You can’t handle the truth!…

or can you?

I’ve been mulling this one around for a while now, and as we get deeper into the depths of the silliness that is silly season, mired knee deep in rumours and hearsay and bad news, I thought I would purge the brain and perhaps start up a conversation with y’all to see how you feel about it. Bear with me as this is going to be pure stream of consciousness…

This stems from a couple of incidents this week. Firstly, the not so surprising report that Rahal Letterman may or may not, but probably not, but they don’t want to say No just yet, so they’re going with ‘we’re still working on it”, but who are we kidding, it’s probably not going to happen, and if it does, it’ll only be for the 500, proving once again that the business model for this series is all wrong cause it’s crazy to market an entire team/season around one race… and…. wait, I lost my train of thought…

where was I? Oh ya, there was a big kurfuffel over an AP article that hit the newswires on Thursday. An innocent little 2 paragraph note saying that RLR was likely not going to answer the bell in 09.

Well, as always happens with these AP articles, it got picked up almost instantly by everyone and their brother… and their brothers brother. In the process it got misread and re-titled and the sky was falling and the series folding and… well you get the picture.

When it landed in my hands, it came as no shock to me, as I had just had a conversation with the PR guru at RLR, wherein he had told me pretty much the same thing. “Nothing is set, it’s not looking good, but we’ve not given up yet” So when I presented this “breaking news” to the 100 or so people that religiously follow OWW.net (we’re hoping to kick those numbers up a notch this season!) I was careful to use journalistic buzz words like “allegedly”. I was also able to dig into my personal stash of correspondence and add another quote lending credence to the story while supporting the “we’re not dead yet” theory.
Of course I still willingly wrote an amendment to the story immediately when the RLR team went into spin control about an hour later.

Yesterday a couple of other tidbits hit the interweb rumourmill highway. As one involved a friend, I immediately reached out to clarify the story. Turns out it was much ado about nothing and I was asked to nip it in the bud if possible. I won’t repeat it as we all know how broken telephone works.

I will say as well though that I do believe where there is smoke there is fire… this is inbred in me from years of being a Champ Car fan and proclaiming “it’s only a flesh wound” while series bled to death before our very eyes… but I digress..

So here’s the thing… every week there seems to be a one step forward/two steps back situation. Every week another little “hey didja hear??” rumour makes it to the surface (both positive and negative) and rides off in an internet air bubble… to be popped sooner or later by the fickle finger of truth.

So what’s better? Blind faith that the season will happen, while we swat at the rumour bubbles, or a consistent, controlled message, released by the teams/drivers themselves. (and here is where we get to the actual purpose of this long winded ramble-a-thon)

I believe, especially in this economic climate, and especially after years of both sides of the split riding the precarious “will they or won’t they answer the bell” fence, that it is important for everyone; teams, drivers, series, to stay ahead of the rumours and control the message.
The off season is a breeding ground for negativity and doubt. Sure we all know in the back of our minds that things slow down, people get laid off, sponsors fall away… because we’ve been through it season after season. And season after season we laugh it all off at the first race when the green flag waves.

But what of the new fans who aren’t aware of this? What of potential sponsors who may be interested but are put off by the spinning and beeping of the backpeddling news stories?

Wouldn’t it be nice to get a little weekly or heck, how about monthly updates from the shops themselves. “we’re on our annual break, the crew has been let go temporarily as a cost cutting measure, but we are confident that come (Jan? Feb?) we will regroup to prepare for the season ahead” blahdy blah blah… or a brief Q&A with the team owner reflecting on the past season and their hopes for the one ahead.. How about a “hey isn’t our sponsor great!?” article. You know the kind of thing that there is no time for during the season or would get buried by all the other news, but in the off season would be a nice thank you to the sponsors that are still sticking it out, and would act like a big dangling carrot to sponsors that are on the fence.

I personally am a “give it to me straight” kinda gal. I want to know, for better or worse, what the situation is, so I can prepare or rally or whatever. If it’s bad news, tell it to me straight, up front. It’s not going to get any better the longer you hold on to it. Case in point, RLR. They know they are in a shitty situation. Why give a misconstrued quote to Mike Harris at the AP only to have to fix it later? Why not utilize the awesomeness that is your director of communications, Eric Mauk (little plug for my bud!) and put out the story yourself? “The struggles of a team trying to survive in trying times” Right away you’ve garnered the sympathy of people who will rally around you rather than the suspicion of folks who now feel you are back-peddling.

As a potential sponsor I would be more inclined to hang my hat on a team or driver who maintained a positive buzz in the face of a negative situation, than one who remained mum while rumours of their demise swirled the drain.

IndyCar itself gets a B+ for their off season efforts. There has been a nice mix of fluff, and information and the occasional fire outputting since the checkers waved in October. Every week some little tidbit of information about the series or a driver lands in my inbox. That to me signifies strength and growth or at the very pessimistic least, sustenance. If all of the teams/drivers within the series followed suit, and if other series did the same, then we wouldn’t be subjected to months of speculation every off season. We would all be more inclined to talk UP the series rather than talk it down. That in and of itself can only be seen as a positive in a time when the decision to support can be made or broken based on the smallest perception of “this might not be a good thing”

So, my lurking interweb brethren, what say you?

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7 responses to “You can’t handle the truth!…

  1. “What of potential sponsors who may be interested but are put off … ?” — That’s what I’d been thinking!
    “the decision to support can be made or broken based on the smallest perception of “this might not be a good thing”
    It’s like dating- one should appear healthy, positive, energetic, upwardly-mobile, … only moreso, if you’re nothoping for dinner but millions of dollars.

  2. That’s very well said. I can understand why teams and series principals often fall into the trap of “hope it goes away” (I do that too often :/ ) but you’re right that things go much better when there’s candidness. That said, where do you think the line resides between careful dissemination of information and making sure to keep things close to the vest. I know on another blog you commented about the times when they talk up “sponsorship opportunities with a big name” only for it to fizzle. Are there other examples like that?

  3. Just a comment on the RLR situation. I’m beginning to think the story spiraling out-of-control was good for the team. They were able to create a buzz. I even saw the news story on the MAIN PAGE of certain sports websites. Now when RLR talks to sponsors, they can say, ‘we’re a big deal in the IRL. Did you see how the public reacted to news of our rumored departure.’

  4. Evan-> The line is somewhere between “we are working very hard behind the scenes to secure sponsorship for the upcoming season” and “we had a meeting today with a really REALLY big company and are 99.9 % sure it’ll happen and you’ll be blown away!”

    Example one: informative & hopeful
    Example two: set up for failure and disappointment.

  5. LOL Joel… I guess that’s one way to look at it.

    It’s funny, by virtue of their name only, they are perceived as a much bigger and more successful team than they are. Perhaps that is working against them.

  6. I think it’s very simple: you either have cash in hand and are going racing or you don’t. RLR wants needs a sponsor to race, so they put this out there as an S.O.S. as they circle the toilet. It would be irresponsible not to. But at this point, it’s fairly clear that it’s wishful thinking. We can be pleasantly surprised at a few extra cars that might win the sponsor lotto or show up with blank sidepods, but I think we know (for the most part) what we’ve got already. Most companies that are going to write big checks have done so. What’s done is done – let’s go racing with what we’ve got.

  7. Thanks. 🙂

    It feels like I’ve heard the 2nd one too often in racing (not just IndyCar or Champ Car).

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