DETROIT (December 22, 1999) - As the 20th century comes to a close, all eyes seem poised to take a look back - whether it is the last 100 years, the just-completed decade or the most recent 365 days of events.
For Championship Auto Racing Teams, a look back finds that, while the open-wheel sanctioning organization has existed only since 1978, the seasons of racing it has conducted since have seen great growth and change.
The 1979 season was CART's first and offered fans a total of 14 points events at just seven racing venues, six of which were ovals. And all were in the United States.
In 1999, CART ran a record 20 races, each at a different race facility on four continents. The FedEx Championship Series visited Canada, Japan, Brazil and Australia, in addition to the U.S., in 1999 and ran on nine ovals, seven temporary road circuits and four permanent road courses.
CART television in 1979 was available only in the U.S. This past season, television coverage was broadcast in 19 languages to more than 190 countries. The races were seen by an estimated 1 billion viewers.
"Our 1999 season brings to a close a 21-year period which saw a great deal of growth and change in open-wheel racing," said CART Chairman and CEO Andrew Craig. "Nineteen ninety nine was a year in which we saw several indicators move in a positive direction for us. We look to build on those key measures as we begin the new millennium."
CART domestic television viewership increased in 1999 for the first time since 1995. In the U.S., 29,483,000 viewers tuned in to CART events, an increase of 7.4 percent over 1998 according to Nielsen Media Research.
"We were pleased to see the increase in viewership in 1999," said CART Vice President of Broadcast Services Keith Allo. "In part, the increase was due to the addition of our race in Chicago but our audience also increased on a per-race basis and that is a positive sign for CART and the FedEx Championship Series."
When examining the 1999 spectator attendance, the figures compiled by Sponsors Report, which is published by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Joyce Julius and Associates, indicate that the FedEx Championship Series experienced a 6.4 percent increase in the number of attendees at CART's 20 events.
In the online world, CART's first-year relationship with Quokka Sports - one of the Internet's top innovators - has seen its website grow at a rate far greater than average Internet usage growth. Through October, visits to cart.com were up more than 120 percent, totaling more than 6.5 million visitors, according to I/Audit.
"We believe the way people follow our sport - and all sports - is evolving and the Internet plays a huge role in that development," said Craig. "Quokka has helped us place cart.com at the leading edge of change and we are pleased with the direction of the site."
Presence building is a buzzword at CART and the media coverage of the FedEx Championship Series from North America's top 100 newspapers increased 16 percent in the number of articles that referenced CART. The total circulation of those articles in the same papers represents a 21 percent increase versus 1998 - indicating the increases came mainly in the larger papers among the top 100. CART also saw more media requests for credentials to cover events than ever before - 10,700 vs. 8,500 in 1998, an increase of 25.8 percent.
On the marketing side, CART conducted more marketing and promotional programs in 1999 than ever before. Programs such as CART print, radio and television advertising placed the FedEx Championship Series before millions of readers, listeners and viewers in 1999. The CART-created year-end 'Fan Appreciation Weekend at California Speedway,' a cooperative cinema-advertising program conducted in conjunction with Target stores and several first-year CART programs aimed at kids comprised a portion of the elements of CART's marketing activities in 1999.
CART Licensed Products, the sanctioning organization's merchandising and licensing arm based in Atlanta that was initiated in 1997, moved, as planned, to profitability in 1999. CLP has 45 licensees in 1999, an increase of 22 percent over 1998, and gross retail sales grew to $57 million, an increase of 78 percent over a year ago.
"We are seeing several positive indications from 1999 that bode well for the future of the Champ Cars as well as Indy Lights and Toyota Atlantic [CART's development series]," said CART Director of Market Research, Nancy Miller Lewis. "Our research department will continue to monitor these trends in 2000 to make certain we are maximizing our marketing and communications programs to grow the sport."
CART's first official activity in the New Year will be its annual Spring Training, set for Feb. 8-10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. The FedEx Championship Series and the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship begin their seasons at the same South Florida venue on March 24-26. The CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship opens its season April 16 in the streets of Long Beach, Calif.