Ok Toronto, Time to Step it up.

I tend to put blinders on, and sometimes get a little “cheerleadery” when it comes to my home race.
I mean, who wouldn’t.
You want to support your “home team”
You want to encourage people to come to your event.
But… it’s time to take the gloves off me thinks.
Not in a “negative nellie” way, but in a “come on gang, we can do a hell of a lot better” way. Bear with me if it is one long run on sentence, but  I’ve had a week to mull this over, and I have a lot to say.

Unless you had your head up your ass last weekend, there was no denying that attendance was down this year. All three days. I thought maybe it was just my imagination, so I polled a few of my colleagues at the track, and looked back at previous photo galleries. Nope. Definitely down.

Of course, long gone are the days when the daily gate was proudly and boastfully posted on the wall in the media centre, so there are certainly no hard numbers to compare. Sure, the suits say all the right things pre-event;  all their targets have been met or surpassed, etc… but the proof is in the pudding. The pudding being the bodies on the property, and bums in the seats.

Perhaps their targets are being met. But don’t we want to surpass them at some point? Shouldn’t the goal be “sell out”?

Free Friday

It’s a great idea in theory, but it doesn’t hold anyone accountable to actually go or come back. “meh, it’s free, I might go… maybe”

Then once they’re there, no one does anything to convince them to come back! There should be ticket kiosks on site (not outside the doors/gates) where people in attendance on Friday can purchase discounted tickets for the remainder of the weekend. (maybe even 2 for 1) Get them while they’re on the property. Make it enticing. Give them an incentive to return. If they are still undecided, give them a coupon for a slightly lesser discount online. Maybe we call it “$5 Friday” Pay five bucks on Friday, get a minimum of 5 bucks off your ticket for the weekend. It’s still “free” essentially, but there is more incentive. Here’s some additional incentive, for every $5 ticket sold, Honda Dealers of Ontario (who sponsor the current Free Friday) match that with a donation to Make-a-Wish.

Sidebar: In my opinion, Make-a-Wish got screwed this year. Yes, $35,000 is a nice take away, but when you look at last year’s release and see that they took in $75,000 last year, it makes me cringe. (ironically last year’s total was down from the previous year) I completely get that they were hoping that Paul’s ride would materialize (didn’t we all??) and that they didn’t want to oust him as their ambassador. But without the driver suit signing as incentive, and all the lead up events, they were behind the eight ball on this one. No offense to Paul, but they need to find another driver or team to promote the Make-A-Wish efforts at the track and make it more visible. Simon Pagenaud was wonderful with the kids on Saturday, but aside from the M-a-W kids, parents, organizers and me, no one knew that or saw it. I don’t know why his car couldn’t have carried the Make-A-Wish branding. Maybe have special race day sidepods or engine cowling that people could sign for a donation. (yes I know there are all sorts of logistics involved, but I’m just riffing on ideas out of frustration)

Speaking of kids, where are the kids? There are hundreds of summer day camps in the GTA. Why aren’t they brought in on the Friday? Why aren’t they gathered inside the Direct Energy Centre for a giant group lunch (brown bagged or supplied by sponsor/partner Pizza Pizza) hosted by the Key members of the various series racing that weekend. Bring in a couple of drivers, talk about race cars! Talk about being a driver! Make it educational somehow. Send the kids home amped up to Mommy and Daddy with a coupon in their hand for a “Family Pack” (admission & a coupon for Pizza, and a discount on swag) Bodies in seats, happy and fed, and walking billboards post event.

Speaking of walking billboards…

The best kept secret… the Race.

Yes, it was thrilling to see what I’m sure amounted to hundreds (if not thousands) of full-sized wall billboards and many electronic billboards plastered with James Hinchcliffe likeness all over this city. Hell, there is one at MY bus shelter across the street. Yay GoDaddy! Yay James! So proud of you honey!

But, here’s what the billboards didn’t say: James is an IndyCar driver in the race coming to OUR town on July 8th.

