How to keep the Edmonton Indy alive: Hicks on Biz column originally published Edmonton Sun, July 28, 2012
The Edmonton Indy just had its eighth birthday.
That’s right. Though it’s been a bumpy road, the race has never not been held since Greg Macdonald (now back in the outdoor advertising business) persuaded Champ Car to put Edmonton back on the car-racing map in 2005.
Through near-bankruptcies, forced changes in ownership, city subsidies and crisis after crisis, this race has never missed a beat.
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There was a bit of tizzy after last week’s race, when race producer/owner Francoise Dumontier of Octane Motorsports suggested Octane needed more business support and better attendance before it would consider extending its agreement with IndyCar and the city (as landlord) beyond 2013.
While there are challenges and a few potholes to be filled, there’s no reason for doom and gloom.
In fact, the Edmonton Indy’s odds of not only surviving but prospering into the long-term are better than ever.
The IndyCar league doesn’t release race attendance numbers. Octane Motorsports as a private company releases no profit or loss figures. So we don’t have a lot to go on.
But the race is well established with a strong enthusiastic fan base (due as much to the Edmonton Sun’s support as anything else – our readers are race fans) and corporate base to grow from.
The IndyCar league itself is stable. With our strong dollar and economy, Canadian cities are now the most lucrative mid-sized city stops on most North American tours, be it rock bands or car races. Edmonton’s disposable dollars are second to none.
The Edmonton Indy has more television exposure than ever in the USA, and TSN will air it in Canada next year.
The dots are in place, community business leader and race enthusiast Greg Christenson suggests. They simply need connecting.
Top of mind would be the City Centre Airport land. Octane needs security of location before it can settle into a long-term marketing or selling of sponsorship opportunities to continental or global companies.
Eventually, the land will be redeveloped into a very exciting, futuristic urban village. But any such site redevelopment is at least five years away and the redevelopment project is so big that it’ll be phased in, and each phase will take years.
There’s no reason the city can’t commit to at least another three years, 2014 to 2016, on the current site.
Local business support: For whatever reasons, Montreal-based Octane all but shut its Edmonton Indy office after the 2011 race, not gearing up until March, when former Sutton Place hotel manager and race enthusiast Ike Janacek was hired as general manager.
Ike’s a community guy. He and his staff now have 12 months to pound the pavement, to build relationships, to pro-actively find out what the business community wants on the race site over the weekend, and how to provide it.
The Edmonton and Northern Alberta business communities are low-hanging fruit waiting to be plucked. There’s a ton of money out there in the energy sector and its small-to-medium-size suppliers, with a culture that’s a natural fit with racing.
If corporate boxes are well-marketed in the dozen or so energy-rich towns of Northern Alberta, that aspect of the Indy could easily be 50% bigger. But they, like everybody else, need to be wooed.
The title sponsorship: Why wouldn’t a major Alberta-based energy company jump at this vacant opportunity? Suncor/Petro-Canada is the biggest player in the oil sands, has major refinery operations in Edmonton, and 48 Petro-Canada gas stations within Greater Edmonton alone.
Big energy companies likely haven’t been properly asked. Octane may need to build strong long-term relationships in corporate Calgary. The suits in the executive suites need to be persuaded of the advertising value of such a sponsorship … over hundreds of other similar events asking for those same sponsorship dollars. These things take years.
Still, if an Alberta energy company was predisposed to put community/advertising dollars into their own backyard (besides the Calgary Stampede), The Indy has a bullet-proof sports sponsorship business case.
Off-site, the all-volunteer Race Week committee has done a superb job with limited resources – The Sherlock Holmes classic cars display in Rice Howard Way, the Ford Fun Zone off Churchill Square and a major partnering effort with the Taste of Edmonton beer garden come to mind. That’s where public funds or resources – from the city or provincial recreation/tourism budgets, or from the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation – could be efficiently used.
Finally, in Edmonton’s business community, let’s resurrect the networking/marketing/relationship-building power of a good party. The Edmonton Indy provides that opportunity. If a dozen medium-to-major companies held corporate parties within shouting distance of one another in the downtown on Indy weekend, we’d have something akin to Stampede corporate spirit.
It all goes together: Security of place, producer commitment, off-site and on-site activities feeding each other, a sense of camaraderie and a good time, a gathering place where like-minded people want to be.
The coming year is the ideal time to pull it all together, making the event so strong that pulling it from Edmonton would simply make no economic sense whatsoever. Let the planning begin!
This ‘n’ That
*Excellent choice by the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, hiring 43-year-old Brad Ferguson as its next President and CEO. As a long-time private and public sector management consultant, Ferguson is well-connected, an intelligent, business-savvy life-long Edmontonian who brings Next-Gen thinking and attitudes into a position of considerable persuasive power.
Brad comes from good stock. Dad John Ferguson is chairman of the Suncor board of directors and a past chancellor at the University of Alberta.
Just one request, Brad: Could the economic development authority’s name revert back to the original Economic Development Edmonton (EDE)? That name was so much snappier and memorable than the clunky “Edmonton Economic Development Corporation” and its equally ponderous acronym, “EEDC.”
*Could Big Oil/Alberta/Canada satisfy British Columbia’s desire for a bigger chunk of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline pie by building a refinery in Prince Rupert, thus shipping value-added petroleum products to China rather than raw bitumen?