Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Watching IndyCar's TV Disaster


In the blink of an eye, ESPN decided that IndyCar racing was no longer a priority. Despite a proud tradition that the network still tries to promote, ESPN made IndyCar a take it or leave it proposition in 2008.

ESPN offered to televise only five races, including the Indy 500, starting in 2009. The bet by ESPN was that IndyCar would be forced to agree to this stripped-down contract for one simple reason. There was no alternative.

IndyCar needed the ABC coverage of the Indy 500 as the anchor of the season. The only other viable broadcast and cable TV network combination at the time was FOX and SPEED. Already deeply involved with NASCAR, F-1 and sports car racing that group passed.

With its arm now firmly twisted behind its back, IndyCar knuckled under to ESPN and agreed to the five race deal for four years. The remainder of the races went to the cable network VERSUS. At the time, VERSUS promised to grow IndyCar as the network grew. The agreement was supposed to be a solid investment in the future for both parties.

Now, only 3 years later, this TV deal made in haste may bring down the entire sport.

The Iowa Corn 250 was on Saturday night, June 25. This IndyCar race live on VERSUS featured tremendous battles, multiple caution flags and intense racing. In-car cameras showed the speed and danger. The pass for the win was fantastic and as a television product it was superb.

Days later, that enthusiasm was tempered by the reality of VERSUS. The primetime race was seen by less than 500 thousand fans nationwide despite VERSUS being distributed to almost 80 million homes. The 0.35 Household rating qualifies as barely a blip on the cable TV network radar.

VERSUS is once again in transition, even as IndyCar rides out a ten year deal the network forced IndyCar to sign when there were no other options. Included in the agreement is the fact that VERSUS controls the online video streaming.

The cable TV company Comcast now runs NBC, VERSUS and the other cable TV networks in the NBC portfolio. The theory of Comcast is to pour money and high-profile programming into VERSUS until it rivals ESPN.

Broadcast network NBC is to be used to televise the most high-profile sporting events the new company owns in the same manner that ESPN uses ABC. Well, at least that is the theory.

In the sports TV business, the Comcast guys are sometimes called "pole climbers." It's an insult that is meant to point out that despite the wealth, there is little national TV programming or production experience at the top of the management ladder.

In the cable TV service provider world, it's simply about squeezing revenue out of the consumers. Now those same Comcast executives find themselves confronted with sports products that command billion dollar rights fees. Opening the wallet has proven to be quite a challenge.

VERSUS recently cancelled its weekly IndyCar TV program, citing cost issues. There is also no live streaming of the races for VERSUS subscribers on the network's website. In fact, the entire VERSUS website is gone. Users are sent automatically to the MSNBC.com sports section.

The highly-promoted weekday sports news and highlight show on VERSUS called The Daily Line was meant to rival ESPN's SportsCenter. It was cancelled late last year due to low ratings. In short, VERSUS is currently a TV disaster.

It seems IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, pictured above, has had enough. According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, IndyCar lost $22 million in 2009 and close to $15 million in 2010. Bernard admits that he expects star driver Danica Patrick to leave completely and go NASCAR racing in 2012.

Now driven by desperation for higher TV ratings, Bernard has proposed adding up to five non-full time IndyCar drivers to the final race in October. He does not mean IndyCar drivers without full time rides, he means non-IndyCar regulars. Names he tossed out include Kasey Kahne, Travis Pastrana and Kyle Busch.

The irony that the mere appearance in Las Vegas of even one current NASCAR star could save the IndyCar season finale for TV is driven home by 2010's most shocking stat.

With the final race in Homestead, FL and on VERSUS last year, IndyCar got a 0.30 HH rating. There were less than 350 thousand viewers watching nationwide. That number is less than the population of Wichita, Kansas.

This year the final race is on ABC, where IndyCar has struggled to get a 1.0 rating. Bernard seemed to be at the end of his rope in a recent Toronto Star interview. "If we do a 0.8 rating, I will quit," said Bernard. "I will quit on the spot."

What a sad state of affairs for a series that has offered a solid product on the track this season, especially the ovals. The long saga of open-wheel in-fighting and varied agendas seemed to have been solved by bringing in Bernard from outside of motorsports.

Now, he finds himself trapped by a TV contract signed by predecessor Tony George that is killing the sport. ESPN cherry-picked the Indy 500 and has the season opener and close. VERSUS coverage has been disjointed and the network is in complete flux.

Maybe Bernard will walk away after this season. Maybe IndyCar will completely collapse. One thing is for certain, it can't get much worse. It's just hard to see a sport that was once the toast of the town on the verge of dying a whimpering death.

Perhaps, Las Vegas is the right place for the final event this season. Bernard is betting his career on one race in a city that loves to see high-rollers take big gambles. The Indycar season finale is Sunday, October 16 at 3PM ET on ABC.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

55 comments:

Rambo M. said...

