An interview with Terry Angstadt, Jeff Goldberg and Bob Jenkins
Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us this afternoon as we prepare to open the 2009 season this weekend in St. Petersburg. Joining us in a few minutes will be Ryan Hunter-Reay, Eric Bachelart and Alex Tagliani and also Darren Manning. Ryan signed with Vision Racing to drive the No. 21 car this season while Alex was announced earlier today as the driver of the No. 34 Conquest Racing car for the event in St. Petersburg, and Darren will be driving the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold car for the race at St. Petersburg.
First we'll start off with Bob Jenkins, Jeff Goldberg and Terry Angstadt to talk about the debut of the IndyCar Series on VERSUS. Good afternoon, gentlemen.
Last fall VERSUS signed a multiyear agreement to be the exclusive cable television home of the IndyCar Series. The partnership includes more than 130 hours of programming this season, including live coverage of 12 races, which includes the season opener at St. Petersburg and the championship race at Homestead Miami Speedway. VERSUS kicked off its coverage with a series of one-hour shows in March.
Bob Jenkins will call the play-by-play for the broadcasts with Jon Beekhuis and Robbie Buhl providing analysis from the booth and Jack Arute, Robbie Floyd and Lindy Thackston reporting from pit lane. Jeff joins us at the vice president of programming for VERSUS, and Terry is the president of the commercial division of the Indy Racing League.
Terry, let me start with you. There are obviously a lot of aspects to the partnership with VERSUS, and we've kind of gotten an introduction to their coverage and their enthusiasm toward the IndyCar Series with the series of preview shows that aired on Saturdays in March. What kind of response have we seen already from the airing of those shows?
TERRY ANGSTADT: It's just been great, it really has been. We have received a number of communications from the fan base, as well as suppliers and sponsors and partners. They are just absolutely thrilled to see our content out on air prior to the season starting. So it really did start, I think, with a lot of creativity in the development of the shows as well as just getting the season started, a lot of the stuff that was shot at Homestead at our first test.
We have just received a lot of good communication. People are excited about the start of the season, and we could not be more excited to start the season with VERSUS.
MODERATOR: Jeff, obviously you guys at VERSUS are new to the IndyCar Series. You've had a few months in the offseason and the opportunity at a couple Open Tests to kind of get an introduction to what the IndyCar Series is all about. What have you guys taken away from those opportunities that might translate into new things we'll see in the broadcasts?
JEFF GOLDBERG: I think one of the things we've really been just pleased to see is first, the Indy team is just great partners. What we've learned is that they have a great brand, and it's all about speed and technology. We're going to try to do our best to convey those important qualities of the league and the racers to the fans through our telecasts.
MODERATOR: One of the things that's new, as well, at least new for the IndyCar Series, will be the preview shows the day before each race. Can you give us an idea a little bit about what the look and feel will be like for those shows?
JEFF GOLDBERG: One of the keys to our success, has been super-serving our fans, and so we really want to do that, as well, and that's why we want to bring these qualifying shows the day before the race. We're going to try and bring real insight and get the viewers more inside the race and the racers, and that's what we're hoping to do with those telecasts.
MODERATOR: The on-air talent that I ran through there a few minutes ago have got a lot of experience in the booth and on pit lane. Tell us a little bit about the mix that you guys put together and how you guys sorted through and put that team together.
JEFF GOLDBERG: Well, after we did the deal, we said, OK, we've got to get a great on-air announcing team together that's really going to convey the excitement that unfolds on the racetrack and really super-serve the viewer and get them really in-depth analysis with the drivers and the team strategies and the course.
So when we kind of used that filter. Looking around to see who were the best and most knowledgeable folks we could get together it was a pretty easy decision there with Bob and Jon and Robbie, and of course if you add Jack Arute and Robbie Flynn and Lindy trackside, it all kind of fell into place.
MODERATOR: Bob, you've been around the IndyCar Series paddock for several years, and especially the Indianapolis 500. Tell us your perspective, your thoughts on coming back and taking the play-by-play role with the IndyCar Series and what fans can expect.
BOB JENKINS: First of all, I'm just really excited to be back in TV. It's been a while since I had a job in that area, having worked the last two and a half years in radio. But it's just great to be back on TV.
Really, I think the thing that I'm looking forward to most is providing race fans with what they have been asking for for several years now, and that is expanded coverage. The IndyCar Series, the Firestone Indy Lights have great racing. They have great personalities involved in it, and we're going to try to expose that and show people exactly how good our sport is and how friendly and cool the drivers are. With the expanded coverage that we're going to have on day-before telecasts wrapping up qualifying and setting the scene for the race the next day, and the expanded coverage of the race itself with a rather extensive pre-race show and then a post-race show, that's what race fans have been wanting and that's what we're going to give them on VERSUS.
MODERATOR: You've had the opportunity obviously to work with Robbie Buhl in the past on the Firestone Indy Lights telecast and I know you've had a chance to meet the rest of the on-air folks, Jon and Robbie and Lindy, at the Open Test. How have the three of you gelled, and has there been enough time already to start developing some chemistry amongst yourselves?
