So much for the Versus jokes

Posted by Iannucci | 8/07/2008 | 37 comments »
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It's for real.

The IndyCar Series will return to ABC-TV for five races in 2009, including the Indianapolis 500, but the rest of the races will move from ESPN and ESPN2 to Versus, series and television officials confirmed Wednesday.

Versus, which is owned by Comcast and is home to the NHL and the Tour de France, will carry a minimum of 13 races next year in a multiyear agreement.

The IndyCar Series is counting on additional programming on Versus, including pre- and post-race shows, extended broadcasts and specialty shows that will be detailed today in a teleconference.

(MORE from IndyStar.com)
(Thanks to Bash for being the first of many to send this to the Inbox.)

UPDATE: From IndyCar.com.

The multi-year partnership with VERSUS calls for the network to televise at least 13 races per year for the next 10 years, with each telecast lasting a minimum of three hours and includes extended pre-race coverage. VERSUS also will air a one-hour preview show the day before each race that will feature qualification highlights and all of the relevant IndyCar Series stories of that weekend. Additionally, the network will feature extensive coverage of all the qualification days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway leading up to the Indianapolis 500.

VERSUS will feature at least 10 hours of IndyCar Series ancillary programming each season focused on the drivers, teams and tracks as well as allowing for extensive coverage of the Centennial Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Further, VERSUS will have IndyCar Series re-airs in the week following every race as well as the Firestone Indy Lights schedule highlighted in weekly 30-minute telecasts.

37 comments

  1. Chris // August 07, 2008 6:37 AM  

    I kind of like this idea. If it means I can sit down and watch more proper racing programing than it is all good. And Versus, being the third rate unheard of network they are can't afford to put on a bad show, so hopefully broadcast quality will improve. Admittedly, Joe Sixpack may not trip over IndyCar racing as easily as if it were on ESPN or ESPN2 and that could be a detractor, but hopefully the experience for the real race fan improves and it can gain momentum through its rave reviews by the real race fan.

  2. Tabernerus // August 07, 2008 6:57 AM  

    Yeah, this is one we can argue about until we're blue in the face, but until we've watched a few seasons, nobody really knows how this will play out.

    You can make an argument that ESPN as an entity has jumped the shark - even the NFL isn't super-happy with them, and there's room to grab some of America's sporting viewership.

    Also, as the television landscape becomes even more diffuse (we already have fledgling internet TV stations, for example), the 800 lb gorilla might just shrink a little.

  3. llilly // August 07, 2008 7:24 AM  

    I hope we can still view the video online during the races. With someone other than ESPN doing the video, maybe that isn't part of the package.

  4. mmack // August 07, 2008 7:36 AM  

    Versus, which is owned by Comcast

    Sorry to be snide and a big letdown everybody, but I'm not looking forward to this. We just got rid of Comcast as our cable provider this week, and if their programming is at the level of their cable technical support, we're boned. Perhaps the races will be shown "On Sunday anytime after 10 AM but definitely before 2 PM".

    "Honestly mr. mmack, I don't know why the race broadcast hasn't shown up yet. Let me try contacting it again."

    That said, our new TV provider only carries Versus on its "top o' the line" package. Quite honestly, as much as I like the IRL, I'm not paying for the upgrade and the 49 other channels to get a channel I'm only watching for thirteen races. For what it would cost me in a year's time I could buy tickets for at least one race.

    Oh well, mrs. mmack and I have been talking about getting a portable satellite radio receiver for the house. Hopefully the IRL will still have a home on XM\Sirius. If so, this may be the change that boots us in the butt to buy a receiver.

  5. Robert // August 07, 2008 8:02 AM  

    Personally, I think this is the death of open wheel racing in my house!
    I can not find the extra $49 a month plus $6 for the box per month plus the $3 for the remote per month just to watch Moto Marty and Milka wreck every week.

    Honestly, it's $406 dollars a year that I don't have in my budget when gas is at $4 a gallon!

    (I keep waiting for the E85 to show up at pumps everywhere)

    I'm glad however to see the CART/ChampCar/CCWS influence on the IRL starting so soon - greed is what killed them and it is going to kill the IRL!

    How can you grow a series by stuffing it in the back corner of the tv. If the Tin-Tops showed us anything it was you need to get off cable (ESPN) and onto FOX and NBC to grow. Now that they are back on cable - where are there ratings?

  6. Jennifer of Dog.Yarn.Knit. // August 07, 2008 8:41 AM  

    are you serious? do i even have that channel?

  7. Justin // August 07, 2008 8:42 AM  

    I feel like the crapwagon just dropped a load of crap right on my doorstep!

