Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles Reveals some of INDYCAR’s Marketing Plans for 2023
PIT PASS INDY– SEASON 3, EPISODE 8 – Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles Reveals some of INDYCAR’s Marketing Plans for 2023
February 21, 2022
Pit Pass Indy Host Bruce Martin has an exclusive interview with Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles as he reveals some of INDYCAR’S Marketing Plans for 2023.
INDYCAR has increased its marketing budget substantially and has some bold ideas on how to generate more interest in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. That includes the six-part documentary series “100 Days to Indy” that will premiere on April 27 on The CW Network.
For more INDYCAR coverage, follow Bruce Martin at Twitter at @BruceMartin_500
"Penske" means performance ... and winning
For good reason. Since 1966, Team Penske has won 43 national championships, 17 IndyCar alone. Its 18 Indy 500 victories are a record. And last year, Penske was the first team in history to win both the IndyCar and NASCAR Cup Series championships in the same season. Those are results that are tough to top.
IndyCar fans, it's time to start your engines. Welcome to Pit Pass Indy, a production of Evergreen Podcasts. I'm your host, Bruce Martin, a journalist who regularly covers the NTT IndyCar Series.
Our goal at Pit Pass Indy is to give racing fans an insider's view of the exciting world of the NTT IndyCar Series in a fast-paced podcast, featuring interviews with the biggest names in the sport.
I bring nearly 40 years of experience covering IndyCar and NASCAR, working for such media brands as nbcsports.com, si.com, ESPN Sports Ticker, Sports Illustrated, Autoweek and Speed Sport.
So, let's drop the green flag on this episode of Pit Pass Indy.
Welcome to this week's edition of Pit Pass Indy. The race season is well underway after last week's 65th Daytona 500 NASCAR Cup Series race. Congratulations to Ricky Stenhouse for avoiding the carnage at the end, to claim his first victory in the biggest stock car race in the world.
NTT IndyCar Series driver, Conor Daly competed in his first Daytona 500. He finished 29th out of the 40 cars that started the race and brought The Money Team Chevrolet home without a scratch.
The start of the NTT IndyCar Series season is getting closer. Next week, the teams and drivers will head to St. Petersburg, Florida to open the season in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The annual race on the streets of this beautiful city, nestled between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, is IndyCar's version of spring break. It draws large and enthusiastic crowds to see car kickoff another season of high-speed action.
Indy Car and Penske Entertainment have invested heavily in a new marketing plan they hope will generate more interest in the NTT IndyCar Series. One of those initiatives is the six-part documentary, 100 Days to Indy that will premiere on The CW network beginning on April 27th.
But that is just one part of the marketing plan. Penske Entertainment CEO, Mark Miles reveals more in this exclusive Pit Pass Indy interview.
Joining us now, on Pit Pass Indy is a fairly regular guest on the show. It's Penske Entertainment CEO, Mark Miles.
Mark, the 2023 season is about to begin. We're going to be at the Firestone Grand Prix St. Petersburg on March the 5th. That event has really taken on its own special place on the schedule of a highly anticipated big event race. What is it about the Firestone Grand Prix St. Petersburg that has made it a very successful event?
Well, they just do a great job. The race is embraced by the entire community and by the spring break crowd that travels to get south and to enjoy the sun from the north. So, everybody, as you said, really does look forward to it. It really puts heads and beds for that city. And it's a real party, a real festival and it's a gorgeous spot.
In addition to all that, it's great race and very compelling, very challenging, and a race that all the drivers really want to do well in because it sets the tone for the rest of their pursuit of the championship. They start off with momentum or they don't. So, we love it.
I've always described it as IndyCar's version of spring break, and I imagine a lot of your ticket buyers I know come from the Midwest. So, just how important is it to start that season off in a destination location like the Gulf Coast of Florida?
Yeah, it really is important. It gets lots of coverage. They're picturesque shots on NBC, people travel for it. And listen, having been there now for the last 10 or 11 years, you really look forward to it. It's a place you want to be to start the year.
