IRL: IRL-ABC press conference transcript

Indy Racing League-ABC Press Conference Tony George, Ken Ungar, Loren Matthews, Mark Quenzel, Mark Reilly Thursday, May 27, 2004 FRED NATION: Good morning and welcome to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We're happy to have all of you with us ...

Indy Racing League-ABC Press Conference
Tony George, Ken Ungar, Loren Matthews, Mark Quenzel, Mark Reilly
Thursday, May 27, 2004

FRED NATION: Good morning and welcome to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We're happy to have all of you with us today for an important announcement for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indy Racing League, ABC, ESPN relationship. We have a number of people here. I'd like to introduce some folks from ABC and ESPN who are out in the audience. Susan Wynne from ESPN, strategic planning. Lynn Meade with ESPN. He's director of programming and acquisition. Kelly Laferier from ESPN, the vice president of programming and acquisition. And Tag Garrison of ABC, the director of acquisition and programming for that network. They will all be around afterwards in addition to those on the day as to answer any questions you might have about the announcement today. With us today we have from ABC, Loren Matthews, who is the senior vice president for programming for ABC Sports. We also have with us Mark Quenzel, senior vice president for programming and production for the networks. And Mark Reilly, the vice president and general manager of ESPN for international sales. Ken Ungar, the senior vice president for business affairs for the Indy Racing League. And the president and CEO of both the IMS and Indy Racing League, Tony George. Tony will open this with a few comments. Tony.

TONY GEORGE: Thank you, Fred. As I'm sure most of you know, 40 years ago the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and ABC Sports forged a partnership which today stands as one of the most enduring in all of sport. In 1999, ESPN joined ABC Sports as a partner in broadcasting the Indy Racing League events, and now today ABC, ESPN and ESPN International together will extend their rights to broadcast an exciting Indy Racing League, IndyCar Series events globally through the year 2009. I'd like to personally thank everyone at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy Racing League, ABC Sports and ESPN for all their hard work to make this possible. A lot of people were involved, and we're excited about the extension of this relationship and working together in this partnership. It's been very gratifying. I would like to now turn it over to Ken Ungar, who as Fred mentioned is senior vice president of business affairs for the league.

KEN UNGAR: Thank you, Tony. In 2003, we grew attendance to Indy Racing League events to its highest level. We set a record for the fastest oval race, and the closest top three finish. We welcomed new teams, drivers and sponsors to the Indy Racing League family. With our strongest lineup of cars, drivers, teams and suppliers, we are poised for even more growth. And today we're pleased to announce a contract extension of our contract with ABC Sports and ESPN through 2009. Both networks have brought increased production values to the league's broadcasts already since last season, and we're now committed to working closer than ever to promote and bring a more consistent schedule to race fans so that we can grow viewership. We plan on using all the resources that the broadcast and cable networks and will continue to work closely to develop and enhance the promotion of our sport between the networks, the leagues and its sponsors and advertisers. Through this agreement, we will utilize all of the ABC and ESPN media platforms to best tell the compelling story lines and grow the national audience for the Indy Racing League. I'd like to personally thank Mark and Loren and their staffs who worked so well with our teams as we worked through this agreement extension. I'd also like to personally thank Lynn Martinek and Gretchen Snelling from our staffs, and give special thanks to Mr. Buddy McAtee, who is our vice president and executive producer of IMS Productions. IMS Productions has been the league's and the Speedway's television arm for many years, and we're pleased IMS Productions will have a key role in our television productions now and in the future. I'd like to introduce Loren Matthews, senior vice president of programming for ABC Sports.