  8. Anonymous // August 07, 2008 8:56 AM  

    Anyone that has ever complained about ESPN TV coverage is not allowed to complain about two-thirds of the schedule being on Versus. You said "get rid of ESPN and go to a channel that will respect the series". Well, Mr. George did that and this is the end result. So now that you got what you wanted, you're not allowed to complain about it.

  9. GurneyEagle // August 07, 2008 8:59 AM  

    Speaking strictly for myself, I am OK with this. As a Comcast subscriber, not only do I get Versus on the basic tier of channels, I also get Versus HD for a few bucks more. I watched the Stanley Cup playoffs on Versus and was impressed with the quality of the production overall and the studio crew in particular. Now if they bring back Jenkins or Page I will be a happy camper.

  10. Bash // August 07, 2008 9:13 AM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  11. Bash // August 07, 2008 9:15 AM  

    I'm curious to see what is meant by the comment in Cavin's report that ESPN Inc will officially produce the broadcasts. Will there be much change? Will we still have "The Root" Vinny and Ms. Pedigo for all the races? What happens to the booth?

    The idea of extra programming is nice, but the fact that I'd never heard of Versus until the topic came up here is concerning me. (And I'm a Comcast subscriber who gets the channel.) It's going to take so much extra work to make people aware of the 13 Versus races, and making people aware is something the league hasn't excelled at.

    About XM/Sirius, please remember that the same IMS radio broadcast streams on the Multimedia tab at Indycar.com, plus practice and qualifying coverage that XM doesn't offer. If your computer streams audio well, yer good.

  12. John in Speedway // August 07, 2008 9:16 AM  

    Sounds like some people need a new TV provide. If you have to pay $49 per month to get a package that includes Versus, you are either A) getting ripped off B) misreading the information from your provider. Versus truly wanted IndyCars. ESPN didn't give a sh*t about us. The best thing about this deal is the fact that we get pre-race, post-race, and possibly weekly shows. This is huge. ESPN crapped on IndyCar too many times. IndyCar is sort of a niche market anyways, and it's not like ESPN ever advertised the races anyways, so we're not losing anything. We're only gaining things. I'd rather have an up and coming station treat us right, while we help them grow, then get spit on, kicked, peed on, and put on the backburner to B-League TaxiCab races by a station who doesn't give a crap. Only to lose post race coverage to a bowling match or baseball highlights.

  13. Anonymous // August 07, 2008 9:25 AM  

    Directv has VS. If they cover the IRL like they do the Tour De France, then it will be great. I would love to see quals and a weekly "Up to Speed" like show. Also DirecTV has VS. on the level just above basic. And by basic they are talking very basic. I will be happy that my DVR will be sure to record the race rather than LPGA, while the race goes on on another channel. Like my DVR is watching and can change over to ESPN Classic. - Greg in INDY

  14. Tabernerus // August 07, 2008 9:41 AM  

    Think of it this way. Right now, IndyCar is a niche sport. That's fine. There's value (and value to sponsors) in being a really big niche sport. Nobody with an ounce of sense thought that unification was gonna make IndyCar bigger than NASCAR within two years. ESPN seems intent on insulting IndyCar fans at every opportunity, but in a way that seems innocent, and thus can't be publicly denounced by the IRL. Versus HAS indeed made strides in the last two years. Their broadcasts for the NHL are entertaining and well-done. They are positioning themselves as an alternative to ESPN, but one where the sport, and not the personalities, are the show.

    Does going to Versus mean everyone will need to work harder to market? Of course. But did anyone expect every American company on Earth to jump on board during a down economy just because Paul Newman was back at Indy? It'll take a while. Maybe in five years, the IndyCar Series will be ready for prime time. By then, Versus may BE prime time. Until then, they are taking a risk, but one that offers them tons of time on TV. And almost a third of the schedule, including the race everyone will care about the most, will still be on ABC, which reaches not only ESPN's 90 million households, but every other damn household in America, even the ones still watching on a B&W Philco!

    It might suck. It might be disasterous. It might also signal the start of a slow five-year plan that culminates in IndyCar being a prominent form of racing again in 2015. You gotta take a shot, at some point.

    Also, Versus came damn close to wresting the MLB nation package away from ESPN. ESPN had to pony up to prevent that PR disaster. Just sayin'. Let's give it a chance, if it really is a done deal.

  15. Bob Loblaw // August 07, 2008 10:03 AM  

    I look at it this way - currently I can go out to the local sports/beer/food establishment on a Saturday night and see (when applicable) the IRL race on ESPN and the NA$CAR race on some other channel because they just leave ESPN on. Think, "hey bartender, put on Versus!" will get very far? Plus think of the casual viewer in those situations that is merely watching ESPN and gets to see a race with some passing and action for a change.

    In my opinion this is not good in the slightest.

