Monday, June 24, 2013

Motorsports' Inadequate Appreciation in The American Sports Landscape

In 2011 and 2012 IndyCar raced Saturday night at Iowa Speedway and it was the only major motorsport event going on in the United States that time of night. Sure it was on NBC Sports Net and was a fairly late start time but if you were a racing fan, it was the only option.

The quality IndyCar oval racing that Iowa Speedway provides was showcased on ABC this year however the start time was moved. From Saturday to Sunday. At 3:00 p.m. ET. The same time as the NASCAR race at Sonoma.

If you follow me on Twitter, you would have seen a stream of tweets expressing displeasure about IndyCar's chronic one step forward, two steps back. IndyCar went head-to-head with the big dog that is NASCAR when it really didn't have to and could have been avoided. The IndyCar race did finish about an hour and a half before the NASCAR race did but it could have avoided all together. If someone could please explain to me why ABC would broadcast IndyCar at the same time as NASCAR when it had been avoided for the past two year that would be great. The series can't always avoid going head-to-head with one another and it is going to happen but should occur as least as possible.

What is really a kick to the crotch is that next week, when IndyCar is off, NASCAR is racing Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway leaving Sunday afternoon wide open. The 2013 NASCAR schedule came out September 25 five days prior to IndyCar's 2013 calendar. There wasn't it much time for IndyCar to pick out all the open dates but the only changes from 2012 for NASCAR were Kansas Speedway and Talladega swapping dates in October.

When the IndyCar schedule was reveal there was some angst about four consecutive weeks; a nonstop tour from Indianapolis to Detroit for two shows to Texas to Milwaukee to Iowa. Instead of slinging blame around to ABC and IndyCar and Randy Bernard and Iowa Speedway and on and on and on, let's put it on the chalkboard, circle it and write underneath "Never Again!" Yes, IndyCar could have had off this past weekend, allowed a few drivers to go to Le Mans, had Iowa and Pocono, ABC's final two races, back-to-back before the doubleheader at Toronto leading into a two week break. Oh well. The ball was dropped on that one. For 2014, these missed opportunities have to be caught. IndyCar needs to try and work with NASCAR to avoid scheduling conflicts. Yes I know Brian France said working on allowing a Indianapolis 500-Coca Cola 600 double was "not on our front burner" so why would he be interested in helping IndyCar get an open television window for Iowa? I don't know but instead of living in a cut-throat world where everyone is against one another for the money of the consumer and trying to get as much of the pie as possible, there should be a mindset change to coexistence. Both parties and their media partners should work together so races are not head-to-head. I highly doubt ABC intentionally scheduled Iowa head-to-head with Sonoma to take a ratings hit for IndyCar and benefit TNT. That doesn't make sense at all. The two series, the television partners and the race tracks need a liaison to work out the best situation for all. The series should avoid starting head-to-head as much as possible and should negotiate dates with tracks so we don't have one series going to a track with the another showing up three weeks later. Spreading out the dates would give the local fans a better chance to financially budget going to the tracks and seeing as much racing as possible.

A liaison can only do so much and there are somethings they would not be able to correct. As usual, I turned on SportsCenter early this morning and caught up on the world of sports. I watched the bottom line and saw a mention of Nik Wallenda successfully crossing the Grand Canyon. For the next half an hour I watched the bottom line, waiting for a mention of James Hinchcliffe winning his third IndyCar race of the season with maybe a mention of the rest of the top five. I waited and waited. The core cycle on the bottom line was "The Lead" (headlines of games from the day before), MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR and Soccer. Every other cycle, "Results" was added and the only results shown were those of the golf tournaments this weekend. The Travelers Championship, BMW Open, Champions Tour, LPGA, etc. A cycle later college football was added mentioning the Big Ten signing deals with two new bowl games and tennis was added as today is the opening day at Wimbledon. I waited and waited and IndyCar got zilch.

To be fair, IndyCar wasn't alone of being left out of ESPN's bottom line. There was no mention of the #2 Audi driven by Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loïc Duval winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans and no mention of the results from the NHRA New England Nationals (another series shown on the ESPN family on networks). The death of Allan Simonsen was on the bottom line most of Saturday leading me to ask two uncomfortable questions: What do motorsport series that aren't NASCAR have to do to get a sniff of coverage from ESPN? And what does ESPN consider newsworthy from motorsports? No one would arguing the death of Simonsen should not have been mentioned but to leave it at that and not mention anything else that happen during the race does not seem fair to the race organizers, the other competitors involved and does not seem fair to the people going to ESPN for news from the world of sports. Imagine if ESPN had only talked about Kevin Ware, guard for the University of Louisville basketball team, breaking his leg an NCAA tournament versus Duke University and failed to mention anything else about the game including the winner. Now that would never happen with one of the big four North American team sports but if it did there would had a public outcry of a lack of professional journalism by ESPN. Shouldn't the standards, especially when covering injuries and death, for professional journalism stay consistent regardless of the content?

Clearly this isn't an IndyCar-only issue. It is most forms of motorsports that struggle to get basic sports news coverage. If arguably one of the biggest auto races in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, can't get a sentence mentioning the overall winners, then there is a problem. I am not asking for an one show breaking down the race, hell I am not even asking for mentioning all the class winners and their countries of origin on the bottom line, I am only saying, "hey, can't we get a quick sentence saying who won?" If in ESPN's eyes the winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans do not deserve a mention on the bottom line they are just as guilty of dropping the ball as IndyCar is for allowing one of their races to be moved from an open television window to head-to-head with NASCAR.

The lack of basic coverage has left average sports fans with a lack of appreciation for all forms of motorsports. Other than NASCAR, the average sports fan knows little about motorsports and that lack of knowledge does not help anyone. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is as physically grueling a test as any other sporting event in the world of sports, let alone motorsports and, like we unfortunately saw Saturday, motorsports can humble us to remember how precious life can be. Basic coverage from the "The Worldwide Leader in Sports" could slowly improve motorsports' position on the American sports totem pole. Until then, it appears the only way motorsports can make ESPN's bottom line is by the one thing no one wants to see happen.