St. Pete IndyCar TV Rating plummets

UPDATE #3 Yet another reader adds, Dear, I too think the Versus coverage was the best in recent memory, and I'm going to be selfish and say I'm glad IndyCar has a partner who at least puts a decent effort for the few fans this sport has left. Thing is though, Versus is also in the same position as IndyCar in many ways. Versus is still relatively new, and years ago I began theorizing that Tony George had taken this sport so far down that for it to recover, you essentially have to reintroduce the sport as something new, so there is a common link and challenge between the two entities. At least IndyCar would have a few thousand of diehards to start with, which the Versus ratings showed there are indeed only a few thousand core fans left. Now obviously Versus needs to expand the households it reaches, but that's a long term goal at best. Short term Versus needs to get more of the households it already reaches to tune into ICR. For that, the IRL really needs to step up as a partner and pump money in advertising beyond just during race broadcasts where all you are doing is preaching to the choir.

Versus has created quite a base between hockey, rodeo, hunting & fishing, now motorsports, but all these are niche sports and no matter what they do, will attract only a limited audience. So they need something bigger, perhaps football, college sports, and then some gimmicks for niche sports like IndyCar such as "tune in to have a chance to win $1 million" or something like that. Then there is how broadcasting as an industry is in the midst of a revolution as telecommunication companies look to get in the cable TV industry, and now Comcast is looking to expand into telecommunications. So much can and will likely change over the next few years with broadcasting and telecommunications that will ultimately expand the reach of smaller channels like Versus. The problem all comes back to TG as RIGHT NOW he needs to make long-term financial commitments to the series' rebuilding process especially if he wants it to be making a profit by 2013, the year he will fold the sport if it doesn't. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem interested in running the sport now that he got what he wanted (classic spoiled brat behavior). So I want to see the press hound the guy on why all of a sudden he's cutting the investment at a time it needs it most, now that he got what he split the sport to obtain. Instead of dissecting whether Versus was a good move or not, hound TG why after everything he put the sport through in order to gain 100% control, is he no longer interested in running it. I'll take the quality broadcast over the crap ESPN was putting out there in a heartbeat, but I sure wish the sport had the leadership who knew how to turn a lemon into lemonade, which the IRL currently lacks. If it's he can't afford to do it, then divest ownership, let's say to the team owners. Andy Fogiel, Lansing, MI

04/10/09 A reader writes, Dear AR1, Re your piece on the Versus coverage, I was also asking myself the question you did regarding quality of production vs. installed households. That was before I watched qualifying and the race. Wow. Those guys, and girl, nailed it….first time. I really am hard pressed to find a single element that stood out as a negative. (Actually there was one…and quite significant at that… overran its time slot!)

In every other respect the production was world class…… and very classy. The reporters on both sides of the glass sounded like they had been together for a several seasons already……..just think how good they will be after just a few races. All aspects of the camera action were topnotch especially the in-car HD footage. I really liked the clean and uncluttered graphics after years of crap spread across the screen. The bumpers and opening credits are way cool. And….are you listening Speed F1 guys…..I really appreciate the scrolling position updates.

When IndyCar was on the other channels, I was a part-time viewer and even then not a happy one. The constant Danica ramblings and Scott Goodyear's "that’s what we call it" explanations of the most basic concepts drove me around the bend.

So even if it is on a channel that doesn't have the global coverage of ESPN, I say that this is the best move IndyCar have made. You can always increase the ratings and homes covered if you have a great product. But a bad one, in an over competitive arena, will sink and die.

I have already started spreading the word to my racing buddies who may have tuned out on the series lately. Now if all the other 250,000 viewers do the same we should be in great shape. Ray Masters, Hawaii

04/08/09 The Nielsen ratings for the first Indy Racing League race Sunday in St. Petersburg were down 60 percent from the same race a year ago. The 2009 St. Petersburg race was the season kick-off, and the first race on cable channel Versus. Last year, the race was on ESPN. Total viewership dropped from 575,000 households (actually was viewers, not households) last year to 233,000 this year, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research.

“This is a number Versus research predicted, so there’s no surprise here," said IRL spokesman John Griffin. “The fact is, when things on TV are slow, Versus is not a channel people surf onto the way they do with ESPN. We know the work we have ahead of us. The Versus ad campaign just started, so hopefully that gets us some traction."

Household viewership did spike from a 0.3 rating to a 0.4 during the last laps of the race.

“This is just one early-season race, and there’s no reason to judge the entire relationship on this race," said Tim Frost, president of Frost Motorsports, a Chicago-based motorsports business consultancy.

Technically, Frost gave the production good marks. “The number of cameras they used was very solid, as was the production quality and the commentary," he said.

IRL officials said there was plenty of upside to the opening week. Griffin said feedback from racing fans that did watch the season opener was better than 90 percent positive.

“We couldn’t be happier with our opening week of race coverage on Versus," said Charlie Morgan, president and chief operating officer for IMS Productions. “Versus’ commitment was to super-serve [IRL] fans and based on the response we have seen from our fans they are thrilled with the amount and quality of coverage available to them throughout the weekend."

“We just have to do a better job of helping people find Versus and letting them know what Versus is capable of doing," Griffin added.

Frost said Versus has a track record for building sports properties’ viewership. “Versus has consistently [increased] the ratings of NHL games, and I expect the same with the IRL," Frost said.

04/07/09 As we predicted, regardless of how good the production of the TV broadcasts on Versus will be, viewership for IndyCar races will be disastrous. Our prediction, as unfortunate as it is, has come true. Last Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first-ever IndyCar Series race on Versus, earned 233,000 viewers. Last year’s IndyCar season opener, the Gainsco Auto Insurance Indy 300 from Homestead-Miami Speedway, earned 1.1 million viewers on ESPN2 on a Saturday night in primetime. That means this year's season opener was down 79%. The '08 race from St. Pete, which was that season’s second telecast, earned 575,000 viewers on ESPN for a Sunday afternoon telecast, representing a drop this year of 60%. No matter how you slice it or dice it, a disaster for someone trying to sell sponsorship.