So, you did something different this year. We're doing the interview here at The Thermal Club in Thermal, California, which is a private resort for automotive enthusiast located near Palm Springs, California. What was the impetus to bring IndyCar to The Thermal club, a spectacular place to open the season with the annual preseason test?
We wanted, both with our stakeholders and with the media that covers IndyCar and maybe more broadly, to send the message that we're going to do things differently. That we're going to really — this is going to be a year when we're going to expect our growth to go to a whole new level.
And so, what better way to send that message than to be in a place we've never been, that's exceptional. The quality of this place, the facilities, off the charts, the customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast, the drivers have a great time on it.
So, it really sent a message to our other promoters and to our drivers and to our team owners that something's up. And we want fans around the country and we want motorsports commentators and the sports industry generally, to know that something's going on with IndyCar this year.
Tim Rogers, the driving force behind The Thermal Club, told me earlier this morning that the end goal is he wants an IndyCar race out here and he believes it would be a great place for it.
I asked him if it would be more of a studio backdrop for an NBC telecast, say you could start your season earlier, maybe even the end of January, early February, and just get a big sponsor and you'd get a big TV rating. And he goes, “Well, I'd like to bring fans in too.” And he said he could probably put up enough for 5,000 seats for public viewing.
Is that on your radar screen to maybe bring a race here?
Well, Tim and John and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being host here for this test. Everybody's very happy we're here and I expect we'll find a way to continue to be here, whether that means a race. And if so, when, is really a bridge we're not ready to cross yet.
At least for now, as sort of reflected in your first question, we really like opening the series, the championship each year in St. Petersburg. So, we'll have to see. But it's a great way to start the year in this way. And so, for now, we're really delighted to be here.
You've made some changes to the marketing program. You're going to invest a lot more money into marketing. The team owners are going to be partners in that. How important is it to get the marketing message out about IndyCar being the series that people need to start paying attention to?
Well, it is important and we think this is the right time. There's a lot of, frankly, capital chasing sports making investments in sports. Motorsports has a lot of tailwind. Our TV rights are up at the end of the 24 season, and we think that's a big opportunity.
So, we are making very substantial investments in marketing and communications this year. We want to more dramatically grow our fan base and we want the sports industry to be saying, “What's going on at IndyCar? Something's up.”
And so, we want to be much more disruptive in our communications and our PR. We want to be focused more on big media markets, not just where we race. And I think we can have a big impact through this strategy and these investments.
Talking to several of the team owners about the fact that the team owners, some of the money that may have gone to them in the Leaders Circle program will now, be devoted toward the additional marketing campaign. And Bobby Rahal said, “I believe it's a very good investment because we're all going to benefit from it.” And to have that type of buy-in, how important is that?
Well, we've had a great relationship with the team owners as major stakeholders and there's been very significant alignment, frankly, in my experience for now 10 years. And I think this is like that. I think they all want to pull from the same ore and they want to see the sport grow and everybody is eager to see how high is up if we spend the money.
And they know that Penske Entertainment is investing the lion’s share of the increased spend and yet they made a helpful contribution to leveraging our investment so that the total is that much more. And I think it'll pay dividends for everybody as Bobby said.
One of the big marketing initiatives is obviously, the docuseries, 100 Days to Indy, which will be produced by VICE Media and televised on The CW. About a month or so ago, we did a show talking about that.
But they're on the ground now, doing filming and doing videoing. And it looks like they're going to have a lot of compelling storylines to cover. What do you think of the project so far?
Well, I couldn't be more excited about it. First of all, we see I think 17 to 20 cameramen and VICE personnel come in the place with their cameras out, with their vests on. So, they're conspicuous.
But I was kind of in the driver lounge the last two mornings. In comes, Pato and Will and other drivers, each with a camera almost stuck in their ear. So, they're getting shadowed.
And the great news is that Vice is reporting to us that the drivers and the teams welcome this and are granting great access. And that's really the key to the VICE people being able to tell great stories and build an audience.
