Now that a few days have passed allowing me to collect my thoughts and converse with others, I am more convinced than I was Sunday that the Indy Racing League completely failed in the broadcast presentation of the Indy Firestone 400 from Michigan International Speedway on Sunday. Because I care so much, I will be so kind as to point out the problems as well as solutions to avoid a similar catastrophe in the future.
For starters, there was rain. Not enough for a total washout, but there ended up being a delay of well over two hours. While a rain delay in and of itself is not a major calamity (unless you attempted to attend the 1997 Indianapolis 500) it should be noted that rain does not simply happen. Weather forecasters give hours – if not days – of advance notice of when similar storms occur. So here is the first tip:
1. When having a rain delay, immediately announce the plans for watching the race.
ESPN interviewed everyone and their wife – including an insanely memorable moment from Ashley Judd – to cover the rain delay, and truth be told they did a fairly good job. My favorite part was hearing Big Jamie Little tell Bryan Herta “we don’t know what (Jack Arute) is saying half the time, either.” But it wasn’t until the wee small seconds of the broadcast that viewers were told to watch for highlights on Sportscenter and a broadcast of the race on ESPN2 IN SIX HOURS.
The whole point of having a contract with ABC/ESPN is because no matter what they will find a network to broadcast your event. And yet, IRL fans were slapped-down with Tennis and Bass Fishing in lieu of the race.
Now surely the IRL new this was the case, as they were saying almost an hour into the broadcast that IRL officials figured the race could start “in 20 minutes”. Well, that turned out to be about 120 minutes, but even still when the race started it started under Yellow. So here’s another suggestion:
2. If you are going to start under Yellow, then start the race before the broadcast ends.
About a half hour before the original broadcast died, Big Jamie Little was standing next to one of the remaining weepers on the track. They didn’t look so large as to prevent letting the drivers roll around under a yellow, but then again maybe they were diminished in scale next to the 50 Foot Woman that is Big Jamie Little. The point is if there was no more rain forecast and the IRL knew the ESPN was going to pull the plug then should have had a parade-style start well before the end of the broadcast. Here's what the Jackson Citizen Patriot added:
According to John Griffin, the IRL's vice president of communications, it would have been a different story had the race started before ABC switched to the nightly news at 6 p.m.
"I would like to think that they would not leave live action," Griffin said. "Once you're on live, they're going to stick with it."
Which brings me to the obvious third point.
3. Live broadcasting is MANDATORY in the next broadcast contract.
Show of hands: who would NOT have watched the race on ESPN Deportes? Exactly. It probably would have been refreshing to hear someone translate Old No. 2 into Espanol, and we probably would have gotten to hear the correct pronunciation of Helio Castroneves and Vitor Meira.
Now everything until now is on ESPN, and when they pulled the plug fans like me and So Damn Indy had to go to the internet and listen to Mike King and the fireside chat that is the IMS Radio Network broadcast. A fine job by those folks, but with about 50 laps to go the IRL site goes kaput. It’s as if the IRL did not want this race broadcast at all.
4. Increase the bandwidth of the IRL site on raceday.
Come on, this is the 21st century. That site does no good if you can’t get to it. The worst part is that if you as fortunate as I was to get the broadcast, you noticed it was coming from a Yahoo! Site. The IRL only hosted the positional standings and the brief commentary notes. And still, they couldn’t keep even that visible.
Next year ABC and ESPN take over the NASCAR broadcast, and even their fans are worried this could happen to them. I seriously doubt it given the tremendous sponsorship dollars that NASCAR would be pre-empted by Tennis, but I would like to have a statement from the IRL that if rain befalls competition in any remaining races that there will be a broadcast somewhere. It really is the least they could do.
Oh, and in case you were wondering what the eventual broadcast involved, you can always count on Pressdog for continued excellence in journalism.