Indy 500 TV coverage quickly runs out of gas
[Editor's Note: Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, Champ Car or the IRL, if the TV ratings did in fact drop for the Indy 500 this is not good news for open wheel racing in the USA which took a big hit in 1996 when the IRL was created and has never recovered. If the formula is to ever recover it is going to need the Indy 500 to be its strong anchor.]
As if the Indianapolis 500 wasn't facing enough problems, yesterday's race was the equivalent of being kicked in the stomach while lying on the track in the fetal position.
The self-titled "greatest spectacle in racing" has been anything but lately, with attendance and TV ratings dropping. And yesterday's 91st running won't help matters.
Thanks mainly to bad weather, the ESPN Indy broadcast spanned more than eight hours, including a three-hour rain delay and featured a finish totally lacking in drama.
Prior to the race, this looked like the kind of event that might lift the Indy out of its doldrums. The story potential was rich, with three females competing and the usual coterie of Andrettis on hand.
As Brent Musburger, who can always be counted on to overstate the case, said: "What happens here today will be remembered for generations." But instead the story was the weather.
There wasn't much "ESPN on ABC" could do about this, though there were times when it looked more like "The Weather Channel on ABC."
The irrepressible Musburger started it with a countdown to rain. "Rain is expected in 40 minutes," he told viewers, continuing a running countdown every few minutes. Then, seconds before the heavens opened, track reporter Vince Welch told viewers that leader Marco Andretti had been advised to let Tony Kanaan pass him.
So Kanaan made his pass, and seconds later the race was stopped. It appeared Kanaan had won in the least dramatic fashion possible – a rain-shortened race with the lead handed to him.
But there was hope and ESPN hung in. Three hours of rain delay did allow Welch to ask one of the dumbest questions ever: "Do you want this one to go back and finish it off?" he asked the younger Andretti. Andretti said he would.
At this point, many fans had left the track and presumably so did many viewers. Even TSN bailed, dropping the Indy rain delay coverage to go to NASCAR's pre-race show. In its defense, TSN did send viewers to Versus – oops, ABC.
Incredibly, the race did resume and eventually produced a dizzying array of lead changes, crack-ups and errors.
That should have produced a classic finish. But sadly it all ended with a whimper. After Kanaan suffered a flat tire, Dario Franchitti easily took the lead and was cruising around the track when young Andretti crashed.
That heralded the return of rain, prompting announcer Marty Reid to say: "I believe (Franchitti) has just won the Indianapolis 500."
Those words will not go down in broadcasting history. Toronto Star