Mark Miles, who was hired last year as CEO of Hulman & Co., which oversees the Izod IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, told USA TODAY Sports he expects a larger audience for IndyCar races, which have been struggling with poor ratings on NBC Sports Network.
"One way or another, this is a good opportunity for IndyCar," Miles said. "NBC Sports has a motor sports vertical that's powerful. We've shared a lot of data, and one of the things we've learned is that our ratings are substantially better — still not where we want them to be, but better — when we don't overlap with NASCAR racing. Now that they have both of us, that isn't going to happen." [Editor's Note: You bet, when the IndyCar race gets taped delayed to some ungodly hour the two won't overlap.]
In July, NASCAR announced an $8.2 billion TV package deal that will move a portion of Sprint Cup broadcasts to NBC and NBC Sports Network beginning in 2015. Currently, IndyCar's live race broadcasts are split between NBC Sports Network and ABC/ESPN. During the second half of the season beginning in 2015, NASCAR and IndyCar races won't air simultaneously.
"For a meaningful number of races, it reduces a scheduling conflict that limits our ratings," Miles said. "That's one benefit. Across their platform, people will look to them for motor sports. We've received more specific information about how the scheduling will work so that we'll either be coming out of or going into a bigger audience than we have at the moment. I think that's an opportunity."
Miles said he had no intention of trying to get out of IndyCar's contract with NBC Sports Network, which runs through the 2018 season [Editor's Note: Read that we are going to continue to collect our check from NBC regardless of whether the series in dying on the vine. Poor Mr. Miles is green behind the ears when it comes to the politics of motorsports. He's in for a rude awakening].
Instead, he said he was eager to see how IndyCar fits into the NBC motor sports mix. The network, which began broadcasting Formula One races this year, is bound to gain a larger audience in 2015 because of NASCAR, but Miles said selling IndyCar to NASCAR fans wasn't the point.
"Our goal is not to chase NASCAR fans," Miles said. "There's a meaningful difference in the demographics. We do best in the markets with more upscale demographics. I think that's a strength, but we have to be seeing it that way. We can't be chasing NASCAR fans. Some will come over and watch us, but we've got to figure out how to position this so we're very appealing to the fans that match up with our product." [Editor's Note: Read that we're OK with staying small]
TV audiences for IndyCar races haven't improved much since the end of the open-wheel split with CART in 2008. From 1996 through 2007, feuding factions raced in two open-wheel series. The sport's heyday, which lasted from the 1950s into the '80s, is past, but Miles said he was encouraged by the potential of the series, which concludes its 2013 season Saturday in Fontana, Calif.
"We're not where we want to be," Miles said. "Part of it is history; part of it is our own ability to perform. My job is to make improvements every day. I think we can execute better on a lot of different fronts. There's no one silver bullet. It's about becoming a higher-performing organization every day." USA Today