BOB JENKINS: I don't think we'll actually start chemistry development until we actually go on the air. It's very difficult to do that even when you're rehearsing, even when you're auditioning as we did. It's going to take a race or two to get that rhythm going.
But I can tell you this from meeting everybody in Homestead, that everybody has an incredible passion for our sport. Everybody is very excited about what their roles are going to be, and that in itself, I think, is enough to set us on a good plane as we head into the season.
Jon is very, very good technically. Of course he's a former driver. Robbie is a former driver and a current car owner, so you bring those two perspectives to the booth. Jack Arute of course has an incredible history of doing pit reporting. He will be down there with two relative newcomers, but they're certainly not newcomers to auto racing, are Robbie and Lindy, and you put them all together and I really believe we have a top-notch group of people to show the world exactly how great this sport is.
MODERATOR: There's obviously a lot of excitement around St. Petersburg. We tend to focus on the drivers and things like that, but for you guys and yourself personally, any jitters going into this opening weekend?
BOB JENKINS: No, I don't think so. I've done this a lot and so has everybody else. One of the other things that makes this such a comfortable situation is Terry Lingner, who has been hired as the producer of the races. Terry and I go back to 1980. We have been business partners, we have been friends, and he is just an incredible producer and is going to bring another element to the telecast that we haven't seen perhaps in the last few years. And Rich O'Connor, who has been working in the previous years on ESPN, he's going to be producing all of the pre-race shows, and so no, I really don't think we'll get into a nervous situation.
One of the things I want to stress to everybody, especially my people in the booth, is have fun. This isn't brain surgery, this isn't rocket science, just have fun, be yourselves, and do what you do best.
Q: I guess my question would be for all the VERSUS guys or anybody that wants to comment on it, but could you comment on the innovation say in the past decade or so that has brought the race closer to the fans, and not only innovation that's in the past, but what are you looking at going forward, something coming down the road that might even enhance it even more than say the past decade or so?
JEFF GOLDBERG: What we want to do is bring the race as close to the fan as possible, so we're going to use all the bells and whistles available to us. And as far as in the future, we're going to look at all -- any new technology that's developed. I'm sure as we get through this initial season that will probably start giving us ideas of where we can enhance technology-wise once we start really getting our hands on the production of the races.
Q: Can you pinpoint any point in the past that's seemed to give racing a spark because of improved technology like HD or anything that --
JEFF GOLDBERG: I think HD really makes -- especially with the IndyCar Series, really just makes them pop off the screen. They're just so fast and just visually so unique to look at. I think the HD really gives you a much better sense of the speed of the race.
Q: The last question is I've been doing this for about 10 years and I recently got to, at Disney, ride in a -- I do mostly NASCAR, and I finally got to ride in an IndyCar at 160 miles an hour, and "wow" is my comment. But that's what I'm wondering, how a fan can really understand just how fast and how low to the ground and how much you feel that. Is there anything there on the path that can bring that out without actually getting into it?
JEFF GOLDBERG: I think you'll see in our telecast, we're going to -- the fan is going to feel that wow. I'm positive of it. Again, Terry Lingner is the best race producer in the business, and he's got all the bells and whistles at his disposal. That wow factor is going to be there day one.
BOB JENKINS: If I could add to that, Terry is an innovator. He is a traditional producer, but he is also an innovator. Now, you'll see on NASCAR telecasts a thing called the Gopher Cam, and don't be fooled, that things goes back to the '80s, and Terry Lingner was the first to suggest that a camera be put in the racetrack at Indianapolis Raceway Park when we used to do Thursday Thunder. So Terry is an innovator. If there is something in the queue that might make the race fan enjoy the product more, he will be aware of it and try to implement it.
TERRY ANGSTADT: I'll add to that, as well. One, I'm thrilled you were able to jump in the Indy Racing Experience in Orlando. That's a fun thing to do and truly gets you as close to the sport as you can get. But I also think, which was another Indy Racing League first, the 360-degree panning in-car cameras are pretty special and I think comes as close to giving a pretty unique view. As you know, you can dial that up on IndyCar.com and complement the broadcast with the race control product. So that I think also comes into play a bit.
Q: I have a question for Bob Jenkins. I'm going to put you on the spot a little bit being the play-by-play announcer. Can I have a prediction on who you see is going to win the championship this year, if you could take a second to talk about that.
BOB JENKINS: Well, I was afraid somebody would ask me that question. It certainly has no answer, because as I look down the entry list for this race, there are at least eight or 10 drivers that are extremely capable and could very well win the championship.
But because of a number of factors, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Dario Franchitti is going to be the champion this year. I think Dario has maybe the attitude that he has something to prove. It didn't work out for him in NASCAR. I think he is back with a vengeance. Combine that with the fact that he is with one of, if not the, No. 1 team in the IndyCar Series with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and I think you have a very good candidate for the championship, but let's not count out a lot of other drivers.