LOREN MATTHEWS: Thank you, Ken. Really, what a kick this is as we sit here literally a few days away from presenting the 40th Indianapolis 500 on ABC, which by the way is sold out. We like to get that point across. We're very pleased about that, as well. But we're literally into our fifth decade of the Indy 500 on ABC. To be able to sit here and participate in an announcement that the relationship with the Speedway, ABC and ESPN will continue on for several more years, keeping the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on ABC, you only get so many shots, guys. You go for it. This is really terrific. When we talk about ABC Sports as championship television, no greater example than the Indianapolis 500. I would also like to extend on behalf of ABC Sports our thanks to Tony and Ken and Buddy McAtee and their team which worked diligently with the ABC and ESPN teams, and this encompassed a lot of people from the ABC side. Tag Garrison, I want to make special mention of who worked so hard on this from the network side. Also want to mention that we do have a new production team in place. The coordinating producer is Curt Gowdy Jr., who won many awards over the years, veteran of ABC Sports. In addition to the Indy 500, we have a commitment to grow the IndyCar Series. Ken already mentioned a consistency of scheduling that we expect to have in the future. ABC and ESPN have made significant commitments to grow this property, and we're confident that the IRL will, in fact, benefit from the many platforms that ESPN and ABC have to offer promotionally, marketing, distribution-wise. To put the relationship in context, the Indianapolis 500 on ABC is certainly one of our crown jewels. To tell you how long it's been on, it's been on longer than college football, longer than the British Open, several years longer than Monday Night Football, and only two years behind the Little League World Series in terms of the length of this relationship, which means that we've all gone through on the network side many management changes. Tony has met mor e presidents of ABC Sports than I have. But under Tony's leadership, and George Bodenheimer, who is the president of ESPN and ABC Sports, 40 years frankly may be just the tip of the iceberg. And we certainly hope so. The best deals are the ones that work for all concerned. There are a lot of hours put into this. The end result is a deal that we are all confident will work for everyone involved. We look forward to the next 40 years of having as much fun as we've had for the last 40. As previously, Mark Quenzel, my counterpart as ESPN, I throw it to you.

MARK QUENZEL: Thanks, Loren. We're thrilled to be back here. We haven't been here for 40 years since 1987, which is a longtime in partnership with ABC. We're very, very excited to be back for 2009. I think it speaks to our commitment, our belief in the Indy Racing League. I think it talks about the stability that we have in the Indy Racing League, will have going forward for the teams and the sponsors and the drivers and everybody associated. I would like to thank obviously Tony and Ken and Buddy and their staffs, not just for doing "the deal," so to speak. I have to tell you historically I've been involved in this for a long time. We have a lot of partners, as I'm sure you know, at ESPN. Bar none, this group, led by Tony, is the most forward-thinking group that I personally deal with. It's never about today or yesterday or next week; it's always about the long-term future of the league. I think that's what this deal speaks to. It speaks to what we're going to do to grow the league, how we're going to market the league, produce the television. From an ESPN perspective, most people say, "That's cable television." I feel obligated to tell you, if you don't know, it's not. Is all about, magazine, radio, all the things that we bring to the table. Obviously, on ABC Sports, as well, to try and hit racing fans and sports fans wherever they live. We just found a piece of information the other day that we did that said on any given week, 94 million sports fans are involved, touch ESPN media in some way, shape or form. That number was astounding to me. Our goal here obviously is to bring as many as those 94 million people as we can to the Indy Racing League and let them experience what we think, if you look at it, the racing is extraordinary competitive. They're adding drivers, they're adding teams, they're adding sponsors. I think we're extraordinarily encouraged. You heard Loren talk a little bit about the league, other than the Indy 500. Justifiably, everyone is sort of focused on the Indy 500. But I'd like to focus more on the league itself. We've always believed the key to growing the Indy 500, even past what it is now, as one of the great, great spectacles in all of sports, is to grow the league. That's really where we're focused. We're going to bring a lot of assets to growing the league. We think we're very, very enthused to try and make sure that when we sit here in 2009, that we all have a good story to tell. I think that's extraordinarily important. I also think, if you look at the deal from an ESPN standpoint, it really works out well for us. As Loren said, it's a deal that works for everybody. I think it works for the IRL, for the reasons I mentioned. It also work for people that are important to us, our affiliates, the people, the magazine. It is a broad, broad array. This is not a television deal, it's a media deal. I think that works for everybody. I think the bottom line here is if you take anything out of this, I'd like you to take our belief in the IRL as a growth proposition and the long-term commitment and stability that this brings to this sport. I think it's extraordinary, and we're very, very enthused. I'd like to throw it for a minute, speaking of one of our major, major divisions, to Mark Reilly, vice president and general manager of ESPN International sales. That's a big part of this deal, as well.

