ABC hopes to end Indy ratings woes
The running Sunday of the Indianapolis 500 will be the 100th anniversary of the fabled event at the Brickyard, and although it again is a highlight on the sports calendar it has lost much of its luster as a major television force.
Ratings haven't soured as much as if the bottle of milk that the winner traditionally drinks had been left out in the sun all day, but the numbers say stock car racing's key event continues to zoom by open wheel racing's showcase spectacle.
NASCAR's Daytona 500 has out-rated the Indy 500 for the last 15 years, something that had happened only twice in the previous 22 years. Since 2000, Daytona has more than doubled Indy's rating most times. And Indy has beaten the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's race that runs the same night, only once in the last five years. That came in 2009, when the Coke race was rained out and run the following afternoon.
The 500 has been going the wrong direction in St. Louis, too. The rating locally in 2005 was 7.3, last year it was 3.1.
ABC Sports, which is run by ESPN, will carry the race for the 47th consecutive time. And ESPN senior vice president and executive producer Jed Drake said it's important now to draw in younger viewers.
"You want to keep it turning over and over as the years go by,'' he said on a conference call this week. "But I do believe this event has staying power and it is on a growth curve. ... It is something that absolutely, positively exceeds the notion of it being just a motor sports event. It's the spectacle, it's the element of danger.
"I think that transcends age, and, in fact, I think it probably plays pretty well to the youth angle because once they do start watching it, I think that there is an amazement about it. ... I'm pretty bullish on it, and I think that is the direction we're going.''
ABC plans to weave a lot of history into the telecast, which begins at 10 a.m. (KDNL, Channel 30 locally). The race is set to start at 11:10 a.m.
"With the centennial, this great production team has put together 100 years by American presidents,'' Drake said. "We're going to have a whole pregame piece that's devoted to the journey. ... We recognize the importance of this event for the event itself, but also by addition, the historical significance of itself and the period of time.
"I was sitting with Brent (Musburger) a few years ago when we were talking about sort of the scene set. And I reminded him that if you really want to put this race in perspective, think about this: The Civil War had only been over 50 years when the first race was held. That really does put it in context.''