ABC only wanted 400 miles of IndyCar at Pocono
In bringing back Indy cars to Pocono Raceway next summer after a 23-year absence, race officials are trying to turn back time to a more prominent era for open-wheel racing.
And while they can't bring back the Unser brothers, A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, and a lot of the guys who made Indy car the most popular version of auto racing back in the 1970s and for part of the '80s, they can try to bring back traditions like the Triple Crown.
But one thing that won't be back at Long Pond next July is a 500-mile race. And make no mistake, IZOD IndyCar series officials want this race, and as many others as possible, on ABC.
"We felt that having Pocono on ABC was very important and the time we were allotted on that particular day [July 7] was three hours," IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said. "We could have decided to go with the NBC Sports Network, which would have been a great choice as well, but we wanted to make sure this one was on ABC. So, we chose the three-hour time window, which meant a 400-mile race."
Credit Bernard for his honesty, except for one thing — the NBC Sports Network would not have been a great choice.
The NBC Sports Network, formerly Versus, is still making progress and adding quality sports programming. It became a relevant destination during the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring.
But you need a channel chart to find it.
With ABC, you don't. If you live in the Lehigh Valley, you know you can get ABC on WPVI, Channel 6, out of Philadelphia and you've been getting ABC there for decades.
Location matters in real estate and it definitely matters on a channel chart.
The NBC Sports Network, by the way, is on channel 471 for RCN cable subscribers, 93 for Service Electric subscribers and dial position 75 for Blue Ridge customers.
One of the reasons NASCAR does relatively well in the ratings is that the first third of its schedule is on Fox, beginning with Daytona in February, and the last third, going right through the Chase, is on ESPN.
The middle section is on TNT.
While cable channels have become much more of a regular stop on our boxes than they were 10, 15 or especially 20 years ago, you still want the big networks covering you if you can.
That's why IndyCar wants as many races as possible on the ABC/ESPN family of channels.
The IndyCar series will have 19 races next year with the first four and the last eight on the NBC Sports Network.
But beginning with the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend and continuing through the Pocono race, six of seven events will be televised by ABC, which has been always synonymous with IndyCar.
Don't think for a minute that it's a coincidence popular driver Helio Castroneves is back for a second stint on "Dancing With The Stars" on ABC. Every time he does a quick step with partner Chelsie Hightower, ABC is hoping people will remember that Helio is also pretty fast around that track in Indianapolis every Memorial Day weekend.
Bernard admitted that he wanted Pocono's return on the circuit seen by as many people as possible and ABC afforded him that opportunity, even if it meant a shorter race.
"We want to build continuity and momentum on ABC starting with Indy," Bernard said. "In the past, we've had an ABC race, then three NBC races, and then an ABC race. You could go a month or two without a race on one of the networks, and it's very difficult for any network to promote a series that doesn't have continuity.
"It's an injustice to the series and the networks to bounce back and forth. The buck stops here and you have to figure out how you're going to make it better and by staying on the same network over longer stretches of time is one of the ways."
Because of the minimal back-and-forth, Bernard said that IndyCar's TV package next year is "the best we've had in decades."
He also admitted IndyCar was "a little disappointed with our TV ratings this year. But if you look back at the last three years overall, we had double-digit growth. I just think we had quite a bit of bad luck with rain delays. We only had 15 races this past year and were never able to build momentum. You'll see a major difference, and double-digit growth, next year. I'd bet on it." Allentown Morning Call