Descending into scheduling madness

Posted by Iannucci | 7/31/2008 | 23 comments »
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At first glance there wasn’t too much that was shocking about yesterday’s release of the 2009 schedule, which of course is entirely the problem. After hearing several months about a “cleaner sheet of paper” what we got was more of the same, except the removal of one oval (Nashville) and addition of two street courses (Long Beach and Toronto). Or if you so choose, the cleaner sheet is in fact toilet paper.

”It’s a good schedule ... FOR ME TO POOP ON.” - is it May yet?

The reason for all of the shock and horror (check out your favorite message board) was in what wasn’t added. Artists formerly known as Champ Car fans were disgusted that Cleveland and Portland were excluded, longtime IRL fans were upset that possible ovals in New Hampshire or Las Vegas (or anywhere, for crying out loud) were passed over, and nearly everyone is still upset that the IRL and International Speedway can’t figure out a way to get Michigan and Phoenix back on the docket.

Add to that the horror of having the season possibly clinched in Japan and then waiting three weeks to have a “finale” in Miami on the same night the Hurricaines are hosting a football game. Splendid. Oh wait, if the stars align that could be Australia and a two week layoff, which is soooo much better.

It’s one thing to undergo an evolution. It’s another to go about it in a bad fashion. And I think the IRL is definitely going about their evolution in a bad fashion.”Indy Racing Revolution

Half road/street, half oval, no sense. Total Monkey Pig of a schedule which once again nonsensically evolves towards MORE road and street racing. Pardon me for repeating myself, but here is what I said in June when comparing the words of TMS promoter Eddie Gossage to Speed’s Robin Miller.

What a businessman like Eddie understands and a guy like Robin does not is that we can all have our personal preferences in our favorite types of tracks, but America as a nation has shown time and again to have very little interest in watching road and street racing. Why? My guess is it's because on ovals the excitement is right in front of the viewer. "Here we are now, entertain us." There go the cars, loud, fast, and passing each other constantly. The drama is evident no matter what you know about the drivers or the cars, and it’s so thrilling even your grandmother can enjoy it.

The point being that although many of you – many of us – can find lots of entertaining things about road and street courses, the average consumer here in America isn’t going to give more than about 5 minutes of attention to this kind of racing. It’s a proven fact, people. Champ Car is no more because they couldn’t connect with the wallets of enough fans to sustain the series. That didn’t make them bad or evil or wrong, it just meant they had a broken business model.

Now it’s one thing for me to say that the highest level of American open-wheel racing should be decidedly slanted towards oval tracks, but simply saying it doesn’t make it more than an opinion. How about we look at some numbers, which in this case would be the ratings for the 2008 season.

Homestead: .8
St Pete: .42
Motegi: .27 (rainout), .19 (live), .33 (re-air)
Long Beach: .51
Kansas: .74
Indy: 4.5
Milwaukee: .8
Texas: 1.0
Iowa: 1.1
Richmond: .9
Watkins: Glen 1.1
Nashville: .5
Mid Ohio: 1.5

(Source: Wikipedia, unless someone has a ratings book to lend me)

Now the first thing you’re going to say is “Look you stupid Gomer – the road courses get better ratings!” You’re going to say that because after diligently reading everything I’ve written you want me to be wrong. It’s alright, I feel the vulnerability of the fan who likes to say “chicane”. I’m sensitive to the fact that you have watched CART and Champ Car both go the way of the dodo. It’s OK. “It’s not your fault.”

The thing about ratings is they don’t occur in the proverbial vacuum. It’s not like these races were the only things on the television in the way of motorsports, so let’s compare most of these dates with any coinciding N-Word events (excluding Indy because it’s Indy and Motegi because it was hosed). Hey, let’s even throw in the ’07 ratings for these races as well.

Here are the Sunday races this year that had no competing stock car Cup event.

