Earlier this month, Penske Entertainment announced they were rebranding their second-tier series as “Indy NXT”, moving on from the well-known Indy Lights brand.
The Indy NXT announcement came less than a month after Andersen Promotions, the company in charge of the lower series of American open-wheel competition, did away with their “Road to Indy” branding in the midst of an overall reassessment of their place within the cooperative management of the IndyCar developmental ladder with Penske Entertainment.
In an official press release on November 3rd, the series used the words “fresh”, “youthful”, and “energetic” to describe the series now known as Indy NXT. In those words alone, it is clear Roger Penske’s crew had one thing in mind during the rebrand process: making Indy Lights cool again.
However, the questions and concerns from fans and the paddock understandably remain.
Twitter user Zach Steinmetz didn’t think the move made the series “cool” at all:
Gen Z here – all this move does is isolate the largest part of the fanbase. Copying the WWE will not make my fellow Gen Z’s watch this series – I guarantee it.
— Zach Steinmetz🌽 (@ZSteins_) November 3, 2022
Steinmetz was not alone in his sentiment. Take a look through the reply section on the original announcement tweet, and you won’t find many applauding the move.
However, a few questions still remain: Why did Penske Entertainment make this move, and will it work out for them?
Clearly, Penske is looking to “modernize” the road to Indy ladder, and make it more marketable to younger audiences. Over the past few years, the Indy Lights grid has emptied somewhat, with just 11 full-time drivers taking part in the 2022 season. While that number seems to be increasing just in time for the 2023 season, the series just isn’t up to par with similar developmental series such as the NASCAR Xfinity Series or Formula 2.
With Penske Entertainment now calling the shots for Indy’s top two series, the organization is setting itself apart from the USF Championships (formerly known as the “Road to Indy), which make up the bottom rungs of the ladder.
With this rebrand, it was also announced that all 14 rounds of the 2023 Indy NXT season will be shown on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service. While having all of your on-track action on a major streaming service is a good step forward for the series, it still doesn’t match up against the Xfinity Series being shown on USA and NBC or F2 being streamed on ESPN.
Will it Work?
In all honesty, it is hard to tell. But based on fans’ initial reaction to the news, “probably not” would be a safe answer. What it comes down to is that many fans are viewing this move as unnecessary.
As many have pointed out previously, Indy NXT also is suspiciously similar in name to the WWE’s developmental league, WWE NXT. (On second thought, it is not suspiciously similar, it’s the exact same.) Disregarding that, I share the belief of many fans that this rebrand was simply unnecessary. Indy Lights, while not up to par with other support series worldwide, didn’t need a rebrand.
It needs better TV deals, better advertisers, and better racing.