December 8th, 2015 by David Phillips
Whoever said “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” never heard of advertising or market research, let alone social media and browser cookies. For the reality is, no matter how splendid the mousetrap, the world will NOT beat a path to your door until they know your mousetrap exists.
For years, it was tantamount to a state secret that some of the world’s fiercest motorsports competition (i.e. sim racing) was streamed live on the Internet. We’re not just talking about the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series or the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series, but the scores of private league races on RaceSpot, the Global Sim Racing Channel, LiveSimRacingTV, and other platforms. Apart from occasional reminders on the iRacing member site or iRacingNews (R.I.P.), little was done to inform the worldwide sim racing community of those broadcasts . . . until iRacing added those broadcasts to its iRacingLive package and, no less important, let the world know about it.
“iRacingLive has been around for a long time,” explains Jack Davidson, iRacing multimedia specialist, “but for years it was underutilized, with just the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series and iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series races. That was two nights every other week . . . and only for part of the year. But so many leagues were broadcasting their races on YouTube, then the British Sim Racing Touring Car Series went on MotorsTV and we added their races to RacingLive. We went to RaceSpot, who had been doing our world championship races, and offered to put their other races on iRacingLive and it grew from there.”
With iRacing’s senior interactive designer Jaime Baker’s extensive redesign of the iRacing.com web site including a continuously updated broadcast schedule, iRacingLive has become the go-to source for a cross section of sim racing broadcasts; for iRacing’s pro level series of course, but also for a myriad of unofficial and league events, regardless of iRatings and SoF.
No league has better leveraged its position on iRacing Live than the American Sim Racing Series (ASRS). Founded by Jim Foose in 2002, the league is averaging almost 1000 live views (and another 1000+ weekly views) of its Wednesday night series – the HPP Simulation Truck Series and HPP Simulation Grand National Series.– not to mention full fields and three — count ‘em, three – sponsors for the upcoming 2016 season.
It’s a far cry from 2002, when a whopping seven entries materialized for the first race of ASRS founder Jim Foose’s NASCAR Racing 2003-based league; for that matter it’s a substantial uptick from the 20-25 truck fields, 100 or so live viewers and no – as in zero – sponsors during 2014, their first year of broadcasting and long after the league’s switch to iRacing in 2011.
“With one look at iRacingLive, people immediately know when and where the American Sim Racing Series are broadcast,” says Bryce Whitson. “That’s an awesome marking tool. We like to think we put on a good show and now people know about it thanks to iRacingLive.”
Although modesty prevents Whitson from saying so directly, the ASRS has always put on a good show. So in 2014, with Foose’s seal of approval, Whitson, his cousin Gary Whitson, and Aaron Kleinhans began investigating the mechanics and the economics of getting their races broadcast. Arranging for the Global Sim Racing Channel to broadcast the races was simple enough, but it required a financial commitment which the threesome absorbed – at least in the short term.
“The results were encouraging in terms of increased participation and viewership,” says Bryce. “But we didn’t want to continue underwriting the broadcasts personally, so we started looking for a series sponsor for 2015.”
They found one in Adam Blattel and AMSOIL, a world leader in synthetic lubricants and filters and, not coincidentally, the official oil of the AMA Supercross and AMA Arenacross Championships, and sponsor of the United States Auto Club and International Hot Rod Association. AMSOIL’s support was a big step, but it still only covered seven events in the 25 race schedule for 2015.
In order to make up the difference, ASRS asked its members to donate a few dollars each to ‘sponsor’ a broadcast. The Whitsons agreed that they would cover the last eight races of the season if the membership would cover the other 10 remaining races. Kleinhans and Shawn Musick each agreed to cover three races; Karson Aube picked up two events, and Jarred Haggerty and Ricky Hardin each covered one of the final two broadcasts for the season.
“Groups like ours can start doing things like local short tracks, starting out small and building relationships with sponsors . . . and iRacingLive has made that possible.” – Bryce Whitson, American Sim Racing Series
With the fully broadcast schedule, ASRS saw a large uptake in membership with nearly 200 members throughout the year. The first race of the 2015 season saw a record breaking 55 entries trying to make the 32 truck field. The numbers dipped a little bit after the first couple races, but ASRS consistently filled the 32 truck field. The broadcasts on the Global Sim Racing Channel continued to consistently bring in around 100 live views and 500 views a week. What’s more, AMSOIL even saw a slight return on its investment with a small sale about half way through the season. Little did ASRS know, the launch of iRacing Live later in the season was going to change everything.
“I remember Kevin Browne from GSRC messaging me after the iRacing Live announcement to tell me that ASRS wasn’t included in the first round of picks,” says Whitson. “I asked him to go back and see what he could do because I knew that iRacing Live would be important to growing the league. He worked his magic and ever since we started on iRacing Live we have averaged nearly 500 live views and 1000 views per week.”