They see the poster. They see the driver’s suit. They see the GoDaddy green. They likely think Nascar. They thought Nascar when Danica was plastered all around, and she wasn’t even in Nascar yet. They think “buy a website”. What they don’t think is “I need to buy a ticket to that race”

To their, Honda Indy Toronto’s, credit, the light standard banners were all around the city, and they were new this year. But again, no dates. (guess it’s cheaper than reprinting every year, and I certainly don’t want to see the ghetto “let’s just duct tape over the old dates from last year” banners ever again. (one embarrassing season of those was enough)

Also to their credit, there was heavy airplay of the commercial. (but again no mentions of particular drivers, including Canadian drivers) But in these days of PVR’s, people rarely watch live local programming anymore, which means the majority of eyes aren’t falling on the commercial, but rather fast forwarding past it. There were no billboards for the race itself, nor was there a TTC campaign either via posters in vehicles or wraps on the outside of the vehicles as in previous years. I find this rather appalling with Toronto Tourism as a partner.

Sidebar: Speaking of Toronto Tourism… Where is the love TT?? I’ve been to several races stateside this year. At each one, in the media centre, there is a plethora of swag boasting about, and promoting, the local host city. What to do guides, logo’d note pads/pens, maps, tote bags, etc… etc… The best one was in Detroit! In addition to everything listed, there was a handy little kit containing all the things you may need at the track. I live in an amazing city. And the infrastructure is already in place to promote it. Yet there I was on Thursday night of race weekend creating pdf’s and restaurant listings for all of my hungry visiting colleagues, teams and drivers. Seriously?? I will happily work with Toronto Tourism on a Race Fan’s Guide to Toronto. Let’s do this right people.

So what was missing? (besides the crowds)

The buzz! The energy! The anticipation! The stories coming into the weekend!

IndyCar goes largely ignored 11months out of the year up here now. Partly due to the shitty coverage in Canada. The mainstream media only covers the series when something big or controversial happens, or when the circus comes to town.  Other than that… crickets…

No Paul Tracy in the race this year. Not much interest.
Sorry Tags. Sorry James. I love you guys, but I’m just calling it like it is.

And while people are just expecting James to jump in and take over as the heir apparent, which he will eventually, no doubt about it. (or no doot aboot it 😉 )  (Canadian humour there) he’s not quite there yet. And that is not a slight on James, rather it’s due mostly to the fact that he went largely ignored in his ladder series years because most covering the races here focus solely on the IndyCars/drivers and have blinders on when it comes to the kids coming up to fill their shoes. On top of that, the majority of the media focused on Dario coming into the weekend. *yawn* Yes, I get it, lot’s of championships, lot’s of Indy 500 wins… so what. That isn’t going to get bums in the seats, at least not here in Toronto.

The sudden, super quiet exit of Budwiser didn’t help matters either. No bar promos, no corporate comps to the bar owners to help push the race and the product. No contests leading up to the race, and no beer gardens on site. It’s lovely that the Ontario Craft brewers got some love, and that the attendees got real beer at the track for the first time, well…  ever, but come on folks, let’s not stray so far from what we know works!

Terrific! License the property! Have the “cigarette girls” (or in this case beer girls) walking around selling libations. That’s a great addition… but you have to also provide gathering spots for people to sit and enjoy and socialize, as well as watch the races. That is a big part of the race weekend here in Canada. Big gaping empty spaces of concrete with nothing set up do NOT add to the atmosphere of this once great event. Maybe stateside that meandering/drinking, stand against the fence thing works. But we’ve had amazing food and beer gardens on this site for 20+yrs. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

And seriously, what has become of Thunder Alley? It used to be a vivid, loud, jam packed part of the property. Party central! Beer gardens, bands, hospitality suites, sponsors/vendors promoting and sampling their wares. Now it’s a poorly laid out, confusing area, sparse in it’s offerings.

Sidebar: one more thing while I’m on a role. Stop making the Canadian stops on the circuit feel like the ugly step child. No tweet ups, no official series swag, no scanner rentals, no fan village. REALLY?!
There is a lot of talk about how important the Canadian fans and the Canadian market is, but it seems like a lot of talk and not a lot of action.

It’s bad enough we get screwed out of every official contest and app, oh, and all of the auxiliary programming (not to mention live broadcasts of the races) but to be so egregiously overlooked on our home turf, despite hosting two races and having two Canadians in the field is pretty sad.

It’s not like these races are a surprise. There is plenty of time to set up a fan village arrangement with more Canadian centric sponsors. (if that is indeed the reason the Fan Village gets left behind for the Canadian leg of the schedule)

If you’re going to adopt nuances from the American events, why not focus on the fan inclusive, value added events/additions. Just a suggestion…

This isn’t some hokey state fair.
This is a multi-million dollar international sporting event.
It used to be one of the jewels in the triple crown of open wheel racing (Long Beach, Toronto, Surfer’s Paradise) Big money, big business, big buzz, celebrities, & charity events. The whole city was involved months in advance, coming to a raucous crescendo during race week with galas, driver parties, public street parties, all in the heart of the city (not at the track) which was crucial for attracting casual observers and passersby. All of which was covered by a live news feed from every media outlet in the city.  It was a major event on the city calendar, that everyone wanted to be part of or associated with.
I want that event back.
We owe it to the history of this great event.
We owe it to the drivers/teams that take such great pleasure in coming up here to entertain us, and all those who came before them.
We owe it to the city to be worthy of the praise and adulation, and the city owes it to the event to provide as much assistance as possible to roll out the red carpet and make this glorious weekend in July the destination it once was, and should be for years to come.

Time to step up Toronto. We can do better.

FYI… Toronto Tourism, Torchia, Honda, Honda Indy Toronto, IndyCar… I’m available for hire. My words aren’t just empty arm chair criticism. I love my city. I love this event, and I love IndyCar racing. I have busted my ass for years to support and promote you all, and will step up if asked.

I’ve put my money where my mouth is. Will you?

18 responses to “Ok Toronto, Time to Step it up.

  1. Well done, and they would be well served to pay attention to what you say. Us “hicks” down in IMS country have a saying “I may not be the smartest kid in class, but I don’t have to eat shit to know I don’t like it” Perhaps xthe right person will read this, wipe their face clean and do something.

    • Thanks Jim. I’m hoping that even if it’s not acknowledged in anyway, it’s taken to heart and received as constructive suggestions as it was intended. Even with all of it’s faults, it’s still a great event in a great city, but it has been and could again be, spectacular. 😉

  2. Banned from Meesh

    Edmonton this year is what you are wanting for , tons of local promotion, lots of community events, too bad TO has gone downhill.

  3. Banned from Meesh

    Go to http://www.raceweekedmonton.com This is something that every city that hosts an IndyCar race should do, get everything auto, gearhead, racing related, and put them in one place for everyone to see. The days of Molson sales reps flooding every bar they serve are gone. It going to take a different approach, such as Race Week Edmonton has done.

    • I’ve seen that site. Most of those events have absolutely nothing to do with the race or the weekend. It’s just a listing of random events that could possibly have some crossover, but not really. If that works for Edmonton, great. More power to them.

      But I don’t see that as a viable solution, not to mention that it has zero to do with what I’m talking about.

  4. Banned from Meesh

    It has everything to do with what you are talking about, getting some sort of grass root movement to promote and get the word out in the city. Get into the the real world. Nothing is going to be like it was in 2000 with CART. What is your fantastic solution instead of bitching about it so profusely? At least the race and everything else related to motorsports here in Edmonton is getting promoted. Toronto has nothing promoting the race!
    It has everything to do with what you are talking about,

    • right. LOL. Whatever Mike.
      Why is it that you are here again?

      I’m going to go back to my real world now, you enjoy your fantasy world.
      Btw, got your message from some random dude in Toronto to “punch me” if he saw me.
      Stay classy dude.