Q: You don't think that a year off away from the sport will have any negative effect on him then?
BOB JENKINS: I don't think so. I think he's proved that the two tests that we've had that he's not going to -- hasn't lost a thing in his year at NASCAR. He is going to be competitive both on the street and road courses and on the ovals.
Q: This question is for Jeff. I just wanted to know if VERSUS is going to continue growing the cable reach that they have. I'm not sure what the exact number is. I think it was like 74 or 75 million, I may be wrong, but I just want to know if you guys are going to keep growing on that number heading into Indianapolis, and towards the end of the season how far do you guys want to grow that number?
JEFF GOLDBERG: The 75 million cable homes you're asking about? Right now we're in more than 75 million U.S. homes, and yeah, we're out there looking to keep that growth going. We've been on a huge tremendous growth the past few years with regards to our cable reach. NHL helped us a great deal, and we're looking for the Indy Racing League to help us with that next growth spurt. We've grown more than 500,000 homes in March 2009, so we're still seeing some nice growth spurts, and some of that can be very attributable to our deal with IndyCar.
Q: Just to follow up, I'm also noticing a bit more promotion as far as on TV, not just on the Comcast-owned networks but also on a regional and national scale promoting the IndyCar Series and the channel itself. What is the best case scenario? What do you guys really want to see out of I guess this new marketing push you guys are having heading into 2009?
JEFF GOLDBERG: Are you talking about our Indy marketing or just our marketing push in general?
Q: I suppose both, because not only am I noticing Indy ads, I'm also noticing ads for the channel, as well, showcasing all the different sports you guys have. I just wonder what's the best case scenario you want to get out of it?
JEFF GOLDBERG: The strategy with the marketing is to get the word out about VERSUS and how we're the home of the NHL, the Tour de France, extreme cage fighting and now the IndyCar Series. We want to make sure everyone is aware of it. We're only a little more than two years into our brand name change, so we want to make sure that we keep on reinforcing what VERSUS is all about and make sure viewers know the great sports properties like IndyCar that are on and when to catch their favorite sports.
Q: When most of us got involved with cable television back in the early '80s, ESPN had about the same viewership as a top-10 city, and it's grown to what we see today. What are your projections for where VERSUS is going to be after this year?
JEFF GOLDBERG: I think after this year we're going to continue our really rapid growth spurt. We're the fastest growing cable sports network in the country. 2008 was the network's most-watched year ever. We were a top-five network among all ad-supported networks and viewership growth among men 18 to 34. The average age dropped dramatically in four years from 47 to 43, so that's the youngest median age ever for the network, and we just want to keep that momentum going. It's a great momentum, and we want to just keep on fueling that down the track, so to speak, and we're hoping that IndyCar helps us in that goal, and we're sure it will.
Q: Terry, I saw the report that the other day that TV sales are going great. With this economy being the way it is, do you see that continuing, or are we worrying about it fizzling out on us?
TERRY ANGSTADT: It's a tough economy, so far so good, and we'll just kind of see how it goes. But the ad market has responded well to the IndyCar Series on VERSUS, so we're sure that will continue.
MODERATOR: Bob and Jeff, thank you for taking the time to join us today. Appreciate your insights into the coverage that we can expect and have already seen in the last month with VERSUS, and we'll let you guys go.
Terry, I do want to ask you one more question before we let you go, and that just relates to the series of announcements that we've seen these last couple days. We've seen Ryan Hunter-Reay signing with Vision, Alex Tagliani at Conquest and Darren with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Can you tell us a little bit about the league's role in working behind the scenes with the teams and the drivers to put these deals together?
TERRY ANGSTADT: As I've said before, one of the many challenging aspects of our business is to really try to align kind of the goals and objectives of suppliers, sponsors, drivers, teams, venues, fans and viewers, so talk about a complex business model. But there is nothing more important to us right now at this stage of our development than having a strong car count. And I think in particular when you see a couple of -- we had a couple of real projects. When you see the talent and the marketability of a Ryan Hunter-Reay, believe me, we were just working hard trying to make sure Ryan got in a car. He's arguably one of our most talented drivers, clearly one of the most marketable and very important for our business to have on the track. And again, Ryan has worked hard. His camp has worked hard. We had a lot of people pulling in the same direction.
And yes, we certainly try to use as many league assets and as many sponsor relationships, business-to-business opportunities that we try to connect, and in this case I really do, and I've said before, compliment, not just because he's my boss, but I compliment Tony (George) for really taking the opportunity that I think was right for our business. It was right for Ryan. It was right for his team, to really make that happen. And to see Alex's ride firm up, see Darren and Dreyer get the second car going, I mean, that's really exciting stuff.
We were hoping for 22 to start the season. I think we're there, and I think it's going to clearly go up in Long Beach. So again, I think a lot of good, hard efforts in the off-season are paying off in that very important car count.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Terry. We appreciate that, and we appreciate your time, and we'll let you go, as well.