Speculation that the IndyCar Series might be on the verge of being bought out by an investment group consisting of a number of current team owners has once again been denied by the current owners.
“The IZOD IndyCar Series is not for sale,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and CEO Jeff Belskus said in a statement on Tuesday. "Representatives from Hulman & Company and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation have not received or considered any offers to purchase the series."
The statement follows a report published on Monday in the Sports Business Journal
that said the board of Hulman & Company - the current owners of the IndyCar Series - were actively considering a definite proposal from an investor group headed by Tony George, former head of the Indy Racing League, a previous CEO of IMS and a current co-owner of Ed Carpenter Racing.
The group fronted by George is reported to consist of Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske, Michael Andretti and Kevin Kalkhoven (co-owner of KV Racing Technology). None of the owners were returning media calls on the matter after the story broke at the weekend. George himself has refused to confirm or deny the rumours of a takeover bid, merely saying that the "premise" was "inaccurate". He is believed to have tried an early buy-out attempt in 2010.
SBJ's sources suggest that the offer from the group would result in the group taking over the running of the series and assuming any outstanding debts, while Hulman & Company would retain its majority stake and management of the IMS venue. Any decision on whether to sell would come from the board's chairwoman, Mari Hulman George, who controls the majority of the voting interest. The board also includes her four children, including Tony George.
The series made a loss in 2012 after a series of setbacks in the last 12 months, including the last-minute cancellation of a lucrative round in China; a cooling of the financial support from title sponsor IZOD; the loss of the series' most bankable star Danica Patrick to NASCAR; the death of popular two-time Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon at the end of 2011; and ongoing below-expectation spectator attendance at events.
Most crucially this has resulted in a double-digit drop in year-on-year audience viewing figures on television. The 2012 season finale at Fontana attracted only 250,000 viewers in the US, a 0.2-rating on the niche NBC Sports cable channel, despite being widely praised as one of the most tense and thrilling motor races of the year in any championship.
This has led to speculation in the media that the series cannot be saved and is no longer viable. Instead, it might have to consider scaling back operations and perhaps become a one-race championship by staging just the world-famous Indianapolis 500 in future - since it appears that many casual fans in the US already barely even register that other IndyCar races are available during the rest of the year.
Such a suggestion is not said to be part of the George-led buyout proposal. However, the SBJ story did state that motorsports marketer Zak Brown would be part of the investor group and would likely take over the management of the series if the bid were successful - which would mean the ousting of current series CEO Randy Bernard who was brought in to replace George in 2010 with a brief to build up the popularity of the championship.