...and you're telling me absolutely nobody had the sense to arrange this contract such that Indycar could have a right to back out of it? They're seriously trapped in it?

Anonymous said...

Who would have thought back in the day how far IndyCar would fall. Another excellent recap JD. Throw in the owner/promoter split and a few other bad management decisions plus the management idea that they are bigger than the sport and here you are. All sports seem to forget that once a fan "walks away" and starts doing something else to fill the void, that fan most likely will not return. Sad, but I do not thing bzf has a clue. MC

MRM4 said...

I never know when an IndyCar race is on and where it's being shown. There is no advertising to promote the race being on. Only a few die-hards know when it's on. Sad.

Ian Schrader said...

Sometimes there are things outside of NASCAR that you should write about. This is definitely one of those things. NASCAR doesn't need Indycar, but it always helps to have as much exposure to motorsport as possible.

GinaV24 said...

I have versus as part of my cable package, but honestly I almost never watch it - usually because I forget that there is anything there TO watch. One of the problems that has affected sports broadcasting is that by moving away from the over the air channels and where viewers expect to find things is, at least in my opinion, that people don't watch. I have some silly number like 150 channels and I probably watch about 10 of them on a regular basis.

I feel bad about Indycar because the racing has improved at lot based on what I have seen of it, but if no one watches, well, it's just a black hole to fall into.

I agree wholeheartedly with the statement that the cable companies are simply trying to get more $ from the consumer. For many years, I was captive to Comcast because there was no alternative in my area. I was thrilled to pieces when a competitor offered service and I switched immediately.

Of course how that's any different from what all the various broadcast entities are doing, I don't know. What do you want to bet that Fox and ESPN will try something similar when the NASCAR contract is up for renewal? After all, they have helped drive ratings down - of course NASCAR has helped to dig that hole for themselves, too.

Anonymous said...

I like Versus and it's too bad they're not drawing viewers. They have the NHL and IndyCar andshould be doing much better. The Iowa Corn 250 was probably the best auto race of the season and better than any NASCAR race this year. And I'm a NASCAR fan first who likes IndyCar and wants it do well. IndyCar has great racing, especially the ovals. It needs to continue!

paranoidpuck said...

Great stuff as usual, JD.

You've touched on many things that I plan on writing about for a story that i'm doing on Versus from a hockey perspective. Comcast seems to be growing it on the cheap. In some ways, I wonder if that was a factor in Ebersol leaving. Clearly, Ebersol was unhappy over many things, but the pursestrings seem awfully shut. Seeing Wimbeldon go away really stings to make the network grow any.

I think Bernard should get ready to quit after his boasting about the LV race. Ironically, he was also with PBR which has all of its broadcasts on Versus. The PBR has shown growth since the move there, while the opposite is happening for Indy. The regular season NHL games struggle to get a 0.5 and that's Versus' flagship, so there isn't much hope for Indy. It destroyed itself with the split and it may take decades to ever get back to being relevant again.

Anonymous said...

One major problem Indy has is they have left some really great tracks. Why in the world would they leave Watkins Glen, as they did last year. That was a great event and was starting to have real fan interest, at least at the track, if not on TV.

Wiresculptress said...

Thank you, JD, for writing about Indy
Car in a respectful manner. I've been a hardcore IndyCar fan for 20 years, and I'm a veteran of the split.

I remember the year that the entire ChampCar season was on SPIKE. Talk about a stinko TV package. I also remember that Bob Jenkins was fired in '04 for doing such a lousy job of PxP. VERSUS is putting out a really good product, but they can't get anyone to watch. Iowa was a real barnburner of a race, but no one saw it.

People and companies get out of contracts every day. Maybe IndyCar could extricate themselves from this 10-year hell, but where do they go? ESPN? SPEED? To coin a phrase, there's no room at the inn.

sbaker17 said...

Some of the best racing I have seen in the last couple of years was put on by Indycar on the ovals. Unfortunately I do not have Versus in my cable package this year and without online streaming I am not able to watch their product. Bringing in non-regulars to boost the ratings is interesting. What they are saying to me is that there is no name recognition of their current crop of series regulars in the USA market to attract viewership. I have seen Davey Hamilton & John Andretti race on the short tracks (they are not series regulars)but most of the other drivers are unknown to me. As an aside, my Dad started taking me to closed circuit broadcasts of the Indy 500 in 1960 and I have seen every 500 since then. Looks like that streak is about to come to an end.

Allen Wedge said...

The problem as you state is that Comcast seems to want ratings without the effort to create a product and let it grow. I'll admit I'm a racing nut and watch all IndyCar's races and most of NASCAR/GrandAm/F1.

VERSUS is now included in most basic/mid level packages so its not hard to find... instead its VERSUS programming that never seems to resemble one of a sports channel, so how would channel surfer's ever make the connection and know to visit it at any time when looking for sports.