Mid Ohio* 1.7 in 2007, 1.5 in 2008, (-.2)
Watkins Glen 1.0 in 2007, 1.1 in 2008 (+.1)
Long Beach .65 in 2007, .51 in 2008 (-.14)
*also had the Danica-Milka towel party as a factor

Mid Ohio and Long Beach both happened on weekends where there wasn’t a Cup race and on the Watkins Glen weekend the Cup race was the day before. The first thing that jumps out at me here is the fact that on weekends where there is no N-Word the IRL has chosen to schedule non-oval races. Why the league wouldn’t at least once feature cars going at full speed is beyond me. The second thing however is the abhorrent performance of the Long Beach race, which is supposed to be the crown jewel of the Champ CART remains. Remember that .51 came the day everyone woke up and got “Danica Wins” jammed down their throats, so it’s not like there wasn’t an open-wheel awareness going on that weekend.

Moving on, here are the Saturday Night races so far this year, all of which had Cup races on Sunday.

Texas .7 / 1.0 (+.3)
Homestead .7 / .8 (+.1)
Richmond .6 / .9 (+.3)

All consistently rated and more importantly all improved to some degree. Now, here’s the part that matters most, because these are races that were scheduled for the same time as Cup events, give or take a few hours.

Iowa 1.2 in 2007, 1.1 in 2008 (-.1) (N-Word at Infineon)
Milwaukee 1.0 in 2007, .8 in 2008 (-.2) (N-Word as Dover)
Kansas .6 in 2007, .74 in 2008 (+.14) (N-Word as Talladega)
Nashville* .7 in 2007, .5 in 2008 (-.2) (N-Word Chicagoland)
St Pete .6 in 2007, .42 in 2008 (-.18) (N-Word at Texas)
*races on a Saturday night

Clearly all ovals are not created equal, but when placed head-to-head with a stock car race it looks like an oval IndyCar race can at least hold it’s own rating. With nearly 40 race weekends this is going to happen more and more with an expanded IRL schedule, so take a good hard look at the fact that the Iowa race going up against the Cup gets the same rating as Watkins Glen going against, well, golf.

And more importantly – no MOST IMPORTANTLY – is the obvious lack of appeal of street races. Not only are St Pete and Long Beach poorly rated but they are both DECLINING in a year in which the overall ratings are improving. That’s completely unacceptable if we’re going to grow this series.

Which is exactly why we’re adding a street race in Toronto. *slamming head into keyboard*

Seriously friends, this is absolute madness. Why in the world does the IndyCar series keep adding street races? They may be exciting on a local level and draw large crowds for “the event” but when it’s all said and done the races are losers. The events lose money. The fans who showed up don’t become racing fans since they’re just there for the local party. The ratings are horrible so national sponsors don’t feel like paying for advertising.

“The Indy Racing League Wednesday vowed to continue the Champ Car World Series' innovative strategy to drive TV ratings down as low as possible heading into negotiations for a 2010 TV package.” - pressdog

No wonder ESPN is ready to walk away from the IRL.

Contrary to what I or anyone else may think or feel, the data is obvious: Street races are bad for the IRL. Period. In case anyone at 16th and Georgetown (not the blog) is reading this: If it's absolutely necessary then go ahead and throw Michael Andretti or Roger Penske a street party here and there and spin it as “variety”, but please have the common sense to understand these events do little to expand the fiscal viability of the product. Street races have already killed two series – don’t let them kill a third.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”George Santayana


  1. pressdog // July 31, 2008 10:02 AM  

    Here's the bottom line: In order to create return on the kind of investments the IRL is asking sponsors to make, you need TV ratings. Period. If you want to have the most diverse driving schedule in racing, great, but you better bring the price of sponsorship down or it just won't pencil out for the sponsors. ALMS is a fantastic, high-quality series with amazing drivers in it. The only problem is 95% of Americans think it is boring to watch.