So much for the good news. The less good news was that, even though its sponsorship of ASRS had produced results, AMSOIL opted not to renew its relationship with the series going forward as, in the final analysis, sim racers did not exactly qualify as their target market. The much less good news was that the members who paid for the 2015 broadcasts wanted to see the costs distributed more evenly; it wasn’t fair for three or four members to pay for all the broadcasts on GSRC and iRacing Live. ASRS was going to have to find another way to support themselves moving forward.
“The last couple of years have been the start of the legitimization of sim racing as a sport.” Bryce Whitson
Knowing there were plenty of companies and products out there for which sim racing is THE target market, Whitson launched a major initiative to find new sponsors last fall. It didn’t take long to bear fruit . . .
“I sent race replays to half a dozen different sim racing suppliers,” says Bryce. “Within 24 hours we got a reply from Derek Speare Designs. However, rather than writing us a check to sponsor the series, Derek offered two button boxes as prizes to drivers who would run DSD logos. In return we created the DSD Trackboss Sportsmanship Award, the DSD Mini-Max II Lucky Dog Award, and gave DSD naming rights to the two Florida races (Daytona and Homestead) since DSD is located in the Sunshine State.
“A few days later Mat from MSpec offered to supply us with one of their shift light systems as well. We decided to turn this into a Hard Charger Award and have MSpec as the sponsor for our Mid-Ohio race . . . which made sense given the number of times you change gears in a race at Mid-Ohio.”
But wait, there’s more . . .
Recently Mark Hargett, owner of HPP Simulation, offered a pair of HPP Simulation PRX-SE Pedals – custom engraved no less – to the ASRS for its two series. The championship winner of the Truck Series gets a three pedal set and the championship winner of the Grand National Series (iRacing Xfinity class) gets a two pedal set. As one ASRS member quipped, “This is the Stanley Cup of sim racing trophies.”
In addition to their decidedly pro-active approach to sponsor-hunting, Whitson attributes the influx of support to the ASRS to developments at iRacing.
“The new decal layer feature enables us to require everybody to run our sponsors’ decals like M Spec, DSD, and an HPP window banner,” he says. “That gives us the ability to approach potential sponsors and sell them something they really value. What do sim racers really care about? They care about button boxes, pedals and shift lights and suppliers like DSD, MSpec and HPP really care about marketing their products directly to their target audience. iRacing Live opened these opportunities for us.”
There’s another twist to the sponsorship and prizes, namely that ASRS awards prizes based on sportsmanship as well as results. That’s in keeping with the ASRS’ underlying philosophy of being an “Everyman” rather than an “Alien” series – where Pros are not eligible and competitors become ineligible if their iRatings top the 6000 mark. So while the champions of the HPP Simulation Truck Series and HPP Simulation Grand National Series each win a set of custom engraved HPP Simulation PRX-SE Pedals, the MSpec Shift Light Hard Charger Award will go to the driver making the most incident-free passes during the season, while the winner of the DSD Track Boss Sportsmanship Award in each series will be determined by a vote of the competitors. And the winner of the DSD Lucky Dog Award will be chosen at random with every competitor earning one contest “entry” for each series they run and another for each race they complete without an incident.
“It’s a lot of fun to watch yourself on television and win prizes for doing something you love.” – Bryce Whitson
While the prizes themselves don’t fund the broadcasts, it gave the series an opportunity to spread the cost among the membership. Given the overall value of the prizes (over $2500 in total), ASRS decided to instigate a modest membership fee for the broadcast series ($50 for the 25 race HPP Simulation Truck Series, $35 for the 16 race HPP Simulation Grand National Series, or $80 for an All Access Pass to both HPP Simulation Series). The revenue generated by the membership fees is being used to pay for the broadcasts, non-partisan in-race admins, and general league costs such as the website, Teamspeak server, and race hosting fees. The final numbers will depend on how many competitors sign up, but the plan is to “invest” any remaining funds at the end of the season in additional prizes – specifically additional “product” from HPP, DSD and MSpec.
“Our goal is not to make money,” says Whitson, “it’s to grow a series that enables racers who don’t have the time or the inclination to “go Pro” to enjoy legitimate competition and good sportsmanship, all while we foster relationships with sponsors. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to watch yourself on television and win prizes for doing something you love.
“I think the last couple of years have been the start of the legitimization of sim racing as a sport. It’s great what iRacing has done with NASCAR in creating the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series, with SRO in creating the new Blancpain GT and the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series. But it’s also reached the point where groups like ours can start doing things like local short tracks, starting out small and building relationships with sponsors . . . and iRacingLive has made that possible.”
Note: The American Sim Racing Series still has spots available for both the 2016 HPP Simulation Series. The Grand National Series kicks off on January 6 and the Truck Series starts on February 17. In addition to the paid Wednesday night series, ASRS also offers a free Cup Series on Tuesday nights that does not have broadcasts or prizes. Those interested in joining can visit http://bit.ly/ASRSRace to fill out a membership form.
And leagues wishing to broadcast their races on iRacingLive can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.