that allows only 10 twisties on the schedule, 11 at most. The current schedule has 10 road or street course events, including the recently added road course at Twin Ring Motegi. This race is already known to be off the 2011 calendar, so that leaves nine races that should carry over to next year. The strongest rumors for new races next year include the second Brazil race and the revival of the Reliant Stadium parking lot track in Houston (insert sarcastic yee haw here), taking us back to 11 non-oval events. Beyond 2012, other rumors for the not-too-distant future include a return to Watkins Glen and events at Road America, Fort Lauderdale, and China. (I continue to hold out hope that INDYCAR will return to Portland and the Pacific Northwest, but this sadly doesn’t appear to be on the radar of the decision-makers for the time being.) Right now, there just isn’t room, or need, for another Canadian event.
One alternative that should be considered is that the current Edmonton facility will only be available for two more years. According to Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star, the Edmonton City Centre Airport will be redeveloped as a residential property following the expiration of Octane’s contract with INDYCAR after the 2013 event. If the Edmonton event hasn’t shown growth by that time -- and I mean significant growth -- perhaps it would be time to find greener pastures for 2014. I’m sure Steph will have a list a kilometer long of places that would be fantastic hosts for an INDYCAR event, but in my humble opinion, any cities not named Vancouver or Montreal shouldn’t really be given serious consideration.
The other issue that must be addressed is sponsorship return in foreign markets. If teams in the IZOD IndyCar Series had a large contingent of Canadian sponsors clamoring for a couple of events on their native soil, I think the case for another race could be justified. However, to my knowledge, the only truly Canadian sponsor in the IICS this year is Sprott, the primary sponsor on the #06 Newman/Haas car of James Hinchcliffe. As fate would have it, Sprott is based just a few blocks from Toronto’s Exhibition Place, so they are already being cared for. While other sponsors may also have a Canadian presence or may be looking to expand into Canadian markets (as is the case with Target), the vast majority of current INDYCAR sponsors are looking to US-based markets to solidify their investment in the Series, and as previously pointed out, there are plenty of American locales already looking to bring those sponsors new opportunities.
Should the current pair of Canadian races be part of the IZOD IndyCar Series? Of course, without a doubt! But growing them to their maximum potential and restoring the former glory they once had will go a long way toward creating demand and justifying a possible third Canadian race sometime down the road.
Paul Dalbey (@Fieldof33) and Steph Wallcraft (@99forever) are co-editors of MoreFrontWing.com (@MoreFrontWing), your source online for blogs, photos, podcasts and more covering the IZOD IndyCar Series and beyond. Reach them both at firstname.lastname@example.org.