IRL's new television package teleconference, part 1

An interview with Tony George, Marc Fein, Scott Guglielmino, Terry Angstadt and Charlie Morgan Indy Racing League Teleconfence Transcript Thursday Aug 07, 2008 THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's...

An interview with Tony George, Marc Fein, Scott Guglielmino, Terry Angstadt and Charlie Morgan
Indy Racing League Teleconfence Transcript
Thursday Aug 07, 2008

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's special Indy Racing League teleconference. We're pleased to have several guests with us today to discuss the 2009 IndyCar Series media partnerships that was announced earlier today.

Joining us are Tony George, the founder and chief executive officer of the Indy Racing League; Marc Fein, executive vice president of programming, production and business operations for Versus; and Scott Guglielmino, vice president of programming and acquisitions for ESPN.

Good afternoon, gentlemen. Thank you all for joining us.

Earlier this afternoon the Indy Racing League announced multi-year partnerships with ABC and Versus that includes ABC continuing to air the Indianapolis 500 and four additional IndyCar Series races each year, with the remainder of the races moving to Versus, a growing cable outlet that is also home to the NHL and the Tour de France, among others.

Tony, let's start with you. As CEO of both the Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, can you share with us your reaction to the continuing coverage of the Indianapolis 500 on ABC and the new opportunities presented by Versus.

TONY GEORGE: Well, sure. Appreciate everyone for joining the teleconference today that will outline our media partnerships going forward beginning in 2009. I want to thank Marc and Scott and everyone at their organizations for getting us here today and working with my team here in Indianapolis, who has done an outstanding job.

We're very excited to be able to continue our 44-year relationship that we've had with ABC Sports. It's been one of the most enduring relationships in all of television sports. We're very proud of that.

I had as a priority to encourage our team here at Indianapolis to really focus on doing everything in our power to maximize the opportunities that we have with the new unified series, with the centennial year celebration that kicks off next year. So we went about in a very methodical way, organizing ourselves and sort of setting out our priorities.

First of all, we wanted to understand what was most important to our constituents. That was very pretty consistent with what our thoughts and feelings were. It was good to get that validation.

We also respect and honor our existing relationships with our current broadcast partners, ABC and ESPN. We wanted to do everything that we knew to make sure that we were serving the needs of everyone to the best of our abilities.

We consulted with them, got their concurrence that this was an important opportunity for us. And what we've come up with I think is really a very exciting opportunity. We were able to go out and engage the interest of most every potential broadcast media partner out there. What we found was that there was a lot of genuine interest in our property. There was a lot of excitement and buzz about the opportunities with the unification and with the centennial year coming up. There was even some interest from some entities that most wouldn't be familiar with.

Suffice it to say that we set out about trying to secure the best media partnership going forward that will allow us to grow this property. Again, having the opportunity to continue with ABC, but more I think that adds to the excitement is the fact that we're bringing in a new partner into this mix going forward that will give us the opportunity to expand our coverage, create some new programming that we haven't really seen in the past, but really to help us become a focal point of their new and growing platform. We're excited to be a part of it and to make this announcement.

THE MODERATOR: Scott, next season will mark the 45th time ABC will air the Indianapolis 500. Tell us how important it was to ABC and ESPN to keep that race on the network and continue one of the longest relationships in sports broadcasting.

SCOTT GUGLIELMINO: Obviously it was something we were focused on. As Tony mentioned, the partnership throughout the years has been tremendous. It was something that from the onset of the discussions that was a focus of ours. Our ability to land on an agreement that includes the 500 is something we're really, really happy about. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500, they're just totally unique and very special. We are very excited about continuing that relationship.

THE MODERATOR: Marc, this is obviously an exciting day for the IndyCar Series and Versus. Tell us about what it means to you and your network to add Indy Racing League programming to your lineup.