On any given night you will ALWAYS find on VERSUS: Caddyschack, Wildcats, Bloodsport or Tin Cup (sometimes replaying multiple times in the same night and always in the same week); and if its not a movie its some funniest video style clip show of of people wiping out, never live sports.

The Daily Line, Sports Soup and Indy Car Weekly were VERSUS first attempts at doing up to date content with the sports world, giving folks a reason to tune in regularly; all were cancelled before they even had a chance to build a regular viewership (IndyCar Weekly was also slotted at 4pm on a weekday wtf?)

Considering their history with WEC and now UFC, you'd think they'd have a good reason to host a regular MMA show, or even a hockey one.

They should also look at the ESPN model; ESPN didn't start by nabbing the NFL and NBA, they started with the sports they could afford and go after (sailing, track and field etc.). VERSUS could easily go after college baseball's regular season, or other NCAA sports. They just can't continue to go after sports and then expect revenue/ratings to be automatic without any additional effort.

Unless they stop filling all their broadcast hours with Bloodsport replayed for the 40 billionth time, no one is going to recognize it as a sports channel... with Wimbledon gone, likely the only time they'll be able to establish it as a sports station comes next in 2012 for the Olympics.

Anonymous said...

"Why in the world would they leave Watkins Glen, as they did last year. "

Is Watkins Glen an ISC track? I ask because Indy does not go to any ISC tracks this year because they could not come to an agreement, hence why almost every oval track on the schedule is an SMI track.


They need to advertise the Indy races on VERSUS on other networks more. I actually watch VERSUS quite a bit for cycling, Tour De France, and Indy Car so I see those ads, but I certainly don't see the race ads on other networks. Unfortunately, I think there is also no way there will a NASCAR guy in the IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas. Not one day after a Chase race at Charlotte.

Zieke said...

It's too bad that VERSUS doesn't have the audience for their good races like Iowa. Funny that Tony George's name keeps recurring when the talk of Indycar's demise comes up. Guess we all know what has been evident for a long time.
Who can blame Danica for going to NASCAR? From what I've seen, she's actually becoming quite good at the new style for no more experience than she has.

paranoidpuck said...

@AllenWedge Versus has made serious bids to get other sports. They were very close to getting MLB & NFL packages in the past and more recently, the MLS and Pac 10. The problem is that they always get outbid, as Comcast doesn't seem to want to pony up the money outside of the NHL. I'm not sure how serious they are, but we'll find out should they get a chance to bid on the new NFL package with NBC in tow.

I don't think IndyCar made a bad decision going with Versus. Comcast's strategy with Versus was simple - offer the most coverage possible. That strategy has been extremely good for the NHL and it almost wooed the MLS before Fox offered more money. Nobody out there is going to offer Indy what Versus does when it comes to the amount of committed programming time. They go way beyond what anyone else would offer and that's good for diehard fans.

I look at Indy on Versus, very similar to the NHL when it first went to the then OLN. At the time, the NHL was coming off a cancelled season and left for dead. It's first year ratings on OLN were terrible. Today, their ratings are higher than they ever got on ESPN2 and it's OTA ratings are setting playoff records. Perhaps with patience and good racing, the same can happen for Indy. It's not for lack of promotion because Versus promotes the heck out of the races but there's little viewership on the net once hockey season goes away. Another thing to note is that Versus in transition-all the Comcast people who ran the network, directed and produced are all largely gone. They were thrown out for NBC Sports so it's kinda unknown as to what the future is there.

One other note about Versus and I don't know if it's been posted here before, but they are adding hydroplane racing which formerly aired on Speed and many years ago on ESPN/ESPN2. It will be taped during the summer and shown during the fall months. Whats interesting about it is who will be doing the call. The magic man, our old friend Bill Weber will be calling the races. Bill has some roots with hydros in Indiana so in a way, he's going back to the past and of course, he has many ties with NBC Sports which is now running Versus.

Anonymous said...

The Versus as death argument is a little simplistic - the NHL is on Versus and they have seen their biggest ratings in decades over the past few years.

A huge part of the problem is the disconnect between their network home (ABC) and their cable home (Versus). Particularly on ABC, they NEVER even mention the upcoming races on Versus. If Indycar can get out of the ABC deal and get the Indy 500 and additional races on NBC, I think we'd see far better cross-promotion leading to better ratings for the Versus races.

paranoidpuck said...

@Anonymous Your suggestion to bring the Indy 500 to NBC has been brought up many times by both hockey and Indy fans. Sadly, there's a conflict there. NBC broadcasts the Sr. PGA on Memorial Day as part of it's Ryder Cup contract. They are contracted to until 2014. Unless you can find a way to fit in both, or move the date or move something to cable, it won't happen. There's also always the possibility of playoff NHL Hockey taking up the pre-Sr. PGA timelot, depending on how the schedule goes.