  16. Chuck // August 07, 2008 10:27 AM  

    Versus used to be Outdoor Living Network. They're doing a helluva job trying to turn themselves into a credible network for admittedly niche sports. They carry Tour de France. Their studio show around NHL Hockey makes you feel like you're watching a 'real' sport.

    They know they have no choice if they want to grow their audience -- they've gotta go after these low-hanging fruits (ESPN rejects, basically), and put on a high-quality product. I'd love if they could score F1 away from Fox / Speed (no Speed here, can you believe that?!) too.

    Put it to you this way -- the broadcast quality is practically guaranteed to be no WORSE than this year, plus you're not going to miss race starts, have race starts postponed because of golf, or not get post-race interviews and driver celebrations because We Have To Get On To SportsCenter!

    Definitely a good move.

  17. Justin // August 07, 2008 10:32 AM  

    I think the crapwagon just came and picked-up most of the crap! Doesn't sound too bad!

  18. Anonymous // August 07, 2008 10:42 AM  

    Whew.... ATT uverse carries Versus on all its 400,300 and 200 package.....

    Thank god.

  19. Edmund // August 07, 2008 10:46 AM  

    Pardon any typos, but blood is now shooting out of my eyes...

    Here's the deal. As an audience, the readers of this blog are far more likely to find this deal attractive (and even some of US don't), because we're going to go where we need to to watch the racing. But in terms of attracting NEW fans and GROWING THE SPORT, this is horrible, horrible news.

    Do I love the idea of races not getting cut off two seconds after checkers, or being preempted for ladies nordic frolf? Of course, but I'm not the one the IRL needs to worry about. It's the casual fan, the general sports fan that has yet to be introduced to the fantastic sport of american open wheel racing. This is where growth opportunity is, and we are basically pulling our sport out from in front of them.

    We just got the damned sport together. Now let's run off into the corner of the media universe and hide. Beautiful strategy. Anyone have some kleenex? My screen seems to be all bloody....

  20. Tabernerus // August 07, 2008 10:51 AM  

    Edmund:

    Yeah, we all understand how you feel, and you're right, there are reasons why this is a HUGE risk.

    But where would you rather have them air their races? And don't say ESPN, because there's zero evidence ESPN even wanted them, and some evidence that they weren't even going to offer an extension.

    So are you saying Spike or G4 was a better option? Because those were the options.

  21. Tabernerus // August 07, 2008 12:02 PM  

    From the FAQ on IndyCar.com:

    And the broadcasters?
    TBD. There are still four races left this season.

    For some reason, I chuckled at this. They're all but saying, "Hey, we'd never want to fire a guy via an FAQ, and maybe they'll take the hint and pick it up!" ;-)

  22. Jenna // August 07, 2008 12:17 PM  

    Personally, I'm happy they're switching to Versus next year. I have Bright House Networks cable in the Tampa Bay area and Versus is just one channel down from ESPN. The fact is that ESPN was not interested in giving IndyCar much broadcast time at all. I was really mad when they joined the race in Texas late and broadcast LIVE audio! I've never watched Versus before, but I guess I will next year if they're willing to give IndyCar more respect.

  23. Edmund // August 07, 2008 12:47 PM  

    Tab-

    Honestly, yes, I would rather stay on ESPN. Sure we get pooped on all the time, and I can't say that I have truly enjoyed any broadcast they have done (save the 500) this year. But I am not so selfish to look short term. I am willing to live with poor production and priorities for the sake of visibility for now. That visibility is what grows the sport, and once enough (ratings) growth has taken place, production and prioritization will come.

    Aren't our ratings poor enough already? How on earth are the sales guys going to convince sponsors now, when it was hard enough to do so even with the visibility and viewership of the TOP sports network in the world. If nothing else, the move to Versus may signal to the sponsors that the IRL is fading away, just like Champ Car was when they found themselves on Spike. When I heard that news, I knew Champ Car was done.

    Sure it's a fantastic move on the part of Versus, because the Subway(?) Indycar Series presented in HD by DirecTV may well be a key property they need to become legitimate. But they are NOT legitimate now, and by association, the IRL will lose any legitimacy they gained from the merger.

    Will this pay off in the long term? Maybe...God I hope so. It's just way too risky at a time when momentum is finally going our way. Something that hassn't been the case in a long time. I pray the momentum isn't squandered by this (ahem) daring move.

  24. Tabernerus // August 07, 2008 1:19 PM  

    Edmund:

    You miss my point. You're assuming that staying with ESPN was an option on the table. It may in fact have not been an option. Nobody at the telecon would answer that question.

    Given that, Spike may have been the only other option.

  25. Edmund // August 07, 2008 2:13 PM  

    Tab-

    There are ALWAYS options. It just comes down to what you are willing to trade to get what you want.