MARC FEIN: Obviously it means a lot. It's a great day for us here. We're very excited. We join two organizations that have a lot of momentum going, a lot of great things can happen over the long haul. Certainly the IRL, with the unification, with all the stars they have, the attendance, the ratings, for us with the new properties we continuously add, with our ratings and distribution growth, it really means a lot.

Our game plan of adding properties that we can really embrace and put our arms around and super serve those passionate fan bases, certainly the IRL fits in that perfectly. We were very excited to be able to get this deal done with them and look forward to great things over the next 10 years.

THE MODERATOR: I'd like to mention we have two other Indy Racing League executives on the call who are available to respond and offer their insight. Terry Angstadt, president of the league's commercial division, and Charlie Morgan, president and COO of IMS Productions, have both played integral roles in executing these partnerships.

With that being said, let's go ahead and open it up for questions for our guests.

Q: Scott, did ESPN make an attempt to contract for all the IndyCar Series races? If so, why not?

SCOTT GUGLIELMINO: I don't want to get -- I don't think it's appropriate or beneficial to get into the specifics of the discussions that occurred. Suffice it to say, I don't think there's a magic number of races that we were looking to land on. Clearly we focused on the (Indianapolis) 500 throughout the discussions. That's something we focused on. Ultimately we landed on the five races that we did.

Obviously we need to -- we're going to work with IndyCar for 2009 to figure out exactly what the other four races will be and where they'll be scheduled. It's something that we're looking to hopefully have those races fall around the Indy 500 so that we can, from a promotional perspective, use the massive audience that the 500 draws to help us.

Q: Tony, this certainly looks like it's good for the core fan, which will get additional programming. How does this help a casual fan that might typically drop by ESPN because of the brand name and also in terms of the sponsors that recognize ESPN as a brand - no disrespect to Versus?

TONY GEORGE: I don't know if I'm the best one to answer the question. I'm not sure that there is a good answer for it. I'm not sure that casual fans really drop by just to tune in to see what's going on.

I think we're looking to grow our property, and the best way to do that is to get more programming out there across more platforms. And certainly Versus offers us a great opportunity.

We still feel like our sport is of note and newsworthy. In as much, there will be coverage of the IndyCar Series and its stars, its racing events on ESPN SportsCenter and other programming that ESPN has. I don't think we're going to be totally devoid of a presence on ESPN.

CHARLIE MORGAN: I'll add to that a couple of things.

One, I think we felt the balance of a well-known broadcaster like ABC, widely distributed, traditional relationship, was critical to the mix to maintain just what you're suggesting: that we don't fall out of anybody's mind in just the general public, or as you said maybe the more casual fan. Having that presence in a traditional venue like that is very important. That's why that was critical to us to have that in the mix.

We also think that the general viewing -- I think the behaviors of people watching television have become much different than they were 10 years ago, and people find programs that they're interested in, and they seek them out wherever they may be located. As we look at the ratings that we've had just this year, in many cases, even with terrific programming on either sides of us as strong as SportsCenter, the ratings for the race itself was higher, which indicates to us we weren't just riding the tide of lead-in, per se, but that fans specifically seek this product and tune it in whether it was on ESPN2, ESPN, or ABC. We candidly believe that will continue to happen.

Q: Marc, is Versus just available on Comcast? What will you do to raise awareness outside of your actual broadcast?

MARC FEIN: We are actually in 74 million homes and are pretty much available everywhere in the country. In terms of people being able to access us, that's really not much of an issue. Certainly we always look to grow that distribution. The last few years alone, we've grown our distribution by 12 million homes and want to continue obviously to drive that home.

But the key point of information is that between our cable distributors, our satellite distributors, telcos, between everyone, we are available everywhere. If someone wants to get us, you know, they can get us.

Q: What does Versus do to promote this new property, either this or the NHL? What do you do to get the word out and draw fans in?

