ABC Supply Milwaukee IndyFest

INDYCAR concludes our celebration of the 12 days of Christmas with 12 of the most memorable storylines from the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

There’s plenty of work to do, and no one’s ready to take a victory lap, but after a season of steady growth on ABC and NBC Sports Network, the increase in viewership across the entire championship was one of the more positive themes to emerge in 2014.

ABC saw a year-to-year rise of 14 percent for the races it aired, and for NBCSN, a 34 percent jump in Nielsen ratings signaled a terrific response to the quality of racing and production it offered viewers throughout the year.

“It really is the results of a lot of individual actions that led to that outcome,” said IndyCar chief marketing officer CJ O’Donnell. “You need to step back from the whole season and see that it was reorganized from a broadcast perspective, and some of the strategies and tactics come to light.  First, we wanted to make sure we had a solid block of ABC broadcasts and a second solid block of NBC Sports Network broadcasts at the end of the season.  That did a lot to allow each of the broadcasters to organize their own promotions.  It made certain that they were given the opportunity to grow their ratings in a realistic way.”

“To go a little further, ABC stepped up for the month of May & assisted the broadcast at the Indianapolis 500,” O’Donnell continued.  “It really covered what was a changed format for IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The coverage of qualifying, especially, and the new format for qualifying, put IndyCar in front of really large audiences – about 1,000,000 a day – and pushed the full month’s growth to new levels of viewership.  That was the approach, and it worked. It also built momentum going into the season after Indianapolis.”

Expanded efforts by IndyCar’s television partners, along with revised hosting and commentary lineups, also made for more dynamic viewing experiences.

“As you look to the back end of the season, the NBC Sports Network was very strong with a 34 percent increase in IndyCar ratings on that channel alone,” O’Donnell noted. “That is because of their hard work in programming and promotion, but it’s also because they are a stronger network today than they were a year ago.  Their reach has expanded; they grew their number of households by 16 percent across the year.  That drew in a bigger audience for our programs, which is good news for them and good news for us at the same time.  It’s a relationship which is very mutually beneficial and moved in the right direction.”

Building on 2014’s viewership gains is an obvious priority for the series, and according to O’Donnell, parsing through the data and hatching a plan to maintain the growth spurt in 2015 has been his team’s focus during the offseason.

“We are looking within marketing and public relations--my sphere—over the last 90 or 100 days asking those questions and working on those strategies,” he said.  “We believe we have taken the resources available to us and used it in the most efficient way by growing our digital and now mobile advertising campaign into the 2015 season. 

“Along with that, we have an emerging and stronger creative strategy; the message itself is getting better.  And we’re sharing a strategy with our broadcast partners so that they align on the same points so that we are unifying our message effectively and bringing folks, new folks, to our broadcasts.

“You spend a lot of time of the year doing the postmortem work.  Understanding why things did or didn’t work, and trying to optimize on those different aspects.  It’s a critical time.  If we’re going to make a second big jump in our ratings, it’s going to come with a lot of hard work and planning, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”