Anonymous said...

It has been twenty years this year since I attended CART races at Mid-Ohio and Road America and listened to the fans mock my southern accent and ridicule NASCAR as taxicab racing by the World Of In-laws. How is that elitist snobbery working for you now, Indy-car fans?

KoHoSo said...

Previous to reading Mr. Daly's article, I was hoping that the new ownership of Versus would provide a great opportunity for IndyCar to begin digging itself out of the hole that Tony George dug for it. However, after reading JD's description of the top brass now in charge...well, as a resident of Fontana, my excitement from last night at hearing the series was going to return to my home track is now greatly diminished.

I have been very happy overall where Randy Bernard has been leading the series. If he quits, I fear that Tony George will somehow be put back in charge now that he has been allowed back into the fold somewhat...and that will be the death of the series.

AncientRacer said...

I agree with Gina on the subject of Versus. I just do not think of it. I can tell you, though, the last time I watched it and it was the last time Lance Armstrong was in the Tour de France. Long time now.

As for IndyCar I have no opinion. I just do not follow them. I will watch the 500 and I have watched some other races, but I do not know much about it all and am familiar with few of the names involved. In point of fact the last time I remember hearing anything in particular about IndyCar that intrigued me (in a "Huh? That is a winner move fer surrre" way) was when they hooked up with Gene Simmons.

Don't get me wrong. I like KISS, but there are some things it is better not to mix.

Anonymous said...

IRL is just like Soccer.
They are full of foreigners and no one can identify with them.

Nothing IRL does makes sense.
From the look of the cars to you can't just roll the cars around on pit road or the garage without that stupid hand cart to firing the engines off to the weired turn 3 green flag restarts to the mess at INDY with carb day to bump day to whatever.

Talk about gimicks..and we wonder why they are failing?

Roland said...

IndyCar will not collapse at seasons end. Randy won't quit either. Thats a little extreme JD. IndyCar has been in much worse shape over the course of its existance. 10 years ago there were 15 cars on the grid and 5 fans in the stands. Now those numbers have doubled. There are record fields at each race and some races have good crowds. If IndyCar lived and died by TV ratings, then they would have folded in 1998. IndyCar is the most stable its ever been.

The TV ratings are a problem, a huge problem. There are many reasons for that problem. Because of the split, and the decade of poor management since,and lack of american drivers, there are few IndyCar fans left. Getting old open wheel fans to come back and watch this is impossible. They have already lost their core fans, where as Nascar has just p***** off theirs. IndyCar needs to be going after the casual fan. The casual sports fan in america won't sit down and watch a Nascar race, because they feel its rednecks going in circles. IndyCar can capitalize on this, cause I dont think any of their drivers can be stereotyped as rednecks, and the number of oval races shrinks each year.

During the Indy 500, I didnt see one promo for the next race in Texas on Versus. Thats just TV politics. I dont blame Espn, why would you want people to tune in to another network? But their should have at least been 1 mention of it. Even if they did mention the Texas race, the casual fan doesn't know, or care if he/she has Versus. This is where Versus needs to step up to the plate, and have more popular programming. If people are watching the network, then there more likely to see the commercials and watch the race.

IndyCar is in a very tricky situation because they have no fan base. They are trying to build one in the worst time for that in American sports history. I really dont know whats harder, building a fan base from scratch (IndyCar) or saving the one you have (Nascar). Randy hasn't been able to implement all the changes he would like. You'll see a lot more changes in 2012 with the implementation of the new chassis. If theres anyone who can turn IndyCar into powerhouse again, its Randy. Randy is a leader, Brian France is a guy stuck in a job hes not qualified for or wants. Thats a difference maker.

I do want to say that the Versus coverage is excellent. Its much better than any Nascar broadcast. And thats what makes this situation so sad. The coverage is outstanding, but nobodys watching.

Mike (Detroit) said...

Thats a shame for Indy car. I've been watching a lot more Indy car racing the last 4 or 5 years, and I must say I loved watching the Indy car racing, very good stuff. Hope an answer can be found somehow somewhere for the IRL.

Anonymous said...

You can't make people care about something they don't care about -- and in this case, the fans simply do not care about IndyCar. If it wasn't for the Indy500, which most TV viewers watch out of annual habit rather than any love or even knowledge about open-wheel racing -- then Indy would have died a decade ago or more.

I don't think the issue is TV coverage, either. In this day and age it really doesn't matter if it is on ABC or Versus. Yes, one is a BIG THREE network and one is a cable fledgling - but as you said, Versus is available in millions of homes and no one really cares to watch it.