MARC FEIN: One of the key elements to obviously the deal is being able to go out and promote and market it and embrace it like we've done, like with the NHL and some of our other properties. Now that the deal is done, I think the fun part is going to be sitting down with our marketing team, the Indy team, certainly beyond just our own air, is to come up with a pretty robust marketing plan off our air, TV, radio, print, Internet, et cetera, to really promote this and get the word out. And certainly with the stars of IndyCar (Series) racing, we want to at that point into them, as well, to build the personalities more.

I think a key point to this is just not the actual off-air promotion we're going to do, but by expanding the windows for the events, being able to do more pre-race and post race, the day before, qualifying preview shows, we're going to get to know the drivers more, we're going to be able to build their personalities. They're going to be out there, you know, talking about, whether it's on ABC or Versus, where you can find the product. So I think it all kind of works hand in hand. We are really going to embrace this and push it like we've done with our other properties.

Q: Obviously, there's no shame in this, but there is certainly less promotion required to make people aware of ESPN than of Versus. Was this the IRL's idea to look elsewhere or was this ESPN's idea to suggest they wanted a smaller calendar?

TONY GEORGE: You were fading in and out.

But you can never have enough promotion. You always need more. We try our level best to get all of our constituents to help us do that. And we feel like we do a good job, at least try to do a good job, helping promote their business and their products and their reasons for being involved with us.

I've certainly noticed since 1990, when I became president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, things change. Things had changed from when I was a young man growing up to today when I've tried to understand and come to grips with change.

This represents change. It's my feeling that this can represent all the good things that are represented by change. Again, we have the continuity of continuing our relationship with ABC, at the same time working with ESPN in the production of those events and welcoming a new partner that will help us continue to grow and that we will help them continue to grow.

You know, those are exciting prospects as far as I'm concerned. So I'm not sure I know what to say other than this whole thing represents an opportunity for us to promote and to be promoted. That's what we're going to do.

I think if we have a conversation five years from now, we'll probably find that the world has yet changed again. But this is the start of a new partnership that involves, you know, some of the old with some of the new and on balance represents an exciting opportunity for the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Q: Is Versus paying a rights fee here or is it a revenue-sharing deal? How much of that was part of the discussions going into this?

MARC FEIN: I don't think any of us really want to get into too many details of the deal structure. Suffice it to say we think at the end of the day the IRL is certainly going to be compensated in a very fair way for their solid property. The way we obviously looked at the deal, too, as we went through it, it's made economic sense to us as well. Anyone from Indy can jump in there, as well. But we don't really get into too many details of that, other than we think obviously it was fair for both sides all the way around.

TONY GEORGE: Marc, I agree wholeheartedly with that. We're very happy with the deal and the way it's structured. Certainly the financial consideration was something that was important to us. We're very pleased with the way it turned out.

Q: You're not really answering the question. Is this a rights fee or not?

MARC FEIN: We at Versus don't discuss points and terms. I unfortunately can't answer that question.

CHARLIE MORGAN: And, likewise, as a result of the agreements that we have signed, we join Marc and Scott in agreeing that we won't divulge the specific terms of the contract.

Q: For the IRL officials, would you prefer to have the season opener at St. Petersburg on ESPN because it would give you better exposure? For the folks at Versus, would you prefer to have the season opener St. Petersburg on your network because you get to come out of the box immediately and show what you've got?

MARC FEIN: We want whatever's best for the league because I think ultimately ratings on ABC being up, is good for us. I think that's a discussion that, you know, everyone will certainly have. But we don't have a burning desire to have it go one way or the other, other than what we all think is the best structure for the league basically to get the most eyeballs and to get the thing going.

TERRY ANGSTADT: I think from our perspective, I agree with a lot of what Marc has said. At the same time having that extra hour preview show the day before and an expanded broadcast window on day of, we think we can show some of the great backdrop, scenery, the lively nature of that venue possibly more effectively with expanding programming.

So, again, as we've talked to a great balance either way, and may be able to showcase your community a bit more effectively with more programming.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony George