Welcome to Thursday everyone. Hope everyone has enjoyed the new content as much as I have. The new dirt tracks are interesting, cushion update a little controversial, the LMP1s are awesome, and the Sonoma GRC track greatly surprised me.
We have been talking about a lot of controversial subjects this week. Some have rustled some feathers, others not so much, but that is just fine as it is still an important discussion to have.
Today is going to be the marketing mega article. We have brushed on some things in some of the past articles, and done a slight overview, but today we are gonna dive in head first.
So the way I see marketing working within the realm of sim racing at the moment it can sort of be divided into 3 parties. iRacing, the teams, and the drivers.
Lets start with the obvious one:
This part of the article is so rough for me.
On the one hand iRacing does a number of things right, but on the other they do a lot of things wrong.
Starting with the good, iRacing have done a phenomenal job at marketing themselves to real racing fans. iRacing has gotten onto real cars at the various levels of american motorsports, they sponsored a 6 hour endurance race, and they have Jeff Gordon advocating the usage of the sim during the live NASCAR broadcasts. That is a fantastic accomplishment.
In addition some of the iRacing announcement videos are amazing. This mostly affects the existing membership, however things such as the announcement trailers for the Audi 90 GTO and the Nissan GTP ZX Turbo were some of the finest bit of video advertising I have ever seen. The old school feel, with modern shots, brilliant onboard clips, and interviews with both Hans Stuck and Geoff Brabham were nothing more then pr0n for racing fans of the 80s and 90s. And we have seen similar high quality teasers for a lot of the other content.
That said, some of the content gets left behind. It has happened in a couple of the past builds. Just this week we have gotten 2 LMP1 cars from the most prolific manufacturers that have ever raced Le Mans and we got the Dallara IR18 before it ever hit the race track in anger in the real world. Now not to down play the importance of that Nissan GTP and Audi 90 GTO but those cars are not nearly as important to the sim as the 3 just listed. The LMP1 cars had sim drivers salivating across the entire community and there is no other sim where high level and realistic Indycar racing is even possible.
Those 3 cars deserve the production value of the Audi and Nissan cars. Now I know that dealing with manufacturers can be a bit rough, and I also know that there can be hangups with manufacturers okaying content up until the last second. However, the initial announcement for the content, or that its releasing in the build, shouldn’t be coming from Tony on the forums. It needs to be coming from an ad.
And that is not anything against Tony, because he is legitimately excited about the sim, the new content, and how people respond to it. That is how he got the loose lips moniker. Wanting the fans to be excited and, well, spilling the beans. That said, that initial announcement coming in the form of a trailer video builds a bit more hype. You will have people passing that video around to friends, directly linking people to the iRacing youtube channel, as opposed to screenshotting a forum post and passing that around to their friends. Does viewership change based on this? I am honestly not sure, but people are definitely more hyped about content the first time around they hear about it, and thus you are more likely to have a view count bump that way. At the end of the day it can not hurt.
The World Championships
iRacing has also missed the mark with the World Championships and advertising them effectively. And this is for several reasons.
The first being that there is no hype for the races what so ever. This carries over into normal esports as well. One thing normal esports has done very well is selling their major tournaments as proper events, as a how, as a must see thing. This even extends to smaller online matches. If you see a matchup between two rivals who just faced off in a major tournament that energy will carry on for months within the community, sometimes even years. Organizations know this and they leverage that hype to draw in viewership.
iRacing has systematically failed at this.
iRacing has been paying out prize pots for the world championships for a number of years now, but all the while there has been no exposure of it on the iRacing website outside of an article around race day and a couple videos near the end of the year. The content for the world championships is hidden on the iRacing website. As far as I can tell there is no effective place where all the information is housed on the membersite, and on the homepage at iRacing.com all you get is a brief explanation on the series and the qualifier series, and that is IT. And not to mention many of them are out of date.
The NPAS page is accurate (as of writing), the GT World Championship page is out of date as Blancpain and iRacing have ended their partnership and there is a new sponsor (VRS) for the series yet it still bears the Blancpain logo, and the WCGPS page has the 2016 highlight video. In addition, the header for all three of the qualifying series says “2016 (XYZ) iRacing Pro Series”.
The content in them is updated, but how many people read the header, assume the info is 2 years out of date, and then click away? And oh yeah, iRacing just announced 3 brand new World Championship series, 2 with the World of Outlaws and 1 with Red Bull Global Rally Cross, the qualifiers are starting in a couple weeks, and there is no promotion about this any where on the iRacing website.
And there is no information ANYWHERE on any of the drivers or teams competing in the championships. The argument could be made that its iRacing championship and not their job to market the drivers but that is not how this works, it is a symbiotic relationship. Your championship gets no where without people forming an emotional connection with the drivers, and they cant do that when their only exposure to them is on a couple hour long broadcast a few times a month.
People are fans of NASCAR, Indycar, IMSA, the WEC, F1, the NHRA and whatever other series you think of not for random reasons. They are fans because they have formed an emotional connection with the drivers, teams, and manufacturers. How do you ever expect this to happen when there is no promotion of content you pay thousands of dollars for on your website? The Websites for NASCAR, Indycar, Formula 1, the WEC, and esport companies such as MLG, Eleague, and ESL all have information that is easily and readily available about their competitions (Both past and upcoming) as well as content about teams and competitors, and it is all readily available and easily located on their homepage.
This isn’t a hiccup, this is a colossal failure. You do not need to start fixing these things now, you need to rewind the clock and start fixing these issues half a decade ago and start pushing this then.
I have seen so many discussions about promoting and growing these series. Streaming platforms, car choices, track choices, setup options, a stagnant prize pot, changing broadcast overlays. Those could all perhaps be discussed and improved, but none of it means a damn when you don’t promote the series. This is, 100%, the biggest issue the World Championship series face. And that is not hyperbole. Before starting this article series I put up a little questionnaire on the iRacing subreddit. The question was simple, why do sim racers watch content creators like Empty Box, Jimmy Broadbent, Rutgers Kev, Matt Malone, etc? 100% of the answers I got I can be boiled down to “I do not have an emotional connection to the drivers”. People like watching things they can get emotionally invested in. If you don’t give people the chance to learn about the competitors, both in the teams and drivers, they will never tune in.
The worst part is is iRacing knows this is a problem. A team which at one point had the biggest sway in the community, Team Redline, has been famous behind the scenes for raising these issues with the sim year on year, threatening to leave year on year due to a stagnant climate. So why was this never rectified? I honestly have no good logical answer for this. I have criticized Dom Duhan in the past but he is 100% correct on the matter. Whether it is through ignorance or through thinking the sim is the most important part of the world championships so it does not need constant promotion, the end result is still unacceptable and needs to be rectified as soon as possible.
Don’t sit there laughing too hard to yourselves team managers who have been wanting to see these changes come down the line. There is a good chance you have failed at promoting and ensuring your team was represented in a positive light as well. And while no one is doing this gig full time for promoting sim racing teams you cant criticize the sim for not properly promoting you when you’re not even doing it yourself.
The World Championship season has either already started or is about to start for all of you. And yet, many of you (NOT all) do not have anything on your websites about the first rounds (In the case of NPAS and VRS GT teams) that have either already happened or that is upcoming for you. Even some of the biggest teams: Slip Angle Motorsports, Coanda Simsport, Inex, Pure Racing Team, Team VLR as quick and easy examples. They have all started their world championship campaigns (And I am going to be particularly harsh on Coanda, with driver Mitchell deJong dominating Racespot Friday Night Dirt Night for 11 weeks straight). All of your websites give absolutely no information of any of the past top level races that have happened, with one even saying things like “Round 1: February 20th” on March 7th. You cant complain the sim isn’t pushing their market enough when you do not even pick up the slack to efficiently promote yourselves.
In addition teams need to learn to hold their members/drivers to a certain set of standards. There is this weird culture of approval within most simracing teams in my experience, and regardless of what happens their drivers are great, things are great, and everything will be greater moving forward. Meanwhile their on track performance is absolutely horrible.
Now I am not talking about purely speed here, but you need to hold your drivers to a certain set of standards. Consistently on the broadcasted races we have seen drivers put themselves into precarious situations and cause big accidents. Some of the best examples from Racespot’s latest hit of Friday Dirt Night are Steliyan Chepilevski and Sindre Setsaas. Both of these drivers were some of the quickest in the Dirt night rally cross broadcasts in terms of out right pace, but in terms of race craft were easily some of the 3 worst drivers on the grid. They each finished out the season with 3 podiums, but Sindre missed the top 5 3 times and Steliyan missed it 5 times, and almost every week one of these drivers were almost guaranteed to be involved in a Lap 1 Turn 1 incident and often times would take out several cars.