I live in Austin TX, and it's the same thing here where they are building a giant F1 track to host a US Grand Prix. There have been tons of studies done about environmental impact, and potential economic upside... but no one has really researched whether there are actual paying fans. Just like Indy, there aren't.

Last note: the Indy president shouldn't hold out for a .8 to quit (a .8 is about as close to zero as you can get since there is no .0 rating). 1.0 is abysmal, and many infomercials do better. The stands at Homestead will be a ghost town, the sports pages will not cover the result, and guess what -- I'm not sure anyone will notice.

Anonymous said...

It just goes to show you how out of whack the world of IndyCar is: The owners have plenty of dough, but the sanctioning body is losing double-digit millions every year. Can anyone ever imagine that happening in NASCAR? You might have teams go bust, but NASCAR always makes money. Say what you want about Daytona management, but they know how to run a business.

Jonathan said...

Yeah Indy car fans gave me the same crap at Chicagoland Speedway a couple years back when I went to the Nascar Truck race the same weekend of the Indy race... Had my Nascar shirt on some indy people around the track gave me crap... yelling at me giving me the middle finger asking me if I even know what Nascat stood for lol! Im sorry I love all auto sports and would never put someone down for what they like... What goes around comes around my friends... Anyway yeah I think VS lost a lot of steam when they were off of Direct Tv anyone remember that??

Gymmie said...

anon 10:43--yes The Glen is an ISC track

anon 1:40--that's how I was for years. Didn't know they ran races outside the 500. I've heard the same about the F1 track here. I've seen folks on boards & twitter say they're going but 20 people are not going to support that track. Not sure of the folks who go to TMS are into F1, Moto GP, etc. to go. So can't say that just because TMS can get 200K or so folks that the F1 will get 100K because it's not the same audience. Not all NASCAR fans like F1 or other forms of racing & many F1 fans are purists so hate any other type of "racing".

olddragracer said...

I don't think RB will be quitting. I believe he has been doing a good job.

It should be mentioned that the Iowa race was a box office sell-out, that's why they want to do a double header there next year.

At least 2 kinds of success, TV and box office. I think the box office might be good this year. Indy had "the largest crowd in years", Iowa did well and I know the Baltimore GP tickets are selling better than expected.

The racing IS exciting, but I can't wait for new cars and engines.

Edd Sirr said...

The 500,000 people viewing in the US is worrying. I expect, that despite it being shown live at 1am, in the UK there were more people watching.

As a IndyCar fan in the UK, we have all the races shown live on Sky Sports. It is well advertisied in promos as well as on Sky Sports News. Having numerous Brits in the series does help, and maybe the lack of American drivers in the top spots week in week out is part of the problem?

Also, the splitting of television contracts seems to be a particular US system.
In Europe, most sports are shown live on one channel or network only (A massive exception is Premier League Football in the UK where 115 games are on Sky and 23 on ESPN UK), with highlights on another network. This means fans know where the games/races are going to be without having to have a complex knowledge of the schedule.
Even if races are on at different times of the day (eg F1 on the BBC in the UK) having only one network means they can promote it better.

Marsha said...

I watched the Iowa Indy race - it was excellent. I was on my feet at the end.

I seldom know when the next Indy race is on until I read about it in Thursday's USA Today's racing section of upcoming races on the weekend. Without that, I'd miss a lot of them. At least some weeks, qualifying is shown.

Our cable company recently started carrying the HD versus.

There is Danica mania in Indy, but she is usually deserving of the air time.

Anonymous said...

It is not just Versus, although that decision truly is a boat anchor. The IRL has made bad decision after bad decision though out its short history. If IndyCar left Versus where would it land? If its ratings a few years ago weren't good enough to keep ESPN's attention for an entire season, why would they care now?

I'll hate to see it die, but that is where it is headed. Having the Indy 500 on the schedule masked a lot of problems. But the charade is about over. Too many millions of fans simply don't care about it any more.

RIP IndyCar

Anonymous said...

Haha.....i used to be chicagoland speedway season ticket holder and every yr at the irl weekend id have some irl fan talk nonsense about how nascar is garbage .......last yr a fan started in again i blasted back with look at the huge crowd he jusk kept goin so i asked him who oriel serva was......he said i dont know.....i said hes running 8th and thats why the irl is almost dead......he shut up and several fans around us were just laughing at the guy......bottom line is when american drivers started going to nascar instead of even looking at open wheel racing the sport was going to suffer huge......remember folks that jeff gordon came up through usac and was expected to be a future open wheel superstar

Anonymous said...

What, nobody wants to watch a bunch of identical Hondas run in a circle? Hint to good racing, different chassis, different engines, and turn both right and left!

Palmetto said...

If I get Versus on Dish Silver, I don't know it. I'd love to watch more IRL, but I'm not moving up a tier to get a half-dozen races. If they were on a network I already get, I'd watch every race.

