IN HIS OWN WORDS: SCOTT ATHERTON Scott Atherton offers his views on the progress of a 2006 schedule, the ALMS on television, and existing and future car counts in the series. Braselton, Ga. - It is a busy time of year for the American Le ...
IN HIS OWN WORDS: SCOTT ATHERTON
Scott Atherton offers his views on the progress of a 2006 schedule, the ALMS on television, and existing and future car counts in the series.
Braselton, Ga. - It is a busy time of year for the American Le Mans Series. Major planning and development is under way for the 2006 American Le Mans Series, most notably its full season schedule. With the 2005 ALMS winding down, we thought it would be interesting and insightful to catch up with ALMS President and CEO Scott Atherton and get his feedback and response on a variety of timely and relevant subjects:
Question: This is the time of year when people start focusing on 2006 and what the American Le Mans Series has in store. Where are we with the schedule for 2006?
Answer: Confirming a schedule is always one of the most challenging things we do because it involves not only confirming the event dates with the individual venues, but also how the schedule fits with each track's other events as well as other potentially conflicting events in the market. All of the venue details then must also fit with television availability - so it is a very involved and sometimes arduous process. The good news is that most of our events have established date equity, such that our 2006 dates should be identical or close to what was featured in 2005.
At this point, we are very close to being able to announce the '06 schedule. But because we are looking to add at least one and potentially two events, the implications that these new events have on our current schedule have delayed us slightly. Having said that, our schedule typically has been announced in October at Petit Le Mans, so even with this slight delay we are well ahead of our historical announcement date. Our current expectation is that we will have the 2006 schedule confirmed and announced within the next few weeks.
Q: The Road America renewal was a bit of good news. Does that establish some positive momentum as you are preparing the full 2006 schedule?
A: The extension through 2008 at Road America is without question very positive, and reflects the same type of growth and commitment associated with all our events. George Bruggenthies reported the best sports car crowd he's ever had during in his tenure as the GM at Road America, which is consistent with nearly all of our other venues. This renewal does set a positive tone as it confirms the ALMS platform is working for our event promoters - and this good news is not just limited to Road America. Bottom line, George wouldn't be renewing if the American Le Mans Series wasn't working for him.
Q: Has it been determined how many events the American Le Mans Series will run next year? Is there the possibility of new venues?
A: Right now we are expecting at least 10, and potentially 11 events. The addition of at least one new venue is certain. It's not a merely possibility; there will be new venues on the American Le Mans Series' schedule in '06. We went to some markets twice this year, and ideally we don't want to impact the same market more than once. Our desire always has been to grow by impacting important new markets and ideally eliminate duplication of existing markets.
New venues are always exciting. It's even better when the new venue opens an important business market that impacts all involved. That has been our focus in looking for new opportunities. A new event should not be just another race on the calendar; it should provide incremental business opportunities and exposure, and open new markets for our teams, sponsors, manufacturers, television partners and fans. That always has been the goal, and I believe we will achieve that with our 2006 schedule.
Q: Is the American Le Mans Series at a point where promoters come to you for events instead of the other way around? How much of an indication of growth and health is that?
A: For several years, we have been in the position of being on the receiving end of multiple inquiries for events every year. We've actually turned several opportunities down based upon criteria we have for adding new events. This year is no different as we've had offers by experienced event organizers for new events, but we are being very selective as to where and how we will grow the series. I'm confident that when our schedule is announced, the selection of venues, the markets represented and the television package that will go along with it will represent one of if not the strongest overall schedule we've ever had in the American Le Mans Series.
The fact that we are continuing to receive interest from high-quality promoters representing high-impact markets reflects the growth and vitality of the American Le Mans Series. With few exceptions, all our events continue to experience double-digit, on-site spectator growth, and our television audiences remain strong and respectable by industry standards.
Q: A schedule doesn't include just events and locations but, as you've already referenced, television. What news on American Le Mans Series television do you have to share? Is it likely that it will have more network appearances?
A: It's too early to speak in absolutes, but we are working very hard to provide what we believe will be the best overall television package in ALMS history. This could potentially feature an increase in network broadcasts, as well as a great package for our partner SPEED Channel involving our marquee endurance races. We tried some new and innovative things this year that delivered additional value and exposure to our sponsors, and we are committed to continuing this in the future. Finishing a television schedule falls under the category of "It's never done till it's done," but I am confident we will achieve our goals in this area, and with that done everyone will benefit.
On a related topic, the value that the American Le Mans Series represents to its teams, sponsors and manufacturers is tracked in many ways, one of which is the return on investments on our television broadcasts. We believe the American Le Mans Series has always represented the best value in motorsports, as evidenced by reports from Joyce Julius and Associates. Based on Joyce Julius' brand exposure analysis, sponsors of the ALMS received nearly $35 million in television logo recognition and verbal mentions in our first five events, which nearly meets the ROI figures for all of 2004! That's a very powerful statement of the American Le Mans Series' ability as an exposure mechanism for our marketing partners - one that delivers tangible, measurable results.
Q: The number of cars featured on the grid continues to be a topic. Is there any update you can provide?
A: While I would agree that the current car count is not up to our expectations, the quality of the racing continues to be outstanding. The good news is that there are new entrants that will be joining the series in the near future and others who already are confirmed for 2006. The recent announcement by IMSA regarding the eligibility of existing LMP chassis represents an opportunity for current teams to upgrade their equipment while making their existing race cars available to new competitors. IMSA has worked closely with the ACO to develop rules and regulations that maintain an incentive for teams to acquire new prototypes, while at the same time insuring that existing equipment can be competitively raced. In brief, we see the pipeline of entrants refilling in both the LMP and GT ranks with really exciting new content, and therefore a bright future ahead.
The areas of measure used to determine the health of any racing series are many and varied. While car count is certainly important, many other factors should be taken into consideration. Such things as manufacturer and sponsor involvement, spectator interest and television ratings are equally important. And in these categories the American Le Mans Series currently is achieving results that are at or above our historical high-water marks.
The caliber of teams competing the American Le Mans Series truly represents the best in the world. The fact that when the world's best sports car racing teams and drivers descended upon Le Mans for the 24-hour race this past June, nine of the 12 available podium spots, including the overall and two other class wins, went to American Le Mans Series teams. Our current situation is a classic example of quality versus quality. In the near future, we will have both.
Scott Atherton joined Panoz Motor Sports Group in 2000 as president and CEO. He is responsible for all aspects of the day-to-day operations of the series, including scheduling, relationships with manufacturers , the series' relationship with sanctioning body IMSA and with the Automobile Club de l'Ouest. He also oversees all of the motorsports holdings of the Panoz Motor Sports Group, including Road Atlanta, Sebring International Raceway, Mosport International Raceway and Panoz Racing Schools. In addition, he also is involved in the operation of Panoz-owned Elan Motorsports Technologies, which builds race cars and racing engines.
The next round of the American Le Mans Series is the Grand Prix of Mosport, set for 3 p.m. EDT Sept. 4 at Mosport International Raceway, with live coverage on SPEED Channel. Qualifying is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. EDT Sept. 3. American Le Mans Radio and IMSA Live Timing & Scoring will be available at www.americanlemans.com.