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.
St Pete: .42
Motegi: .27 (rainout), .19 (live), .33 (re-air)
Long Beach: .51
Watkins: Glen 1.1
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
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