Honda Indy can thank Randy Bernard for its success
The people who run the Honda Indy Toronto – the Savoree-Green racing organization and Honda Canada – have one person to thank for this weekend’s huge success: Randy Bernard.
Bernard was the IndyCar CEO who made the decision to take the series’ Canadian TV contract to Rogers Sportsnet and it was a brilliant move.
TSN has held the contracts for big league international motorsport, going back years. Formula One, NASCAR and IndyCar were TSN staples. But TSN rarely promoted racing. In fact, if anything, it sometimes de-emphasized it.
Once, it had a 30-minute pre-race program for F1 featuring Vic Rauter in the studio and Gerald Donaldson reporting from race tracks around the world. They cancelled that show years ago and have made do since with a five-minute lead-in from a foreign broadcaster.
And not all IndyCar races were shown live.
Bernard, who was fired last October, had his flaws but he did some things very well and listening to fans was one of them. Canadian IndyCar followers let him know loud and clear that they were fed up with TSN and so he spearheaded the move to Sportsnet.
Now, the Honda Indy Toronto, despite declarations to the contrary from organizers, has been a shadow of its former self ever since it was revived by Michael Andretti in 2009. Attendance on some race days resembled a BMO Stadium soccer crowd: 20,000 – if that.
But this weekend (although event management once again declined to issue an official attendance figure) saw a large crowd (I suggest 35,000-plus) gather at Exhibition Place that, in a lot of ways, was reminiscent of the glory days of the Molson Indy in the long distant past.
The corporate suites were all full, as were the grandstands, and what was really encouraging was that the general admission areas were packed. The two races didn’t hurt, either.
What turned things around? Rogers Sportsnet’s non-stop promotion of this racing weekend going back several months. TV commercials about the race were played daily. Rogers radio stations talked up the race almost non-stop.
The most popular – or one of the most popular – afternoon drive programs in the Toronto area, Bob McCown’s Prime Time Sports show, featured lengthy interviews with Toronto Indy CEO Charlie Johnstone and James Hinchcliffe.
I just about drove off the Gardiner while going home one afternoon when McCown talked on and on about how exciting the IndyCar race from Brazil had been. Being a listener, I’m well aware that McCown has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of most sports but I never took him to be a race fan.
Or maybe he was under orders. Whatever, it doesn’t matter. It worked. The Rogers push on radio and TV was in large part responsible for making this weekend’s races a huge success.
So, thank you Randy Bernard. And on behalf of all the IndyCar racing fans in Canada, I wish you the all the best in your future endeavors. If there’s anything we can ever do for you, please let us know. We owe ya. wheels.ca