I don't know how anyone can watch F1. The product may be great, but I just can't tell which car / driver is which. The graphics and ticker do nothing to help those unfamiliar with the series. I don't expect to have my hand held, but c'mon; give me some way to match the drivers to the cars.

Buschseries61 said...

I agree the with the poster that mentioned lack of advertising. The world knows nothing about Indycar outside of Versus. They don't even have a website anymore!

I think I saw an Indycar commercial every day in the month of May on ESPN. It was important enough to be on SportsCenter. Of course the worldwide leader looks out for itself and barely touches the series outside of its commitments.

If NBC & Comcast get their act together, Indycar would benefit. With possible lockouts in football and basketball, motorsports could rise again. However, Indycar could remain unpromoted on a triple digit channel and quickly add to the list of athletes out of work.

red said...

"VERSUS coverage has been disjointed and the network is in complete flux."

FLUX! ok, the word there was "flux.' definitely not what i read the first two times.

"flux," indeed. although i do believe there is an element of what i read in this whole fiasco.

(ok, back to read this again & learn what else i mis-read in my haste. be back later.)

red said...

time was, indy cars were all folks watched and talked about and nascar was the "huh?" series. it hasn't totally turned but it's pretty close.

that said, i enjoy IndyCar racing. i watched the entire iowa race and haven't seen anything from nascar so far this season that matched that single IndyCar race.

but they're two completely forms of racing. aside from both having 4 wheels and one driver, they have precious little in common. and my experience has been that cross-over fans (folks who watch, enjoy and can discuss both series equally well) are few and far between.

it's not because all those "foreigners" run in Indycar with names too tough to pronounce -- because as nascar fans, we know "our" announcers struggle with pronunciation as well. (kez-el-ow-ski anyone? how about jamie mac mary? david gilly-land?)

and i don't think it's because the racing itself is so very different. watch one Indycar race with a true fan and you'll be hooked. that's exactly what hooks folks into nascar: watching it with someone who can explain it, picking a racer and following him/her through a season.

an horrific, long-term contract is at the root of the problem here. and it's been made worse this season by yanking the online watching capability. add in a generous dose of non-marketing as well as a race schedule that has extended breaks throughout the season and it's a recipe for the mess the series finds itself in today.

yes, the rules of the IndyCar game are different, the cars can be tough to spot unless you know what to look for (unlike the 15-20 different paint schemes a cup car might carry across a season? i think not!) and the whole team approach to the competition is different.

but it's racing. and at it's best, like at iowa, it's compelling and exciting and riveting and beautiful.

just like nascar.

Anonymous said...

With the creation of the IRL and the split of the sport, Anton 'Tony' George killed IndyCar Racing and it may never come back. Why the guy is still allowed in the paddock is beyond me.

And yes the network races should be moved to NBC and the 500, given the conflict with other NBC programming, should air in prime time in the evening. That's right folks tape delayed until prime time. And no I am not nuts as I know the business. The ratings will go through the roof. The highest Indy 500 Ratings of all time, I am talking about 15.0 ratings, was when ABC tape delayed the Indy 500 until Prime Time in the evening.

Andy Marquis said...

@olddragracer I hope Baltimore isn't a fluke. The gathering at that race is set to outdo The Preakness and The State Fair.

Kenn Fong said...

J.D.,

Honestly, I didn't even know there was an Indy race last weekend. It's surprising that Comcast doesn't use some of its open spots on other cable networks to promote Indy races. (For everyone else, every network clears out spots -- aka "clearances" or "local clearances" -- for the local affiliates/cable/satellite carriers which they can use for advertising or local promos.)

(I haven't seen the contract, but I wouldn't be surprised if NBC has an early-out clause if the ratings don't improve. They may be slow-playing so they can hard-ball Indy into a barter deal, in which Indy has to pay for the time and sell their own spots.)

But what is most telling to me is that after wondering if there was an Indy race, I didn't even care enough to check the listings. Aside from the Andrettis and Danica, is there a single American driver in Indy? They all seem to be from everywhere else. That tells me Americans don't think it's worth their effort to try to make it into Indycar.

Since I've been 13 years old, I have never missed an Indy 500. I looked forward to "doing the double" as a viewer (and wrote about that on my eponymous blog/site).

In the old days, I would buy the USA Today on the Friday before the race, cut out the full-color pictures of each car and pasted them on index cards While ABC made us wait for their edited/scripted version that night, I listened to the live radio broadcast and shuffled the cards to keep track of the leaderboard.

I would have thought this was an obsolete practice in these Internet days, but when I went to Indy500.com there wasn't a single link on the Indy500.com home page to the leaderboard. I clicked around and couldn't find it! I had to use Google.com to find their leaderboard!