  2. the american mutt // July 31, 2008 10:30 AM  

    It isn't just that they're leaning more towards road/street circuits. That's bad enough, but they seem hell bent on picking the worst circuits out there. Sonoma, Mid-ohio, and watkins are all coma inducing, but Cleveland isn't chosen. Sonoma is if I'm not mistaken an SMI track. Why not go to New Hampshire then? Argh. I'll get some quality napping in next year.

    Incidintly--I support ditching Nashville. No oval should be boring if you're there. Crowd was great but the event sucked.

  3. Indy Atlanta // July 31, 2008 10:49 AM  

    Apparently reunification and picking up a couple tracks isn't enough for you folks. I understand that some of you are super-fans, and that you complain so much because you care, but hell.

    Ending the season in Miami is going to boost attendance at that event so Floridians can attend BOTH races instead of just one given that it's been immediately followed by St. Pete. Toronto and Edmonton are going to be some great races next year and yes, even Long Beach.

    We can go back and forth all day about road vs. oval but you ought to have left that argument in the 90s. WAH WAH WAH about Cleveland while you're at it. We just reunified, picked up some great drivers, added more tracks and we whine. Think positive.

  4. Anonymous // July 31, 2008 11:04 AM  

    I don't think your stats support your argument. What I see is, when NASCAR isn't on TV no one is watching TV... who knows, I could be wrong.

    The fact is in the early 1990's is CART was HUGE fans watched, and loved road course races, combined with street and oval races because it was part of a diverse schedule, that really provided the world with the most talented, most capable champion of any series. Schedule's aside, a proper technical package is what will save IndyCar, not a majority oval schedule. If middle America only loves roundy rounds, explain Trans-Am, CART, SCCA Regional racing, IMSA, and ALMS. They all seem to have been huge draws at one point... why? Sexy, exciting, loud cars that produce great racing. Conversely, with the exception of SCCA Regional racing, and ALMS they have all died because the rules package was dumbed down for middle America, a fan base that wasn't really going anywhere until irrational fears rised.

  5. Anonymous // July 31, 2008 11:21 AM  

    As much as I really enjoy the commentary here, I am going to disagree. I see your facts, but they don't matter. Whether the race is on a day with N-word, or not, it doesn't matter. You are a true IRL fan and I get that. BUT, more ovals will not make the impact that you think. Even when the IRL had an all oval schedule, they were pathetic in everything just as the CCWS was with its all road course schedule. to be cont'd

  6. Anonymous // July 31, 2008 11:24 AM  

    (continuation) If you are going to use cliches such as history repeating itself, then I will use one and that will be time heals all wounds and with unification, people will come around. People will be come more aware. I think roadcourses are great, because I never would have become the fan that I am today if it hadn't been for me going to mid-ohio for an ALMS race. People are drawn to things in different ways. Only time will tell, not Robin Miller, MynameisIRL or pressdog.

  7. mikebdot // July 31, 2008 11:39 AM  

    You're using data from St. Pete (pre-Danica win AND rain to begin the race) and from Long Beach (without half of the competition and officially labeled a "champ car" event) and using that as support data? Are you serious? That's just silly. There is definitely nowhere near enough data to draw any such conclusions.

  8. mikebdot // July 31, 2008 11:44 AM  

    Not only that, Kansas was the only race to have increased ratings from last year on your last group and that was the very next race after Danica won! The other three average out to losing 0.17 which is pretty close to 0.18, eh? You know, since we're just throwing out data points and grouping it in any way that paints the story you want to tell.

  9. Anonymous // July 31, 2008 12:16 PM  

    You are wrong. They said a clean slate starting in 2010. Their was alot of tracks that still had 1 year left on there contract's. I think concidering what they had to work with it is a step in the right direction. There is still a long way to go and everyone needs to relize they are never going to make everyone happy so lets enjoy next year and see what the future holds after that.

  10. Jeff Iannucci // July 31, 2008 12:19 PM  

    I may be wrong about many things, but these quotes all said 2009.

