Unsolicited advice for VERSUS

Posted by Iannucci | 3/03/2009 | 5 comments »
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If you haven't been over to Furious Wedge lately, be sure to venture over and offer your thoughts on SandWedge's ideas for VERSUS IndyCar telecasts. He's been noting how VERSUS has already done a great job promoting the IndyCar series on their network (they're working "April 5th" into everything but the infomercials) but felt like now would be a good time to offer suggestions on what happens when the actual racing season starts on that well-promoted day.

I'm not going to go into his ideas here but I would like to add my own simple suggestion, something I mentioned when Curt and Kevin were gracious enough to have "Blogger Night" on their show a while back. Put simply, here's the challenge for VERSUS (and ESPN for their few broadcasts as well):

Show more drivers not in the Top 5 during the race.

One of the reasons Danica Patrick continues to grab sponsors left and right is that she knows no matter where she is on the track we're going to see her during a race. And there's nothing wrong with that, because Danica has zillions of fans who would feel slighted if she wasn't mentioned at least a dozen times during the broadcast. I know, I live with one of them.

Still, Danica doesn't have ALL of the fans, and those who cheer for someone other than the driver of the #7 often get to see little of their favorite driver during a race. This means ultimately we'll see even less of those drivers since no one's going to pay to be on the sidepods of someone who can't meet the fiscal requirement of getting air time for their sponsor.

Please understand that as a solution I'm not talking about the filler that is field run downs, but rather actual racing. Each race is at least two hours, roughly an hour of which involves the leaders lock-stepping their way to fuel conservation for later in the race. (As our buddy pressdog has said "I tell you what, nobody can save fuels like them guys in IndyCar...Have you seen them drive in fuel position 3? I tell ya, once you've seen that, you'll be hooked for life!") Meanwhile elsewhere on the track there are a dozen other drivers actually fighting for position, so there's no reason why the broadcast crew shouldn't pan the cameras around and look for an actual contest for position.

Pardon me if I'm being to presumptuous, but I think I speak for all racing fans when I say it's more interesting to watch Ed Carpenter and Hideki Mutoh battle for 8th then watch Scott Dixon's two-second lead get extended to 2.1 seconds.

I say this because the one race I attended in person last year was at Indianapolis, the first half of which I found myself watching two drivers (EJ Viso and Jeff Simmons) each move up the pylon about a dozen spots. I'm guessing viewers at home probably saw maybe 10 seconds of either one during the five-hour broadcast. Too bad, because you missed some fine driving.

The point isn't that we need to see more of any particular driver, it's that we need to see more of ALL drivers. I realize this means the broadcasters will actually have to learn how to pronounce names like "Moraes" and "Junqueria" but if it means more teams might be able to convince sponsors to plunge their advertising budget into the IRL then it's imperative this gets done. This really is a win-win for the broadcaster, because those teams that advertise on those cars might even make commercial buys for the races.

Not to single any particular guy out but just as an example let's take Oriol Servia. I don't how many times last season I noticed on the positional "crawl" graphic that Oriol Servia was once again moving through the field. The problem is I and other viewers didn't see all that much of Servia's driving on the broadcasts, which might be a large reason why he doesn't have a contract for this year. Again - how can we expect any company to shell out millions of dollars in sponsorship when that company's logo or name won't be covered for more than a few seconds during any given race?

The answer, of course, is we can't, not unless Target ends up sponsoring every car in the series. Seriously, read this IRL sponsor exposure report at The Score and note how sponsors of drivers not named Dixon, Wheldon or Danica fared. It's a cringe-inducing indictment of the coverage last year to say the least.

The bottom line is that if you only show five or six cars then only those five or six cars will have sponsors willing to pay. That's not a sustainable business model for any series, so on behalf of all people who enjoy watching more than six cars racing I'd humbly request to the folks with the television contracts, if you could, in 2009 and beyond, please fix this.


  1. The American Mutt // March 03, 2009 12:45 PM  

    I first noticed this back in August of 07 when i went to SPARTA! I saw an amazing race full of action, passing, and just a general good show. I came home and watched a DVR, and realized the disparity between the two. An event will always be better in person, but Jesus it was terrible. First through fifth didn't change much during the race, but from sixth on was a constant battle for position. Nascar broadcasts show this action, which (tinfoil hat on) leads me to wonder if ESPN wasn't deliberately sabotaging the product to talk down the price to air races. Field run downs, while fillerific, should happen two or three times in a race though. There's no reason not to, and it'd give a sense of the depth.

    Seriously. That race at Sparta was amazing, and all I saw on the recording was Tony and Dixon lockstepping for an hour and a half. WTF!?!

  2. SS Minnow // March 03, 2009 1:44 PM  

    Mutt- completely agree with your observation on the on-track action vs. (no pun intended) what you found waiting on your DVR. We went to the Richmond race last year on a whim and while it was, to quote the great pressdog, "a festival of carbon fiber", there was some tremendous action when the track was green and we had a blast. When we got home, barely a mention of Jamie Camara moving through the field until he was actually leading. If you did not go to Richmond, then you have no idea of how that guy hung his ass out there to move up. It was incredible, but also his demise later on. Same goes for most of the 500s I've been to. What's very frustrating from the 500 perspective is that you can't see the whole track. Anyway, just getting anxious to see some racing and curious to see what VS brings.

  3. Anonymous // March 03, 2009 2:28 PM  

    Jeff, you called it well. Now if the people at Versus will actually see this, and heed it. For whatever it's worth, IMO you should seek the contact info for the production people and forward this to them. Heck, while you're at it, send along the comments from Mutt (tinfoil hat on - LOL) and Minnow...

  4. Anonymous // March 03, 2009 6:17 PM  

    I totally agree with you Jeff. Hopefully things will get better this year with Versus.

  5. Goose // March 04, 2009 7:19 AM  

    Well said. I messaged them saying pretty much the same thing: show the battles regardless of what part of the field they are. It's even more critical in this economy to give all the sponsors exposure and to prevent those midfield and back from going, "What's the use?"

    I get reminded of St. Pete last year Marty had his infamous "these are five drivers we would normally wouldn't talk about" comment. Hopefully, the next time the order isn't in the typical order, give us a better scoop than what Marty said.