Small steak, no sizzle

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

It's only a three-year contract, not the five-year deal the Long Beach Grand Prix just signed.

Why?

"It was presented as three," said Indy Racing League president Terry Angstadt via video teleconference.

That translated to 'Ask Northlands.'

"Maybe we should have gone for five. Maybe that was an error on our part," said Northlands chairman of the board Jerry Bouma.

Two months before the race they finally held the first press conference for the Rexall Edmonton Indy and it was a very scary day in a way.

It was a day we discovered there's been nothing done about securing Rexall - or anybody else - as a long-term, big-time, seven-figure title sponsor and nothing to announce about major local sponsors coming on board, either.

MILLION-DOLLAR LOSS

The frustratingly conservative, just-don't-seem-to-get-it people at Edmonton Northlands revealed they are clearly dealing with a cost-cutting mentality, projecting a loss of a million dollars for the race this year instead of bringing a seize-the-moment, strike-while-the-iron-is-hot approach for this event which landed in their laps.

Despite a remarkable amount of sizzle and hype involving the merger of Champ Car and the Indy Racing League, almost double the number of cars in the race as the three previous Champ Car races, not to mention Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Dan Weldon, Tony Kanaan, and Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon, Northlands has clearly wasted months of hard-sell, shoe-leather, sales-force time waiting for the deal to be officially done.

It was done, finally, Sunday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and with a contract actually in hand, they finally started their engines for the July 24-26 event yesterday in the middle of a massive, messy, confusing construction site at Northlands instead of at the more appropriate airport race venue.

There was Northlands board president Bouma announcing a three-year deal and that the agreement put Edmonton "in position for years to come."

But wouldn't a five-year deal have said that far better?

Northlands president and COO Ken Knowles said "we've done the contract and now we're moving forward - it's going to be by far the biggest weekend in Edmonton."

But it was only at the press conference we got a clear understanding of how delayed Northlands has been in selling this event.

They've backloaded all their advertising to the final two months, and it's concerning where they're at with their first attempt at being an auto racing promoter.

"We're looking at losing a million dollars this year, breaking even next year and making money in 2009," said Knowles.

"For our first year we're in it for a look-see and working our way through it. Our intent is to reduce expenses and increase revenue," he said of taking over from Ric Forest, Bruce Saville and others who invested $6 million in getting this thing launched and handed it to Northlands to take to the moon with the perfect set of circumstances with the merger, the Indy 500 and everything.

Then Knowles admitted it.

"Ticket sales are lagging. Our marketing plan has just kicked in."

He said there's been no contract made with Rexall, which like West Edmonton Mall and The Brick in the first two years, came in with last-minute sponsorship at $400,000 when the going rate is more than double that.

"We had a contract," Knowles said of the second year of the last-minute deal put together last year, saying that's why they did not go to Rexall to try to extend and expand the deal. You have to figure even the people at Rexall have to be scratching their heads.

NO NEW SPONSORS

And two months before the race and Northlands didn't have a single, solitary new local sponsor to announce yesterday when they finally held a press conference.

Race director Jim Haskins said he "fully expects to be sold out on race day" but says they won't be able to release the numbers of tickets sold this year "because of IRL policy - we just can't talk numbers."

So we're not even going to be able to monitor this?

It's inconceivable that anybody should have any concerns whatsoever about this race being an over-the-moon success considering what's here to sell this year.

But with Northlands, the inquiry light is flashing on the day they decided to start selling.


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