An Interview With: STEVE JOHNSON JOHN CLAGETT TONY COTMAN BART RIETBERGEN ERIC MAUK: Welcome to today's Champ Car media teleconference. We have a very exciting announcement concerning the 2007 Champ Car World Series schedule. Most of you have...
An Interview With:
ERIC MAUK: Welcome to today's Champ Car media teleconference. We have a very exciting announcement concerning the 2007 Champ Car World Series schedule. Most of you have seen the release in your e-mail box. We are coming to you from Las Vegas where we are in town for the Champ Car Winter Meetings where we get together with our promoters and talk about the plan for the 2007 season.
Before we get to that, I would like to introduce the participants in today's teleconference. We are joined by Champ Car president Steve Johnson. We are joined by executive vice president of development planning and governmental affairs, John Clagett, vice president of operations, Tony Cotman and the promoter for our new events in Europe, Mr.Bart Rietbergen. Thank you for joining us on the call. I'd like to turn things over to Steve Johnson for today's opening remarks.
STEVE JOHNSON: Thank you, Eric, and for our friends out there in the beautiful warm rest of the world, its 28 degrees here Fahrenheit; that's two degrees Celsius. So it's a little chilly in Vegas.
We are pleased to be announcing today that the Champ Car World Series will be returning to Europe for the first time in Europe since 2007 with races in Assen in Holland and Zolder in Belgium. Today's announcement gives Champ Car its busiest schedule in four years and will provide a tough challenge for drivers and teams that hope to dethrone three-time champion Sebastien Bourdais and Newman Haas Racing.
Champ Car is very much an international entity as evidenced by the multinational makeup of our drivers over last year, as well as by the demand for news and information that comes from racing fans around the world. The events in Holland and Belgium will usher in a new era marking the first time that the series has visited those nations. That will at the same time serve as a throwback for Champ Car; both venues feature long and challenging road courses that take us become to the days like Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones battled at Riverside or Watkins Glen, or more recently when Andretti went wheel-to-wheel with Mears and Rahal at Road America. I would like to congratulate John Clagett for bringing these events to fruition and bringing promoter Bart Rietbergen and his team into the Champ Car family.
ERIC MAUK: Thank you, Steve. Mr. Rietbergen, your remarks?
BART RIETBERGEN: We are very, very excited to get these events to Holland and Belgium, and we think this is really a new era of Champ Car where we really go international. I know you Americans talk about the World Series, but now really it is the world and we are extremely happy to be part of that.
I think it's a very interesting series, quite different from what we know in Europe where we will see very close racing and our fans have the opportunities to get close to the cars, in fact, they can almost touch them and almost touch the drivers which is rather unique. We will see racing cars instead of big trucks.
ERIC MAUK: Thank you very much and congratulations gentlemen. This TT Circuit Assenbrings the total of races for 2007 up to 17 events, the largest number of events on the schedule since 2003, the first time that Champ Car will race in Europe since the 2003 season when we went to Brands Hatch and Lausitzring in Germany.
Q: I don't mean to play devil's advocate, but Mr.Johnson, the last adventure into Europe was not an entirely financial success. And I wonder how these new two races are going to prove any better, financially that is.
STEVE JOHNSON: A lot of it depends on who your promoter is quite frankly. We are not self-promoting these races. And with Bart who is a proven business professional in that area, he understands that market, he really understands the television aspect which comes into play as well.
It's not that we are just going into that area for two races and leaving. Bart's got the television rights for the entire year for Champ Car to promote Champ Car throughout the year. He's got sponsors that are coming on board. So we feel we have chosen the right partner to lead us into Europe, and we think that's going to be the difference.
Q: Just one quick follow-up, will the teams, will they be - will they have to carry the cost of traveling over there themselves or will Champ Car pitch in for those costs?
STEVE JOHNSON: Those are contractual-type things, but let me put it this way. It's advantageous for the teams when we go international. Oftentimes the costs are absorbed by the promoter.
Q: Question directed to Bart is that there are sort of a lot of interesting geographical synergies here in that I haven't mapped it out exactly but it looks to me like geographically Assen and Zolder are about 150 miles apart and on back-to-back weekends. On the one hand, that would seem to be able to allow you as a promoter to sort of create some synergies between the two in terms of cross promoting and two-for-the-price-of-one sorts of deals. On the other hand, ultimately it's kind of the same market that you're going to be in two weekends in a row. Is this going to be somewhat of a challenge in terms of for some, basically, you know, getting the same people to go to the same races twice and I wonder if you could maybe talk about that.