There's probably a lot of people in the United States who look at, hear about the Indianapolis 500, but they probably can't pick an IndyCar driver out of a lineup. But now, you see them on TV, like you said, there's a camera following them around that people are going to now, say, “Hey, I saw that guy on TV.” And obviously, that's one of the major things that you want to do, is create awareness.
Yeah. I mean, look, our drivers are our stars and they're not well enough known and this series is part of that strategy, trying to improve on that.
But there's another aspect of the investments that we announced, which is an advertising campaign this year that's multimillion dollars more than anything we've done in advertising for IndyCar. And I just love the approach.
What we're doing, say for the first seven races this year through Detroit. So, we picked seven different drivers and we've worked with a great agency out of Denver and they've written seven different scripts.
And so, each one is the opportunity for a driver to talk about the upcoming race and to describe it in his own emotional terms about what makes it an unbelievable challenge, why it's tough, why it's special, why it's different.
And so, the seven drivers in the first part of the year will be the stars of this advertising campaign in a way we haven't done it. And instead of sort of a brand spot with a tag at the bottom that says, “Tune inSunday at 3:00 for St. Pete,” it's all about St. Pete as told to the eyes of the drivers.
And so, I think that's going to be another way to lift the profile of the drivers and connect the fans to the rhythm of our circuit.
On the track, IndyCar, president Jay Frye told the team leaders, the owners at the preseason test that they're doing away with the double points at the Indianapolis 500, will go back to single points.
A lot of drivers have been wanting that change because unless you win the race or you finish in the top five or the top seven, the double points can become a major deficit in the bottom half of the field. If a driver likes Scott Dixon or somebody has a bad race, they can leave Indianapolis with a huge hole. What do you think of that rules change?
Well, I think that it's broadly supported by the paddock, by the team owners and the drivers and probably our traditionalist hardcore fans. So, I think it's time had come.
And in fact, we run the models all the time, it hadn't made any difference, double points or not double points in terms of the outcomes. So, drivers and folks tend to feel like maybe they're disadvantaged or advantaged based on the result, but mathematically, just hasn't been the case.
So, it's one of those things that fans like to talk about. But we will get on with it and I think it probably won't make any difference in the result or the result that might have been had we not made the change.
Since double points were introduced in 2014, the winner of the Indianapolis 500 has not won the IndyCar Championship during that time. So, that is fairly well supports your theory that it really hasn't made a difference. However, for some drivers that leave Indianapolis in a hole, it was a pretty deep hole for them to dig out of.
Yeah. All I can say is, (and I'm not arguing, we're moving on with this) that it didn't take advanced calculus to look at the points achieved last year, for example, or any of the past years with double In Indy and do it again with single in Indy and it isn't going to change things much.
So, I think it's great when fans want to want to debate rule changes and what's the best way and all that, it's a way for fans to be engaged in the sport. And so, this change has been made and we're moving forward.
We'll be right back to Pit Pass Indy after this short break.
Welcome back to Pit Pass Indy. Here is the rest of my interview with Penske CEO, Mark Miles on Pit Pass Indy.
Speaking of the Indianapolis 500 on January the 12th, a major announcement was made by McLaren CEO, Zak Brown, NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick, that Kyle Larson, one of the great names in NASCAR, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion is going to compete in the 2024 Indianapolis 500.
That was huge news and Zak was able to keep it a secret. How big and how important will that be? Because Kyle Larson is beginning the prime of his career. He is only 30 years old and he's got a lot of fans.
A great driver and a great personality. We love that he's interested enough to pursue this and want to do it. I think it may be just the beginning of an increase in this sort of thing. And it's only good, I think it's good for NASCAR, I think it's good for Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and IndyCar.
So, the more the merrier. And who knows, maybe it's tough for an IndyCar guy to do it, but maybe it'll happen in the reverse too, at some point and I think that'll be good.