And it wasn’t just them on Fridays either. Most of the sprint car drivers let their ego get in the way of a good race all the time. Many of the teams, and in all honesty the Aussie teams and drivers were notoriously guilty of this (And this extends to other private leagues I have seen as well. And I am not going to get into the Australian team that would risk fuel mileage and if the race would go green intentionally bring out cautions so their drivers could finish. Real classy mates…), simply put think they’re gods gift to Sprint Car sim racing and have no patience when moving thru traffic, letting the track develop, and simply put look like amateurs.
Slide job attempts that consistently end up in car to car contacts and an over arching desire to never lift off the throttle. And especially while on a broadcast where cautions could dominate a 30 lap feature, viewers never get a chance to really see your teams and drivers in action.
Surely teams do not want their brands represented like that, especially teams like Radicals, Apex, TTL, and VLR, teams that are trying to be at the top of the line that sort of behavior should be unacceptable. And yet, over 3 months of dirt night (And 9 months of broadcasting sprint cars), there was never any improvement made. Drivers were consistently asses to one another, never showing any respect to one another. How can that ever be acceptable for a top tier team? Sure your driver is quick, but every time they get into a big race they simply get taken out in their own wreck within 30 seconds and your teams sponsors and logos are only seen causing a huge incident. Is that how you want your team represented? Is that how your sponsors want to be represented? You need to demand certain standards from drivers, not necessarily in terms of pace, but in terms of behavior on track. Teach your drivers to race clean side by side, and put on good action, and viewers will remember their names and your logos for that reason, vs seeing their lap 1 pileup and thinking “lol what an idiot”.
In addition, think about that survey I mentioned earlier. Many people described top sim racing drivers as these mystical creatures that they almost never see, but when they do they are at best just smoking everyone on track and at worst being disrespectful. You need to teach your drivers to be respectful within the community. Too nice is worse then not nice enough. Sim racers are a spiteful bunch. Often times one bad interaction can put potential fans off your driver. Never forget that.
Drivers, a lot of the things that I explained about teams refers to you as well. As a whole you all do a pretty terrible job at promoting yourselves to be honest, and to be honest that is really bad because all you are really doing is shooting yourselves in the foot. Reading that survey I posted do not have a disconnect between yourself and the answers. When those people say they don’t care about any of the drivers they are talking about YOU.
Marketing yourself as a racer is more then just outright speed, promotion and personality play a part of it as well.
As an example, which I used a couple articles ago, is Jon Hall. In about 2015 my teammate Jon began doing some streaming. He would do setup tutorials, lap guides, and races live streamed and posted to YouTube in the various GT3 cars. He grew a nice little audience to the point that New World Sim Sport got sponsorship offers. In addition look at what streamers and content creators like Jimmy B, Empty Box, Kevin, and other have going for them, analyze it, and figure what you can do to get a piece of that pie.
Ill give you a little secret. While in that survey many of the answers say they have no interest in the broadcast races or top level racers what so ever, the honest to god truth is they’re sort of lying. Way back in 2014 NEO Endurance did a GT only season called NEO GT (10/10 creative name), and in that race was a man named Empty Box. Matt announced he was racing on twitter and the Racespot youtube chat went berserk. There was a LARGE increase in viewership for that race (So much so we did Empty Box onboards for every following event that season) and the NEO team speak channel got a bit crowded with Empty Box fans (NEO made the details public to promote interaction between fans and teams/drivers). People are always asking if the likes of Jimmy, Nicki Thiim, and others are in the broadcasted races as well. The people WANT that content, they just need a driver to root for.
How do you do that? You need to change your mindset. Start streaming and producing content would be the first step. Next work on developing an on air personality. You do not necessarily need a gimmick, you just need to be entertaining. The biggest thing is simple: Do track guides and setup help videos. Sim racers want to improve, and they want to do so with as little effort as possible. Help people learn how to drive the tracks and, importantly, teach them the setups. I get it, setups are important at the top level and can make a big difference. But for the most of you a championship is more or less out of reach, and chances are you’re going to be fighting to maintain a pro license rather then fighting for a championship anyways.
Do some setup guides, explain to the fans how the cars work, how the changes work, etc and you will eventually see a return on your time invested. Sure, you may drop a few spots in the world championship, but what you gain in terms of popularity will easily out weigh that. Especially in the era we have now where VRS has setups behind a pay wall, a niche exists to be taken advantage of. You and your team are the advertising tool for the series you’re in, and you are the advertising tool for your team. Raising your profile raised the profile of your team, which raises the profile of the series. Just go out there and do it.