It's as if Indycar was a failing restaurant that Randy Bernard had insured to the hilt, and he's about to torch it. There's no other way to explain this criminal incompetence. I have never drawn a paycheck in TV or radio (although that's my degree) and I am positive I could do a better job. That's not foolish bluster.

West Coast Kenny
Alameda, California

AllisonJ said...

Since this is a blog about TV coverage, I'm surprised that no one has mentioned how badly Versus executes IRL production.

From start to finish, the coverage is amateurish, clumsy, and often downright embarrassing. From Lindy Thackston's ill-at-ease presence to Jack Arute's random thought outbursts, to the hosts talking over each other and the bizarre sets, Versus is really beyond its capabilities.

And I ALWAYS turn off the TV before the victory lane sessions because the Versus people have no sense of respect for the drivers and teams. The driver cannot even get out of his car before Lindy is sticking a mike in his face and rambling away, as if Versus is The Reason it all exists. Shut up and give the guy/gal a chance to exit the car, hug his crew chief, shake hands with his crew, and compose himself.

So out of touch, it's stunning.

It's like a bunch of 6th graders got to do their own TV show. Downright embarrassing.

earl06 said...

Versus isn't really the problem. Anybody who is interested in the series knows where to go for the races. The problem is that nobody is interested in watching.

Obviously, star power doesn't help much. Danica is more recognizable than all but a handful of NASCAR drivers. That hasn't helped get fans.

When NASCAR was growing like mad in the early 00's, it was because folks who had no previous interest in racing were tuning in. There was a buzz about it in the MSM. It became a fad. The fad has been over for a while, and most of the trendy fans have moved on.

If IndyCar wants to grow, it has to become fashionable. Sucks to say, but action on the track isn't what makes racing popular. It's what happens off the track that gets new people involved. And there's no sign that anyone outside of the core fanbase has any intention of partaking in the IndyCar product until some sort of buzz or trend starts to take off.

Bobby said...

Palmetto,

I've noticed in comparing "world feeds" for various series in motorsport over the years that the identity of the machines is harder in other series since we have been spoiled over the years with the authentic graphic of the car numbers and liveries debuted in 2001.

Speed's art department has adopted a NASCAR style graphics package, but they only use it for their segments -- much easier to decipher than F1's own name codes. The NASCAR-style package is also used for MotoGP, where that odd-looking #1 plate for Jorge Lorenzo is hard to identify at first, but Lorenzo's design allows the fans to identify it on the fly.

Many of the street races are built around mega-festivals with rock concerts, parties, and the works. These fans who sit in the seats on a street circuit and then go to the concert are different than the traditional road racing fan who packs their camper, parks on the track, and watches the races off viewing mounds with food on the grill and the burning smell of a freshly grilled foods who watch the race.

glenc1 said...

Versus is not on my package, so I cannot watch, and I can't watch online anymore either, so I'm SOL. I still try and keep up with who's who, but it's not easy. I think everyone has pretty much said the reasons, and the Tv situation certainly isn't helping. I wouldn't upgrade just for one channel, although I might be doing it for other reasons.
I went to the first few races at the Glen. Just economic reasons that I stopped. It wasn't a great crowd, but the racing was good...it might have grown with time.

Andrew said...

Who could have predicted that a Tony George negotiated deal would come back to blow up in IndyCar face? Unthinkable!

NBC/Kabletown preserved the bike racing section of the old Versus website when the NBC rebranding occurred. Obviously preserving goodwill with the bike racing fans was a priority in the merger, after all, Versus is still the go to network for bike racing coverage in the US and will presumably continue to be in the future.

IndyCar? Not so much. Sorry IndyCar fans, you are fans of a sport that is not niche-ier than bike racing. Congratulations. Send your regards to the Pagoda in Speedway, Indiana.

Anonymous said...

If SPEED removed Wind Tunnel and Speed Center then no one would know anything about the IRL.

I only know about it because I watch Wind Tunnel every Sunday night. If you watch that show, you get the picture perfect reflection of our society. Nascar rules the Motorsports landscape in America. Callers call in about Nascar and no...the producers don't field those NASCAR calls only. Fact is no one cares about INDY..ok maybe
2 people

Look at today's announcement that IMS is the new home for Grand Am and Nationwide. Why is that?
IMS and the IRL is a distant memory.
That ship has sailed my friends.

MOTO GP fan~

mclark2112 said...

The IRL has never had ratings, and the IRL isn't Indycar. They bought the name, and the history, but there is no direct relation between today's IRL and Indycar of the 80's and 90's.

Anonymous said...

Bobby...not sure what point you were trying to make, but did it ever occur to you to wonder where those folks grilling next to the viewing berm came from? They may have once been those people in the stands going to the parties. You can't grow a sport by wishing it so, you gotta get the butts in the seats as a start. That comment also sounds a bit...well, sorry but 'snobbish'... as if one fan is better than another. I hear this stuff all the time at road courses. Paying customers keep the sports going, whatever their motives. The only kind of fan I don't want to see is the drunken fall on your face guy, which I have seen at every track I've ever been to.

