Monday, January 22, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: IndyCar's Television Future

The Dakar Rally wrapped up and there were three repeat winners and two first-timers. An American won in New Zealand. Formula One drivers are getting a minimum weight, which means I am going to be too light to drive a Formula One car. Williams found its second driver. NASCAR teams keep passing around charters like a bong. Danica Patrick found a sponsor and it is familiar to everybody. Now she needs to find two rides. Alexander Rossi's team will meet Marco Andretti's team in the Super Bowl. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

IndyCar's Television Future
I have been thinking about the pending announcement of the new IndyCar television deal. It could be here at the end of the month. What do we want as fans? What do teams and drivers want? What does IndyCar want?

There are two scenarios for IndyCar I have in mind and I am not sure which the series and teams would prefer.

Would IndyCar rather have a high-dollar deal with a handful of races on network and majority of races on cable but the television money increases the leader circle fund or would IndyCar rather have a low-dollar deal but most if not all the races on network television and increasing exposure for the series and sponsors but see the leader circle fund shrink or disappear altogether?

The one complaint has been how unappealing IndyCar has been to sponsors and part of that has been most of the races being on NBCSN. NBCSN has done a good job with race production and the ratings having improved but the numbers haven't reached the levels I bet IndyCar had hoped for when the series made the cable move to Versus in 2009. The teams need money. Network television would get the series in front of more eyeballs and help the ratings a bit but it is not like the network numbers are anything to be impressed with. IndyCar could put all the races on network and it would probably help the teams marginally with sponsors but it still would not bring in enough money for the teams, especially to make up for the lack of leader circle money that would be coming in.

I would guess majority of the fan base wants IndyCar to stick with NBCSN and give NBC the network races ABC has had for nearly a decade. The difference of quality between the two networks is night and day. Even back to the Versus days, IndyCar was treated with respect and a knowledgeable crew was put together. It only got better when the network rebranded in 2012 to NBCSN. The IndyCar booth of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy is one of the best the series has had in 25 years. Kevin Lee stepped in and the booth didn't lose a step. When Lee isn't in the booth he is leading a great pit lane crew that features Jon Beekhuis, the smartest man on the grid; Katie Hargitt, who adds a youthful exuberance to the broadcast; Anders Krohn made his debut in 2017 and fit immediately into the broadcast and then there is the lovable Robin Miller, who provides insight and laughs, some of which are not intentional.

It seems hard to believe nearly ten years after the initial Versus contract the series and fan base would seem so entwined with the network. The network was so hard to find and it has been a long decade from the series. Considering we were just off the heels of reunification only to watch whatever step toward the status IndyCar once held prior to the split stunted by the disappearing into cable television oblivion, now I doubt anyone wants to see IndyCar's partnership with the network now known as NBCSN to come to an end. The network has won over many while ABC provided less than inspiring coverage.

The one thing ABC has over NBC is time and could that save this marriage? This year marks the 54th consecutive year of ABC broadcasting the Indianapolis 500. I fear the series and the parent company Hulman & Company will get sentimental and not be able to say goodbye even if it would be better for the series. But the series' loyalty to the network might be to preserve the race from it getting worse. Last year's race had the lowest rating since the race started being broadcasted live in 1986. There is no guarantee switching to a new network, even if it is one such as NBC that has done a good job broadcasting IndyCar, will make things better.

Think about Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar. It is a place and event that is too steeped in tradition at times and ABC is a part of that tradition. For 50-plus years people have been tuning into the same network every Memorial Day weekend whether it be taped delay with Jim McKay after sunset or live with Allen Bestwick and the grill going in the backyard. Would the track and series want to possibly negatively hurt the race by breaking a tradition? One change now and it could lead to a constant rotation of networks broadcasting the race with no long-term option and people slowly giving up on trying to figure out where the race is broadcasted and see the race slide even faster into national irrelevance.

Cable isn't going anywhere, even in these changing times. There isn't enough room for every race to end up on network television and while streaming options keep growing the series isn't going to bite the bullet like it did a decade ago moving to a rather unknown sports network. The series still needs a place on network television for the Indianapolis 500. Outside of that race the rest remains unseen.

We have no idea which way IndyCar is leaning. It appears everything will change. The current breakdown of ABC holding network exclusivity and NBCSN holding cable exclusivity is near an end and all signs point to one property taking over both the network and cable portions of the contract. We don't know how streaming is going to be decided but there will likely be a new component and way to indulge on IndyCar action. Whether people actual use it and it grows the fan base remains unproven but over-the-top media services seems to be where many hope the next generation will learn to love a sport, not just IndyCar, meaning the competition IndyCar has had on network and cable television isn't going anywhere. Don't think IndyCar will hit on something that is revolutionary.

What we do know is it is mid-January and we have no idea what the ABC's broadcast team will look like and it is two months until ABC broadcasts the season opener from St. Petersburg. And ABC still has as good a shot as any to not only retaining the Indianapolis 500 but also taking over as the sole broadcaster of IndyCar.

If there is one thing I feel certain about is people will be pissed off about something regardless of what IndyCar decides to do but I hope that will not be the case.

Winners From the Weekend

Carlos Sainz won the Dakar Rally, his second victory in the event.

Matthias Walkner won in the bike category. It is KTM's 17th consecutive Dakar Rally victory.

Eduard Nikolaev won in the truck category, his second consecutive victory and third Dakar victory in the truck category.

Ignacio Casale won in the quad category, his second Dakar Rally victory on a quad.

Reinaldo Varela won in the side-by-side category.

Eli Tomac won the second Supercross race from Anaheim, the first of three Triple Crown format races in 2018.

Richard Vanschoor, Juan Manuel Correa and Clement Novalak split the three Toyota Racing Series races from Teretonga Park.

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg swept the Andros Trophy races from Serre Chevalier.

Coming Up This Weekend
24 Hours of Daytona.
The World Rally Championship season commences from Monte-Carlo.
Supercross will be in the Phoenix-area, Glendale to be specific.
Toyota Racing Series will be at Hampton Downs.