There's simply no way to polish a turd like this.
"...Last Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first-ever IndyCar Series race on Versus, earned 233,000 viewers. Last year's IndyCar season opener, the Gainsco Auto Insurance Indy 300 from Homestead-Miami Speedway, earned 1.1 million viewers on ESPN2 on a Saturday night in primetime.Now, this comes to us from an Indy Racing Revolution report of a TrackForum posting of an AutoRacing1 subscriber story, so there's a chance this is totally bogus, but in case it's not the negativity can't be overstated. This isn't a bucket of ice water on the state of IndyCar popularity; it's being thrown naked into the Siberian wilderness of televised sports.
"That means this year's season opener was down 79 percent. The '08 race from St. Pete, which was that season's second telecast, earned 575,000 viewers on ESPN for a Sunday afternoon telecast, representing a drop this year of 60 percent..."
If memory (or in this case, Wikipedia) serve me correctly, two years ago the IndyCar series opener at Homestead was a .7, or somewhere around 700,000 viewer. I seem to recall most races were around .5, although that's far from scientific studies. I'm mentioning 2007 because it was a bit closer to 2009 in terms of awareness, since last year had both bimergification and "Dancing With the Stars" factoring into the ratings mix. So by my calculations, from that season opener two years ago the series rating has been more than halved.
Hang on a sec - I need to pour myself an adult beverage.
Now before we go any further it needs to be said that there had to be an expectation of a ratings decline. ESPN is in like 100 millions homes, but we kept being told that VERSUS was available in 70-some million. A strong number, but around three quarters of the installed base of the previous broadcaster.
But the availability of a channel doesn't mean it's going to get watched. For starters, ask yourself how often you walk into an establishment and see an ESPN channel on as opposed to VERSUS. I'm guessing I know the answer, and unless you live in a Hockey town it's probably not a 1-to-1 ratio.
Probably more impacting in that horrible ratings number is where the channel is featured by any given provider. Both pressdog and I noted we had to pay some extra coin to bump up our cable packages to get VERSUS, and surely thousands of other fans were faces with a similar choice. How many people are willing to pay $8-10 extra per month to catch IndyCar races - in THIS economy? Somewhere between 2 and 233,000, I suppose.
Wait a sec: Didn't Cavin say he estimated there were 60,000 people at the race on Sunday? And only an additional 233,000 fans tuned in to watch? Good grief, that's less people than will be watching in person at Indy next month! I need to refill this adult beverage.
Look, this has nothing to do with the outstanding job VERSUS did with the actual broadcast nor with the effort they exhibited leading up to the season, but the net result of 233,000 viewers on a Sunday begs the question: what would the ratings have been like had they NOT promoted the snot out of this event?
Perhaps people didn't watch because this was a street race. Or because last year it was a rain-delayed and time-shortened event. Or because there was an N-word race on, which always affects the ratings. Or because they didn't have VERSUS. Or because they had the bird flu. It doesn't matter. The bottom line is the season opener just took a 79% decline. SEVENTY-NINE PERCENT! As if the job wasn't challenging enough already, selling sponsorship packages for race teams, events and broadcasts just got decidedly more difficult.
Bottoms up, friends.
EXTRA POINTS: First off, the intrepid Curt Cavin has taken the time to point out to me it wasn't he but rather a fan he was reporting on who estimated the crowd at 60,000. My mistake. We know that if Curt had adequate time he would have counted every seat in the interest of accuracy.
Cavin also addresses some ratings questions in his Q&A today.
If indeed the TV ratings are bad, I believe it's more a reflection of a bigger issue, including not being on ABC or ESPN. But you're right in questioning how the league can go to a potential partner and ask for huge dollars, especially in this economic climate, if its TV ratings are low.
James from 16th & Georgetown has forwarded this chart showing what happened to ratings to the National Hockey League when they switched to VERSUS. A rough estimate shows they fell by roughly half. It's important to note that the NHL cancelled an entire season after leaving ESPN, which certainly depleted the overall fanbase of the sport. So unless the Helio Castroneves tax evasion trial is having some massive hidden effect, that comparison is helpful but not exactly equal.
Defender of the IRL seems to disagree that this is bad news. All I can say is the sky may not be falling, but the ratings definitely did, and that makes for a tough road to hoe for the marketers of the league. Maybe if VERSUS can put some golf on ahead of races we can catch a few more hundred thousand people napping and prop up the ratings.
ANOTHER UPDATE: From IndyCar.com.
VERSUS' race coverage was watched by more than 2 million viewers (.30 national HH rating and peaked at .40 during the race's final laps), while all of the telecasts reached 3.4 million viewers. It is available in more than 75 million homes via cable and satellite.OK, something there doesn't make sense. I'd love to think a .3 rating equals 2 million viewers but that doesn't seem right.
"We couldn't be happier with our opening week of race coverage on VERSUS," said Charlie Morgan, president & COO for IMS Productions. "VERSUS' commitment was to 'super-serve' IndyCar Series fans and based on the response we have seen from our fans they are thrilled with the amount and quality of coverage available to them throughout the weekend."
If a rating equals the average percent of households then a .3 can't equal 2 million viewers. If that's the case then a 3.0 equals 20 million viewers and a 30.0 = 200 million, and a 90.0 = 600 million, and there aren't 600 million people in America.
Maybe that "2 million viewers" includes viewers overseas. Or possibly pets. Is there a Nielsen employee in the house who can 'splain this to me? Isn't a .3 still a "79% decline" as previously stated?