Tony George killed the Indy series. There had to have been a better way to work things out than what he did. Even his own family had had enough once he risked the family legacy. I keep hoping some genius will step in to get it off life support.

James said...

If it wasn't for Robin Miller nobody would care about open wheel racing! Most folks would not even know a midget from a silver crown car. The Hullman Family resurected the Speedway after WWII, they watched it self destruct, who cares why? It was about MONEY! This love of the sport stuff, died years ago, when the lads from the heartland (Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewert,Paul Menard, AJ Almindinger) knew they could NOT sustain a career in IndyCar. Which is why, you do not see Americans in IndyCar! What is just as incredable is that the few Americans who can drive an IndyCar have failed miserabley at NASCAR with the exception of Danica. Watching her run the Daytona race Saturday night you could come up with Jacques Villinue or Dario or San Hornish and ask is she really a better driver than these guys or what! Then ask how can anyone bid on a contract for a racing series that has no stars, the winner of the biggest race does not have a ride. Can you imagine the winner of the Daytona 500 not being able to find a competive ride?

Indy had a magic about it this year, every story had depth, bump day was truly bump day. Robin Miller was in his glory, he finally had an I told you so moment. What did the powers to be do, they cancelled the tv program that featured the series before they even reviewed the 500. Genius. Now tell me why you think INDYCAR is ever going to keep fans. If NASCAR can not realize the fans are the same ones they had 10 years ago, not the newbies. Then how can INDY maintain a fan base?

Palmetto said...

Anon @ July 5 11:05pm, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway doesn't have lights; they CAN'T run the 500 in prime time. Even if they could, they'd be insane to go head to head with the Coke 600.

Anonymous said...

The problem is with the IRL, not Versus. Time to pull the plug on this abortion of a race series.

Mikey And Phil shut up said...

Michael Waltrip : should be paid off on his contract and politely told to leave the booth.
He was at his worstof the worst
tonite. Never shut up repeat repeat
doesnt take a breath.
Quite frankly the guy has no
respect none at all. And dont get
me started with his side kick who
never shuts up as well.
What a sad team from hell.
Pray for them Amen Peace Out

Kenn Fong said...

J.D.,

Richard Deitsch, who covers the broadcasting beat for Sports Illustrated, just tweeted this today:

richarddeitsch 12:24pm via Web

US-Sweden women's soccer drew 1.26 million viewers. It did not top US-Colombia, but did top US-North Korea. (Thx, @AustinKarp)


You just wrote that last Saturday's Indy race from Iowa garnered less than half a million viewers.

Women's soccer got two and a half times MORE viewers than the Iowa Corn 250!

West Coast Kenny
Alameda, California

ME said...

I do not know why the IRL does not understand that not everyone has or can afford to pay to have the Versus channel or any other cable channel. Like , myself, most people are not going to pay for an extra tier of digital cable channels just to watch a race once a month.
If people do not have Versus, then guess what, nobody will watch.
I remember as a little kid when IndyCar was on network TV. More people were watching. Duh!
It is also not the foreign drivers that are the issue either. Formula One probably has more American fans and coverage than IndyCar has.

James said...

I'm not sure how people can honestly think that because of poor TV ratings an entire racing series is going to fold. If Grand Am, SCCA, ARCA, World of Outlaws and USAC, who have almost no TV audience (some series which hardly ever have a televised race) can continue to sanction races then it's hard for me to believe that IndyCar is about to drown. With Chevrolet and Lotus coming out with new engines next season there are certainly signs not only of life, but of growth.

It's one of those things that is a specific taste not everyone likes but will probably be around for a long time. There may never a new opera that hits the top 40 billboard charts but there will always be people who will go to hear opera.

Ncrdbl1 said...

While reading the article one thing jumps out at me. Why is a pro NASCAR blogger writing a story about Indy Car to begin with? It has been known for decades that AOW does not get the TV numbers that NASCAR gets. This was true way before the infamous split. True compared to NASCAR's numbers the ratings are poor. However if you research AOW over the past decade or so the numbers are not as bad as made out and are growing. No they are not ESPN type numbers but Versus is not ESPN, but it is growing. For the first time EVER we see Indy Lights shown LIVE. A number of times as a double header with the Indy Car race. If the Comcast deal works as many have speculated we could see Indy Races on NBC, There has been cross promotion in the Four De France broadcast. Sure it is NOT a perfect TV deal but is miles a head of other series that were on ESPN such as the late Champ Car series and the ALMS.

I do have to ask again why the need to go into full attack mode on Indy Car. Could it be to take the focus away from the fiasco going on in the Sprint Cup series. The declining TV numbers there and the record setting no shows?