MARK REILLY: Thank you, Mark. I just want to also add my thanks to IMS, IRL, particularly Buddy, working with him with regard to our role within this new agreement. And also my domestic colleagues who worked shoulder to shoulder with us to put together this deal. We're very pleased and excited. Just to explain a little bit, we have two roles at ESPN International. One is that this is pulling our pillar programming elements within our family of international networks worldwide, as well as we act as the syndication distributor for various per country deals on behalf of IRL and the Indianapolis 500. So with those two roles, we're very much involved with all aspects of this arrangement. I think in my experience these last several years, the interest worldwide for the IRL series and for the Indianapolis 500 has grown. Evidence of that is clear enough. I believe this weekend we'll have 14 of the starting 33 drivers are from outside the United States. We have strong interest in local heroes from Brazil, from Japan, from Mexico, United Kingdom, and of course even places like New Zealand. So there is strong interest for this. Then I'd just like to conclude with the remarks that we are now clearing for this particular event this weekend 205 countries worldwide, and we'll be reaching 420 million potential viewers on a global basis. Not only for this race, but we'll be sustaining those figures throughout the balance of the season. So this is our largest audience yet, and I think it just goes to show we've been growing year on year, and that the potential for this is unlimited. Thank you. Fred.

NATION: We'll take a few questions.

Q: There's been some talk that perhaps the starting time of the race would be changed for a better television audience. Anything like that in the works, Ken?

UNGAR: We've committed as part of this relationship to looking at the issue of start time to maximize the audience for the Indy 500. That is something we will be looking at in the future.

Q: One of the big things that's gaining like a younger audience, are you planning on doing any lifestyle shows separate from the segments that go on in races, 30-minute show on ESPN 2 that's weekly that's lifestyle?

QUENZEL: As part of this deal, we've committed to a number of specials, at least one of which will be produced by our ESPN entertainment group, the same group that produces the made-for-TV movies, produces the series, basically the group that is in charge of the sort of cutting-edge shows. So, yes, there will be. I don't know that it makes sense necessarily to do weekly shows. I think weekly shows, we're preaching to the converted, I guess is the best way to say it. It's hard to sustain that cutting edge with the younger viewer. We'd much rather concentrate on very high-end shows that will promote, get out there, try to reach a broader audience. Yes, there is a commitment to do that. I'd also tell you in general ESPN, if you look at our demographics, if you look at, we're a very, very young audience to begin with. I think if you look at that, goes to your point, the features that we're going to do in the races, the storytelling. I should mention, we've committed for most of, at least this year and pretty much all of the races next year, to add an extra half hour to the race windows so we can tell more of the stories so we're not jumping on the air and off the air, but to try to tell more of those stories and try to humanize the drivers. We think that's a big deal.

Q: Ken, a night-time race at Indy 500, a possibility?

UNGAR: Obviously, there's a huge logistical hurdle to overcome, that is the expense and sheer infrastructure of lighting the largest stadium on earth. That issue has been floated at various times. I'm not sure what momentum it has at this point.

Q: You mentioned viewing in 205 countries. Is the possible the international viewership will surpass the domestic?

REILLY: We only get ratings the same way we do here in the United States. It would have to be estimated. Something we could possibly look at, I suppose. I'll talk to Buddy about that at another time. The potential might be there, I suppose, at some point.

Q: How does this new arrangement affect the Infiniti Pro Series, the coverage of that series?

QUENZEL: We've committed to televising the Infiniti Pro Series. There are 12 races this year, and we're going to televise all 12 of them. We understand, you talk about the long-term growth of the league, the key to that is obviously televising the future stars of the Indy Racing League. We've committed to that, and we're doing it.

Q: Ken, any increased presence on "SportsCenter?" I know it's tough because you're getting pulled. Can "SportsCenter" during the week of the 500 get more time, can they talk about that instead of the match that Agassi lost?

UNGAR: First of all, I would argue that we have "SportsCenter" upstairs for three weeks, to some degree. We don't -- the "SportsCenter at Indy" that we've been here for now for the last 21 days or so is a major commitment on our part. We don't do that for hardly anybody. We do it for major, major sporting events. This is one of them. The "SportsCenter" brand being attached to that show is a big deal, candidly. As it relates to "SportsCenter," I think it -- I do we do get a fair amount of coverage on "SportsCenter." It is a difficult time of the year. I mean, as you know, we're into NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, the baseball season, the Triple Crown. There's a lot of things going on. I do feel from my perspective, would I like to see more? Yeah, I would like to see more. I think you would like to see more as this deal. I don't think I can sit here and tell you unilaterally there's going to be two, three, four more minutes. But I think you'll see a strong representation on "SportsCenter."

NATION: Thank you very much.


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony George
Tags TV