    I do believe that ESPN did not value (or at least wanted to give the perception of ambivalence toward) the IRL. Nevertheless, a deal could have been struck. And if not, there are three other major networks to pitch. Someone has to be interested, GIVEN THE RIGHT TERMS.

    Now if you are right, and none of the big four national networks gave a damn, then I guess Versus is no worse than say G4 or Spike or HGTV for that matter. I just can't believe that it would have been THAT costly to put Indycar racing on a major network every week.

  26. Anonymous // August 07, 2008 3:28 PM  

    I am willing to live with poor production and priorities for the sake of visibility for now. That visibility is what grows the sport, and once enough (ratings) growth has taken place, production and prioritization will come.

    Crappy production and crappy broadcasting is NOT what will grow the sport and bring in new fans. In fact, current fans said they were going to "stop watching".

    I am not thrilled with this package, but I feel the IRL was between a rock and a hard place. You know, damned if they do and damned if they don't.

  27. Demond Sanders // August 07, 2008 4:23 PM  

    Yup, I think that's what we are missing here: what else was Tony George supposed to do?

    1.) ESPN didn't want Indycar. Not at the price it had been paying, at least.

    2.) Versus (Comcast) was willing to pay now for the additional legitimacy that the series will afford.

    That said, I'm still worried about the long-term implications of this deal.

  28. Grizzlor // August 07, 2008 4:53 PM  

    This is a potentially good move, because Versus will treat IndyCar right. The one glaring problem is that many people either don't get the channel at all, or will have to buy a sports package to get it. Plus there is some question as to whether Comcast's decision to split Golf/Versus HD into separate channels will leave Versus HD off some systems.

  29. Johnny // August 07, 2008 6:16 PM  

    I just checked out the homepage Versus slapped together and there was a BowTech banner ad at the top. I realize I am squarely in the target demo of mountain man race fan , but that synergy is already is already giving me a case of the vapors.

  30. chrisestrada // August 07, 2008 6:52 PM  

    Grizzlor,

    Versus will get its own HD stream on Dec. 8.

    http://www.comcastnetworks.com/

  31. Sarah Fan // August 07, 2008 7:09 PM  

    Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a little upstart channel out of Connecticut that thought it could broadcast sports better. And it started with just a few broadcasts of Connecticut teams, including hockey. And it kept at it. And kept growing and growing, bits and pieces at a time, until 30 + years later, it became a very large sports channel. Called ESPN. I'm willing to give Versus that same chance to grow, just as ESPN did. But then, I was around when ESPN started 30+ years ago, as ESP, as that little sports channel out of Connecticut, and watched its progress through the years.

  32. Anonymous // August 07, 2008 10:18 PM  

    I thought this series was going in the right direction? I guess i'll be missing 75% of the races next year.

  33. Dale Nixon // August 08, 2008 5:19 AM  

    I sincerely hope this means the end of the stupid, irrelevant crawl with French Open tennis scores taking up the bottom of the screen.

    ESPN has sucked since they began broadcasting in ADD about 10-12 years ago.

  34. GurneyEagle // August 08, 2008 5:58 AM  

    The Tour de France was also a "niche" event until OLN/Versus started broadcasting it. And now Lance Armstrong is a national hero.

  35. ASpeed // August 08, 2008 6:38 AM  

    My first reaction was pretty skeptical, too, but upon reflection, I like the Versus option better and better. I've gotta say that I'm in the camp that says that the way to go is finding your niche audience, fostering that relationship with tons of good programming (I'm assuming that Versus is going to put its money where its mouth is on that; it's in their best interests, too), and then the follow-on fans will come later, once you've properly developed and marketed the personalities that you have to sell. In reality, IndyCars are a pretty niche sport now, certainly not much more popular than something like the X-Games, and definitely not as popular as something like hockey. I was pretty shocked to hear the number of households that get Versus. It's actually 75% of the number that supposedly get ESPN/ESPN2. That's gotta be in the same neighborhood of how many people get Speed, and that's not too bad. Yes, it'd be best if the sport could start re-growing toward the popularity that it had back in the '80s and '90s, but a 13 year split is a lot to come back from. Patience, right? The series isn't going to get huge overnight, and it sure isn't going to go away overnight, either, even if this TV package doesn't turn out to be optimal.

  36. Anonymous // August 08, 2008 7:59 AM  

    OK, did some research. I'm in CA, for me to get Versus I need to change my cable package from my current 52.95 a month to 70.95 a month (versus is on the digital sports package). $18 more a month, $216 a year.

    Time to look at comcast or a dish.

  37. Jesse // April 02, 2009 8:44 PM  

    This sucks, can't even get the channel where I live. Not available, no way no how. I have lifetime tickets to the 500, I grew up watching this sport, my whole family did. Only time i ever turn on the TV is for Indy, can't stand it otherwise. Guess I'm getting XM radio?