  11. Jenna // July 31, 2008 2:53 PM  

    I agree with what indy atlanta said. The IRL is doing its best, but obviously it can't please EVERYONE. I understand that some people don't like street/road races, but a lot of people do. Personally, I like both and it seems like the drivers do as well.

  12. Anonymous // July 31, 2008 3:02 PM  

    I don't know that your stats back up your argument, but I'm in complete agreement that road racing is boring as hell to watch on TV.

    But maybe it's how the racing is presented on TV that sucks. If I was in charge I'd show 80% in-car cameras on the roadies, it's much more compelling than watching them ride around single file.

  13. Anonymous // July 31, 2008 3:16 PM  

    Bill Cosby said the key to failure is trying to please everyone.

  14. pressdog // July 31, 2008 3:19 PM  

    Doubt it. F1 has brilliant coverage, brilliant announcers, brilliant drivers, world's best cars, highest-dollar teams ($500 MILLION budget per team) -- best in the world. And nobody watches here in the states, even when it's tape delayed and shown on FOX in prime racing time (Sunday afternoon). I watch it and enjoy it, but, again, I'm in the 5%. I will agree with others the IRL has done some good things with this schedule. I don't think the sheet of paper was as clean as they said it was going in, but 2010 will bring more changes. I'm just afraid that 2010 will roll around with five races on TV, period.

  15. Demond Sanders // July 31, 2008 3:41 PM  

    I think see both sides pretty clearly, despite being a huge oval guy all my life.

    I'm not trying to be contrary, but I'm not certain that a 14 oval, 6 roadie schedule is possible or even necessary. Are there 14 good ovals around that can provide multi-groove racing? I'm all for it if there are, but if the four extra ovals are going to be like Nashville this year you might as well have them race on a scenic road course or on the city streets.

    Post your perfect schedule if you feel like it. It may help clarify your point. . .

  16. yaumb // July 31, 2008 5:00 PM  

    Here's my opinion, although you didn't ask for it:

    You only NEED two street races a year: Long Beach and Surfers. Three if you count Edmonton as a street race, which I don't because it's on an airport layout.

    You NEED road courses on the schedule. You NEED Road America. You NEED Cleveland. The former because it's probably one of the most challenging road courses in the nation and the latter because it provides enough room for oval-style racing.

    There are certain tracks that very obviously DON'T need to be on the schedule. Motegi (which is protected by Honda), Sonoma, Homestead, and Belle Isle are all on that list. St. Pete could go for all I care too. Heck, I'd be happy to run Mosport instead of Toronto (sorry, Meesh!).

    My bottom line is that you have to have venues that provide good racing above all else. The ratings will follow if you can get a product on the track that doesn't suck outright.

  17. ere we go // July 31, 2008 5:45 PM  

    Yaumb, you are a smart guy. It really doesn't matter if it's road, street or oval if the racing sucks and there's no overtaking it will be dull. So no 1 groove oval or narrow street/road courses where it's impossible to overtake in the dry. Monaco might look great but in the dry the race is always a procession.

    Really what we need is an automatic rain dispenser for all non-oval events. That will make for exciting races on the streets.

  18. Self // July 31, 2008 6:26 PM  

    I always get a kick out of reading Jeff's blogs and him talk about how street/road races have "killed two series". Nothing like twisting the truth to support a warped agenda (that somehow 100% Ovals has been succesful)

    Jeff, CART in the early to mid 90's used to regulary draw ratings in the 2's and 3's with massive crowds on their road/street races. CART has proven via attendance and ratings (before the split) that it had the optimum formula for success, and that formula is a diverse schedule full of different ovals, road, and streets

    Personally I prefer ovals, but having a 100% oval series is stupid, not a challenge, and most importantly has proven not to draw ratings. Make no mistake the IRL has only survived, it's not like it "won" or TG's original plan has been succesful. CART's schedule is not what killed it....not by a long shot. It was not having the Indy 500 and a series of horrible decisions.

