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DATE News (chronologically)
10/29/13
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Two important IndyCar questions
A reader asks, Dear AutoRacing1.com, Two important questions that have been left unanswered:
  1. NBCSN & Indy car have a contract, can Indy car get out of it (assuming they want to)?
  2. Does ABC/ESPN want a series (even if Indy Car pays through the nose) that hardly anyone watches?

My personal feeling is that TV audiences and track crowds all say the same thing, the USA is not really interested in open wheel racing.  With a few exceptions it doesn't matter what track they go to or what channel they are on, the fans/viewers just aren't there. Ralph

Dear Ralph,

  1. Every contract can be broken, but of course there is usually a cost.  However, given the low ratings, we doubt NBC Sports Network is making any money off the contract at this point.  In fact they may be losing money given the payments to IndyCar were small in the early years but ramp up in the late years.  We are now in the late years.
  2. ABC/ESPN lost NASCAR.  They really could use something to replace them.  Whereas they were obligated to pay NASCAR huge sums of money, that would not be the case for IndyCar.  In fact, other than the five races ABC currently pays IndyCar for, they might insist on a time-buy to do 13 more races.  That does not mean it would cost IndyCar any money.  They have been averaging about 1.0 TV ratings on ABC (=1.4 million viewers per race) advertisers would be more willing to pay IndyCar for the time slots.  And if all your races are on ABC and your drivers are constantly mentioned on SportsCenter and the other plethora of ABC/ESPN media outlets, you begin to build consistency (fans know where to find the races, even if in a hotel room) and name recognition.  Being on two competing networks kills any chance for real promotion of upcoming races.  Does NBC want to do anything to help ABC, and vice versa?  Really?

Regarding are there enough fans left.  Well certainly Tony George destroyed the sport by splitting it, and the fans walked away out of disgust.  However, when you start with 1.0 ratings and 1.4 million viewers per race, you begin to get noticed by sponsors and automobile manufacturers.  IndyCar might be able to land that third engine manufacturer they covet, especially if all the races are distributed via ESPN International worldwide.  That brings worldwide exposure that might just attract a VW, Renault or perhaps a Chinese car company wanting to break into the USA.  Sponsors in turn advertise and they help to build the IndyCar brand awareness. The racing IndyCar puts on is fabulous, it blows NASCAR away. 

When 1.4 million people are watching, and they like what they see, you begin to get people interested in actually attending races and check it out.  And if IndyCar realizes what we have been saying for ten years now - "It's the driver stupid" - the athlete must be the hero fans latch onto.  Admiration of the athletes has staying power more than anything else. In other words if you have 1.4 million viewers per race you have something from which you can build upon.  The IZOD’s of the world will start to take notice again.

Oh and one more thing - F1 is going to take a hit when it loses its screaming naturally aspirated engines.  IndyCar would be wise to mimic the current F1 scream.  It is the #1 signature of F1 and IndyCar can capitalize on F1's blunder.  Yes, it will cost money.  But you want to bring back that 'wow factor' don't you? Mark C.

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