  5. Great Blog post, I agree 100%.

  6. Amen, Meesh!! I just hope the right people get to read this and ACT on it. Hey, Toronto Tourism, give this woman a job!!

  7. I appreciate the candor here, Meesh, and the “ideas for improvement” way it’s presented. Rose-colored glasses do nobody any good. Your status as a Toronto-loving Canadian just gives this more sincerity.

    • Thanks Bill. I feel it’s only fair to hold the same microscope over your own race. It’s a terrific event, and the fans/teams/drivers love it! But there is always room for improvement. (and yes, I love’s me some Toronto-Canada! )

  8. Pingback: ‘Kroc Hunters : The Steven Malman Cars Blog

  9. I luv chicken

    So what’s missing?
    The product.
    Did you also ask yourself why CTCC, and NCATS weren’t there?

    • Oh I definitely questioned it. From the time the first press release came out. First I was told the line up wasn’t finalized. By race weekend… when it was clear it was still the same, I didn’t get any official explanations, but I got some unofficial hearsay explanations.

      IMO, it was a very weak line-up compared to last year. Not to mention for those covering the entire Road to Indy (there are only a handful of us) there was no downtime in the schedule to catch up/process/write etc… other than the Ferrari Challenge sessions!

  10. Absolutely spot on review of the event. We returned to the Toronto Indy this year for the first time since 1994 and man have things ever changed! I was shocked at how restricted fans are from walking around the track to take in different corners. The entire North end of the track was off limits now.

    Your comments about a lack of places inside the grounds to buy/upgrade tickets hit home. I would have paid the $35 for a garage pass if I didn’t have to walk all the way out to turn 1 to purchase one. Can they not have a booth near the paddock to buy a pass?

    The lack of a major beer sponsor was just fine with me. I enjoyed a few of the craft brews on site. What was a problem for us was the total lack of any other beverage than beer, water or Dr. Pepper! The girls DON’T drink beer and there was not a glass of wine or cooler to be found anywhere! Oh I’m sure their was plenty in the corporate vip areas. But what about the paying fans looking for something other than beer?

    If the wives/girlfriends aren’t having a good time at the races.. then nobody is having a good time at the races! And they won’t be back.

    My son LOVED the Honda display and the junior riders program. We do have Chevy and Firestone companies in Canada right? We must, I have both parked in my driveway. Where were their displays?

    Living in London, Ontario its the same distance for me to go to Detroit as it is to go to Toronto. We went to both races this year. With a better fan experience for HALF the ticket price, as sad as it makes me as a Canadian, I’ll go back to Detroit again before Toronto.

    • Thanks for the “man on the ground” perspective Mike. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just being too critical and that maybe those just there for the enjoyment of the event don’t see or miss what I do. But I had a couple of conversations with spectators this week, and now with your comments, I can see that I am indeed on the same page.

      That’s crazy about the lack of beverage options. (I’m working the whole time, so I didn’t really pay attention to what was being offered)

      I can understand no Chevy displays, considering this is a Honda branded event. ( I don’t recall a Honda display in Detroit, but Chevy was more than represented) But Firestone could easily do something. Hell, any number of individual or team sponsors could step up and represent in Canada.

      Your last point is the most poignant, and the one that the powers that be need to really pay attention to. (even if they think I’m talking out my ass)

      People want value & a good experience for their hard earned money.
      With Detroit back in the game, and not pulling any punches when it comes to pulling out all the stops to make it a great experience, in front of and behind the scenes, (the media were treated awesomely all weekend, which not only make the experience more enjoyable, but encourages you to encourage others to partake) Toronto really needs to not become complacent, and certainly not cut anymore corners.

      I’ll be in Detroit again for sure, so maybe I’ll see you there!

    • I luv chicken

      You expected something from the Toronto promoters?
      Too bad. They don’t make one “Green” with envy, but leave an “UnSavoree” taste, after every event.

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