    With that said, Champ Car also proved that a 100% road/street schedule is equally as bad if not worse than all ovals.

    Like I said, I prefer ovals, then roadies/airports, with street circuits being last.

    The key for this series to succeed is not only having a balanced & diverse schedule, but within that schedule having the right ovals, the right road courses, and right street races.

    The IRL needs to be racing on the very best of the 3 venues and therein lies the current problem.....the 10/8 Balance is's just so many of the tracks are terrible.

    As this season has shown.....any type of track can be boring. Nashville is as boring as they come and it's an oval. Meanwhile St. Pete produced exciting racing.

    So who cares about whether the track is oval/road/street....the key is racing at tracks that produce good racing, good ratings, good attendance, and/or have an extensive history behind them.

  19. Robert // July 31, 2008 6:31 PM  

    How accurate is the Mid-Ohio TV rating- I know my TiVo got the last 40 minutes of the British Open.....I wonder if the ratings boxes got the same thing - I guess that wouldn't say much about the golf then........

    Just an observation.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again -there is plenty of time to add a race on the way back from Japan - why not California or Las Vegas?

    I think Indy Atlanta is a spy sent over from N-word land. We want more races, we want more ovals, because that is what this sport is founded on and what is the best to go and watch and to watch on TV. With that said, I agree Cleveland should be on the schedule because you can see EVERYTHING when you are there and over the years it is some of the best racing because it is not set in the concrete canyon of now viewership.
    Look back at Nigel vs Emerson three total laps next to each other. PT and Alex Tags over the years, fighting and bouncing off each other.
    They can run flat out all over the place. It is not one apex and trackout per turn - there are so many options every turn that no matter what you do you can go in fast and out fast.

  20. Robert // July 31, 2008 6:33 PM  

    One other point: can someone tell ABC/ESPN to turn off the top crawler. The IRL puts HD 360 camera on all the cars and the top stats crawler covers up all the road infront of the car. Arrrggg, that you I'm done venting!

  21. Self // July 31, 2008 6:34 PM  

    To accompany everything I just said above, here is what I consider my ideal schedule. Granted a couple of these (MIS and Fontana) will probably never happen again.....

    Ideal 19-Race Schedule

    Ovals (10)


    Road/Streets (9)

    Long Beach
    Mexico City
    St. Pete
    Road America
    Surfer's Paradise

    I don't think anyone can argue as to the quality of racing most of these tracks produce and so many of them draw large crowds and/or have a great history in open-wheel.

  22. mikebdot // August 01, 2008 6:51 AM  

    robert: I agree with your comment regarding crawlers in general. A few years ago, Fox Sports had a perfect "crawler" on the top left corner of the screen that displayed the scores of football games with TRANSPARENT graphics. Why is it all these channels feel they need SOLID colors? You can make 20% transparent text. And it doesn't have to scroll. It can flash instead. They could display 5 at a time on the right SIDE of the screen. Like you say, the action is usually at the top on those 360 cams.

    Another thing that bugs me about all those cameras? They have a bunch of camera angles going at all times. Then, when they actually decide to show an event that occurred in the past, they show some other freaking race I don't have any interest in. During yellow flags they give people lip service and show them running in single file. Why don't they pull a highlight of what they have been doing in the SAME RACE? Why are the cameras even there if they're not going to use the footage??? Same with the telemetry. I don't need to see it real time on an oval track. I know they keep their foot on the gas the whole time. Seriously. Maybe they could show it during lots of braking, etc. and then, I don't know, compare two drivers...

    The TV coverage of races is just plain terrible.

  23. mikebdot // August 01, 2008 6:52 AM  

    Oh, to add, meant to say they should use telemetry more on road/street races where there is a lot of braking...just left out the races I would actually be interested to see said footage.