Opinion: Will 2013 be IndyCar’s last?

I’ve been laying low for the last few days. There’s been a lot of information to absorb.

Many of you have told me over the years that what you appreciate about my writing is that it’s not off-the-cuff and automatically attacking or pessimistic; rather, I tend to look at the big picture of issues and respond to them rationally and fairly. It’s a reputation that I deeply appreciate and take very seriously.

So, with everything that’s been going on lately, I’ve been trying not to be rash. I’ve been taking a step back and doing a lot of reading, absorbing, and processing.

If you haven’t yet read the many exposés released lately on such topics as the rationale behind firing Randy Bernard, Robin Miller’s calling out of the people behind the mess the sport is in today, or the debacle of how HVM got royally screwed with the Lotus deal, you most assuredly should. There’s been a lot more revealed in the last month than we usually get to see on the BS that happens behind the scenes in IndyCar, and it’s been very enlightening.

For my part, I’ve read and considered all of that, and I’ve been following what others have been talking about in the days that have followed, and all of it has led me to one conclusion.

IndyCar is in far deeper trouble than it has ever been in before – and it has very little to do with the firing of Randy Bernard.

Firing Randy didn’t help, of course. He took the heat on a lot of things that in reality weren’t his fault, and the 20/20 hindsight view that we’re afforded now shows that nothing could ever have prepared him enough to do the job he was charged with. That he came into the position with zero knowledge of the racing world and the people who operate within it looked promising from the outset, but the naivety that came with that lack of knowledge ultimately led to his demise.

And at the end of it all, the unceremonious ouster of the most fan-oriented executive IndyCar had seen in years left the sport’s most dedicated more frustrated and incensed than it has been since 1996.

But all the attention on these matters has been nothing but smoke and mirrors. IndyCar has much, much bigger problems on the horizon that not a lot of people have noticed yet.

Numbers were down across the board this year — particularly TV numbers, which are generally taken as the gold standard for the strength of a modern-day sport. Everything stems from the TV numbers: sponsor interest, advertising investment, operating budgets, growth potential.

Randy Bernard was the king scapegoat for this year’s low numbers, with his detractors citing his promise to improve them and his inability to deliver.

But he was given an impossible task. For some reason, few people have connected the low TV numbers to the two extreme factors that changed between 2011 and 2012: a) Danica Patrick left for NASCAR full-time and took a whole lot more fans with her than people within IndyCar anticipated; and b) Dan Wheldon died on track in a heavily promoted season finale — in a way that was often perceived from outside the organization as preventable — and many people never came back.

After 12 months, expecting any one man to be able to orchestrate a rebound in ratings — on a cable network that has a low subscription rate to begin with, no less — is simply asking the impossible.

That’s the TV situation. But what about ticket sales? They’re not so bad, right?

People will always go to Indy. The late ‘90s and early ‘00s proved that. And Long Beach is a pretty safe bet, too. (I’m not convinced that the people who go to Long Beach even care what cars show up so long as they get to drink Tecate and eat smoked turkey legs all weekend.)

But it’s no secret that the reason the smaller ovals have fallen off the schedule these past few years is that people can’t even be convinced to show up for free — hence the oft-lamented leaning on twisties, particularly street courses, to pay the bills.

Unfortunately, I can tell you first-hand that for at least one street race market that’s considered a stronghold, the picture is not pretty there, either. More at Frontwing.com

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