27-car field will start the season, that's a really healthy entry list. And these driver car combinations have been settled since November, and they've got decals on them, they've got sponsorship. So, that proves that business is booming here.
Yeah. To me, if you're a team owner, it's about the value proposition and that means the cost and the benefit and your ability to raise money to offset or do better than offset the costs.
And I think Jay Frye and the team have been very, very conscientious and thoughtful about managing cost increases for the teams. I think it's expensive, but it's affordable at the same time. And the fact that, as you said, the deliveries are all ready to roll means that the sponsorship is interested in the sport and growing.
So, we're in a really good place and it is a very healthy sign about the vitality of IndyCar racing.
An initiative that's very important to you is the drive for Equality and Change. It's entering its third season. It was announced during the COVID year of 2020 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when you had the first IndyCar and NASCAR doubleheader at the Brickyard.
Now, that it's entering the third season, you've got two talented drivers that are part of the program that have a chance to move up to IndyCar at some point, Ernie Francis Jr. and Myles Rowe. Where do you see that program as it enters its third season?
Well, I think we've invested more than 4 million with those drivers and for Indy racing. And I think that will just continue and hopefully, these drivers and others behind them will make their way into the Ladder Series and Indy NXT, and then hopefully, have a shot at being part of the IndyCar Series. So, it is really important to us.
It's tough. I mean, it's expensive and it's not just the money, it's finding the right talent with the right set of attributes to be successful.
And you have some senior management who are dedicated simply to that program. If you could explain to our listeners who they are in their backgrounds.
Well, we have a chief diversity officer named Jimmie McMillian, who's a fabulous guy with an incredible background, and he is very involved with that program on the track. But frankly, that's kind of the tip of the iceberg.
To us, being responsible and really caring about and encouraging diversity starts where fans aren't going to see it. It's our employee practices. We've worked hard to increase the diversity of our workforce, both full-time employees and seasonal employees.
We try to do more to find businesses we can do business with, so that there are more minority owned businesses and women owned businesses and veteran owned businesses that we spend money with, and much more.
So, last year we invited and hosted 10,000 diverse guests to come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And I'm sure that for the vast, vast, vast majority of them, they'd never been there before. And I think it's what we owe people.
When we heard people who live in Haughville in Indianapolis, which is just a stone’s throw away from the track, say that they didn't think they were welcome there because there were people with badges at the gates. It breaks your heart, it just can't be that way, especially at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 500. We feel like that's an asset of the city and state, it's got to belong to everybody.
So, we're making a real effort and we're making real progress. And our staff, led by Jimmie, are incredibly effective and passionate about it.
Do you believe that either Myles Rowe or Ernie Francis Jr. will be on the starting grid of the 2025 or 2026 Indianapolis 500?
I think they've got a real shot. Every opportunity is in front of them now, and I sure hope that's the case. And frankly, if it's not them, we'd like to see more women drivers in it. Diversity includes gender. And we want to see this infusion of diversity, and ultimately, that being the case at the 500 is kind of the prize.
Speaking of female drivers, you have a real opportunity with Jamie Chadwick, who's going to be in the Indy NXT Series with Andretti Autosport. She has a very good reputation in Europe. And for her to now, be part of the Indy NXT Paddock, which was formerly known as the Indy Light Series, what's the addition of her going to be like?
Listen, it's part of the program and it's fantastic, and she could be the next addition to diversity at IMS in May, and how good would that be? I don't know her yet, but all I've heard is that she's very, very talented driver and a great personality and we wish her well. And I hope that Indy NXT is the platform she needs to make her way up.
And of course, we have to mention your boss, Roger Penske, the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the owner of the IndyCar Series, the owner of the Indianapolis 500, the chairman of the Penske Corporation, winningest team owner in Indianapolis 500 history. Most successful team owner in American, if not the world, when it comes to auto racing.
He's not slowing down. He's in his mid ‘80s and he still stands on the gas as hard as anybody when it comes to getting things done. And just how inspiring is it to work for Roger Penske?