BART RIETBERGEN: By American standards, you are right but we are talking total different countries. In Belgium we attract quite a bit of people from the French-speaking part of Belgium as well as France itself. It's also right on the border of Germany, and if you look at them geographically, you notice that there are 250 million living within 200K from both events so the spectator base is quite big. I just hope they don't show up all of them. (Laughter).
Q: Sort of to follow-up, with my earlier question, do you see a way of kind of cross-promoting the two in sense of giving some sort of, if you would call them discounts or some sort of package deals, spectators who would go to both races?
BART RIETBERGEN: We certainly do. In fact, people that buy one ticket are immediately seeing the other race as well, and there is a discount if they go for both events.
Q: The series has changed a lot in the past few years, a couple of years ago promoted itself the world's most diverse series and kind of gone back and forth on the European thing. Looks like about half the schedule is not in the U.S. and a quarter of it is, in fact, far-flung. What do you see as a vision? What's Champ Car's niche in the world of motorsports?
STEVE JOHNSON: Well, we are a World Series. I think before this it was hard to say that we had a global presence. We did obviously television-wise, but, you know, really we had Australia and North America.
Really, with the addition of China this year, with the addition of Belgium and Holland, that positions us as a true global motorsports leader worldwide. So we are not going to go probably more than 50/50 North America and other international venues.
So I think we have a very nice mix right now. We look at what our total schedule could be. I don't see us going more really than 20 events. As you know it takes a lot of time when you start traveling international.
So we've got room for some more additions and we are always looking at key emerging markets, markets that are important not only to Champ Car but to our sponsors and to our teams. And we take that into consideration as well.
So again, we want to be in the emerging markets and continue down the path as being a true international, world-class series.
Q: A follow-up a bit off-topic, we've obviously got into the new year. Is it difficult as a series when you have sort of so many driver/team combination changes from year-to-year, and at this point, it seems like quite a few are unsettled yet. Does that make it difficult to promote the personalities and the teams and the drivers?
STEVE JOHNSON: Yeah, it sure does. I wish I had a magic wand to fix that. I think it will be fixed eventually. I think we're maybe a couple of years away from it, but it might be one of those case where is there's more drivers than there are teams out there and people are in the middle of negotiating right now. I kind of wish the Sebring test was tomorrow and we could get the stuff ironed out. I think that's where time will tell. We'll see a lot of announcements. I know we will next week; somebody has to be piloting those cars around Sebring.
That's a good point and it does make it difficult for us. There's only so much we could control, and I wish I could control that piece but kind of out of my hands right now.
Q: Both part and Steve to comment on this, when you're running open-wheel cars in Europe, everybody says, well, is it Formulaq, or is it kind of like Formulaq. Can you maybe talk a little about what you guys are willing to do to market this thing to say, this is our own series - you may have alluded to this talking about fan access, but it's not F1, and this is why it's good; can you talk about some of the steps you'll be taking in terms of promoting this and to get that point across to some people?
BART RIETBERGEN: We are marketing it as the American equivalent of Formulaq racing because it basically is the same type of car, it's open-wheel racing almost the same sort of speed and power.
So we will see similar racing as to Formulaq. Obviously the attraction to the Europeans is that you will see quite a few pace cars during the event and close-up, and I'm sure we won't see drivers that are two laps ahead of number two. So it is much more attractive for both people on the track as well as on TV.
STEVE JOHNSON: I spoke several weeks ago in Monaco at a big motorsports summit there, and I was amazed at how knowledgeable the folks that were at the summit were of Champ Car. There was a lot of excitement. Going to Europe, we've all been talking about this now with Bart for, what, six months, and word has been out since, so everybody was just waiting for today so it becomes final.
But there have been a lot of discussions going on and there's a lot of excitement in Europe about Champ Car coming. I think a good part of that is because of the number of European drivers that we have in our series. We will definitely promote that. There are some that obviously are yet to go signed but there's a couple that are true heroes that if they step up, that's what the marketing will be built around because they will truly draw fans.
Continued in part 2