More powerful than a speeding Danica

Posted by Iannucci | 9/09/2008 | 12 comments »
Bookmark and Share

Are you familiar with The Butterfly Effect? No, not the movie with Demi Moore’s boy toy, but rather the actual principle. It states that small changes in the initial condition of a dynamic system can result in large variations over the long term. If that sentence made no sense then let’s just say it means a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world could cause just enough of a weather disturbance that would effect the dynamics of weather enough so as to result in a tsunami thousands of miles away.

Ladies and gentleman, may I present to you the potential butterfly.

Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong will come out of retirement and compete in next year's Tour de France, VeloNews reported Monday, citing sources close to the situation.

Armstrong, who will turn 37 on Sept. 18, will join the Astana team and compete in five road races, the sources told VeloNews.

(MORE from
Now you may ask, “What in the world does this have to do with the Indy Racing League?” Everything, my friends. EVERYTHING.

Despite being a guy who competed in a comparatively obscure sport like Cycling, Lance Armstrong has become one of the most recognizable names in all of sport. He’s up there in the “Tiger Woods” and “Michael Jordan” level of recognition, due largely to his compelling story of overcoming a life-threatening bout with cancer and emerging victorious in an unmatched SEVEN straight victories in the Tour De France. But you already knew that.

Armstrong retired from cycling in 2005, deciding to dedicate more time to his children, his numerous charities, and any number of smitten Hollywood starlets. It’s hard work but somebody’s gotta do it, right?

By casting all of that aside in 2009 to train for a return to the Tour De France next July, Armstrong has suddenly guaranteed that millions of otherwise passive sports fans will once again be watching cycling on TV. Yes, just as the presence of “Tiger” in a golf tournament dramatically increases the TV ratings, Lance’s historic attempt to return to glory will likely provide a huge boon for the network of the Tour De France.

And that network? Oh, that would be Versus. You know, that channel that was just handed all but a handful of IRL races next year.

Maybe the popularity of Armstrong’s quest will help get Versus in those missing 20 million homes. Maybe those fans of Lance figure out what channel Versus occupies on their cable provider’s list. Maybe while watching Armstrong they get to see lots of ads for events featuring Danica! and Helio! and the rest. Maybe next summer they stop by for the cycling but stay for the higher speed racing action. Maybe all of this “maybe” stuff makes it easier for the league and it’s teams to sell all sorts of sponsorship packages.

Maybe we should get ready to thank Lance for inadvertantly becoming an immeasurable asset to the entire Indy Racing League. Excuse me - this news definitely calls for a little Snoopy Dance!


  1. yaumb // September 09, 2008 3:33 PM  

    I dunno... Lance Armstrong in the Tour before his retirement didn't do much for Versus then... but don't let that stop you from that "glass 1/75th full" optimism! :)

  2. Jennifer of Dog.Yarn.Knit. // September 09, 2008 3:34 PM  

    Yippie! It can't help

  3. Jeff Iannucci // September 09, 2008 3:44 PM  

    I'm not saying it would double the audience, but I'm pretty sure it would be a bit more than a 1/75th boost, yaumb.

    Check the stats - Lance is a walking .5 all by himself, which I might add is more than the entire audience of the St Pete race.

    If nothing else it's another reason to encourage people to complain to their cable provider to offer Versus.

  4. the american mutt // September 09, 2008 4:13 PM  

    People who watch Cycling WILL see advertisements for Indy races. That's you remember that time that ESPN advertised Indy races? When was that?

  5. Demond Sanders // September 09, 2008 4:21 PM  

    This is great news.

    I think YAWN: a nascab blog underestimates just how huge of a national (and international) figure Lance is. His Q rating is on par or higher than Tiger and MJ. This is a coup for Versus.

    PS - sorry for the wisecrack YAUMB :)

  6. yaumb // September 09, 2008 5:23 PM  

    No offense taken, Colonel Sanders (ya chicken)... :P

    Seriously, though, I can't believe that Lance riding in the Tour will be anything more than a Danica 4th place at Indy - provide a temporary bubble of interest at best. I really doubt that anyone is going to suddenly go beg for Versus just to see Lance ride - hell, the ones who are that hooked on him already have Versus, and those who aren't will likely either catch the coverage at a sports bar or read about it later.

    Of course, it all comes down to how much cross-pollination Versus decides to do between the Tour and IndyCar coverage. As a dedicated consumer of their hockey coverage, I have to say that none of their "programming" ads have ever made me want to set my TiVo to record anything else on that network.

    Then again, I am a crow gourmet - so let's hope that I'm wrong (again) and you're right. I just think it's an awfully thin straw to grasp at.

  7. Dale Nixon // September 09, 2008 6:38 PM  

    Everyone that criticizes the move off ESPN has to remember that the IRL event was pre-empted THREE times this year for LPGA events.

    The LPGA average rating in 2007 was 0.87...and that average also dropped a bit this year.

    So while ESPN puttered around with women's golf, IndyCar viewers got the, errr, shaft from ESPN.

  8. SS Minnow // September 09, 2008 8:45 PM  

    Could this result in a sponsorship for Vitor? Can't remember which broadcast but I know I saw that he was a cycling enthusiast. Panther, yellow, Livestrong? Ok, time for my meds. Vitor with Panther, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

    Anyway, I would have to believe that at least someone has put 1 and 1 together and would get some push from Versus if a cycling related sponsorship developed. Core audience, cross markets, etc. would have to be a marketing gurus dream.

  9. 6th Gear // September 10, 2008 8:29 AM  

    Let's see how big a player Versus will be. What if the rights to the Tour de France are up for bid? With Armstrong back in the fold will another cable network outbid Versus for the American rights? If so, kiss all the free pub adios. If not, there should be a lot of teases on the Tour for the IRL races. And, I look for a lot of teases for the IRL after the first of the year on their NHL broadcasts.

    A very interesting point brought up.

    Has anyone heard who will be calling the races for Versus? I'd love to see Derek Daly back in the booth again.

  10. Edmund // September 10, 2008 8:34 AM  

    Being a self (not entirely) proclaimed marketing guru, I would have to argue against the obviousness of benefit of co-branding between the Tour and Indycar. I just don't think that there is enough crossover between target markets.

    The only potential benefit I see from the Lance story may be a jump in ratings for Versus during Tour events leading to a possible rise in exposure to IRL ads. But this all happens in small percentages of small percentages. Any bump in IRL viewership generated by additional Tour viewers will be insignificant. 1/75th is probably optimistic.

  11. AZZO45 // September 11, 2008 12:58 PM  

    Good concept about IRL+ Lance = VS. subscriber boom. Doubters should Google the ratings for Armstrong's 7th in 2005 against the TdF numbers AFTER he retired...

    Has anyone heard who will be calling the races for Versus? I'd love to see Derek Daly back in the booth again. -6th gear

    Why would you mount RETREADS onto your brand NEW ride 6th gear... Derek Daly? IndyCar can do MUCH better (IMO).

  12. Anonymous // September 12, 2008 6:00 PM  

    Have you seen the TdF? VS gives it better coverage than anyone else would. They have like 3-5 hours live and then replay it in the evening. There brodcast team is great too with some former riders. The big thing is they are that good and they are a the mercy of the French TV filming. Remember the coverage at Edmonton? The TdF crew had to watch from a truck at the days finnish line, you thought you missed a lot sitting at Road Race, not being able to see the whole track. But I will say, if you are a race fan you should check it out. They may not be as fast as an Indy Car, but they have some crazy finnishes and some nasty wrecks.