Well, that's the right word. He's a force of nature. I mean, we talk every day and we're the smallest part of his businesses. But he cares so deeply about racing and so deeply about the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, IMS and IndyCar. It's just truly inspiring. And it's true for Roger and everybody at Penske Corp.
He's intense about the effort, he is known for that. He expects everything to be done at the highest possible level. And honestly, it doesn't take very long without him ever saying it to anybody to get it and to have everybody from the first person you meet when you open the door at the admin building at IMS to everybody throughout the organization. You get the notion that we all care and that we're all trying to set the bar as high as it can be set every day.
Now, I've known you for quite a while, and even before Roger Penske bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar, you were a very motivated individual who got a lot of work done, was very organized, but yet it seems that Roger Penske has the ability to push you even further to achieve even more.
It's almost like he brings out that … I'm not going to say that he acts like a Marine, but one of the things the Marine does is the approach that you can achieve much more than you think you can. Is that what you've experienced working for Roger Penske?
Yeah, I think that's fair. And he never says, “You got to do this,” or, “You got to do this better,” or whatever. He leads by example. The standard that he sets in everything he personally does is the inspiring part.
So, you just want to do your super best for him and it translates to trying to do your best for IndyCar racing and for the IMS and Indy 500. It's a very exciting time to be at Penske Entertainment. And it may not be for everybody, but for the people who are there, we're committed.
And also, talking to Roger earlier today, looks really good. Looks like he's ready for another season. He is already excited. He's talking about the Daytona 500, a chance to win that.
How cool is it for you to turn on the TV when there's not an IndyCar race, see NASCAR race, and there's the president of IndyCar owning an NASCAR team that wins the NASCAR Cup Series championships, Daytona 500s?
I mean, in a lot of ways he's got the ability — just the Rolex 24 at Daytona, there's Porsche Penske Motorsport. Just to see your boss in IndyCar, who's so well connected with all forms of racing and all forms of business.
No, he's tireless and he is inspirational. And listen, it's not just motorsports. I see what happens with Penske Automotive Group and Leasing and his other companies. And he is a force of nature. And I feel like we're friends too, and it's a real joy to have that relationship with him.
And then finally, wrapping up with Mark Miles, the CEO of Penske Entertainment. You have a long off season, but in a lot of ways, it seems like you're so busy, the off season has probably flown by.
Yeah, we were starting to get questions about what's the plan for 2023 and beyond, especially for IndyCar. And the reason for that was we were doing a lot of work. I mean, this off season was intense effort to come up with what kind of investments would be the best placed to grow the sport in this season.
And so, it was kind of a quiet time, but it was a busy time and an intensive effort on the part of all of our organization. And it's not just marketing and communications. Jay and his organization do a great job as well.
So, yeah, but it's a whole nother gear when you can be sitting here by the track and hearing the cars run. And then ultimately, get to that first race in St. Petersburg, Florida. We can't wait.
That first race at St. Petersburg, Florida, of course, is going to be March the 5th, which isn't very far off.
Penske Entertainment CEO, Mark Miles, congratulations on bringing IndyCar to the level that it is at right now. Good luck in the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season, and thank you for joining us on Pit Pass Indy.
And that puts a checkered flag on this edition of Pit Pass Indy.
We want to thank our guest, Penske Entertainment CEO, Mark Miles, for joining us on today's podcast. Along with loyal listeners like you, our guest help make Pit Pass Indy your path to victory lane for all things IndyCar.
And because of our guest and listeners, Pit Pass Indy is proud to be the winner of The Best Podcast by the National Motorsports Press Association.
For more IndyCar coverage, follow me at Twitter @BruceMartin (one-word, uppercase B, uppercase M) _500.
This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to our production team. Executive producers are Brigid Coyne and Gerardo Orlando. Recordings and edits were done by me, Bruce Martin and final mixing was done by Dave Douglas. Learn more at evergreenpodcasts.com.
Until next time, be sure to keep it out of the wall.