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The 96th Indianapolis 500 will be held Sunday, and IndyCar participants and officials are "intent on restoring a series that has been lapped by NASCAR,” according to Herb Gould of the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES. They also believe that they “have put the damaging open-wheel divisiveness of the ’90s in the rear-view mirror.” IndyCar has “introduced a new car, aligned with multiple engine-makers for its turbocharged V-6 engines and added safety measures to prevent another tragedy such as the one that took Dan Wheldon’s life last October in Las Vegas.” However, there is an “ongoing debate about where IndyCar should take its races, from the balancing of races at ovals, street courses and permanent road courses to racing in the United States vs. international events.” And there “still are major visibility issues to address: Ten of IndyCar’s 16 races are televised on NBC Sports Network, the successor to Versus, an obscure channel that saw a modest 10 percent gain in average IndyCar-race viewership, to 402,000 in 2011.” The other six races “are on ABC, which saw a 28 percent jump in viewers from 2010 to 2011, to about 3 million per race.” Gould writes there “still is much work to be done on the television front.” In addition, the loss of “high-profile Danica Patrick to NASCAR ... has cost IndyCar its most recognizable drawing card” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 5/25). USA TODAY’s Nate Ryan writes the “cumulative effect of Patrick's departure likely is a decrease in overall exposure” for IndyCar. ABC’s Eddie Cheever, a former IndyCar driver, said, "You can tell there's a difference in the paddock. Danica brought a lot of interest from people that were not really involved in racing.” But he added, “There are a lot of very talented drivers in IndyCar, and I think the series will just pick up and keep on going forward." ESPN VP/Motorsports Rich Feinberg would not predict if Patrick's absence would affect this year's Indy 500 rating but noted that the ‘11 race “drove the biggest audience in four years.” IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said that Patrick “did receive an outsized proportion of TV coverage but didn't necessarily have a negative impact on the circuit because she overshadowed its winners” (USA TODAY, 5/25).
MAY I MAKE A SUGGESTION? The AP’s Paul Newberry wrote for IndyCar to “regain anything resembling the gravitas it had during that glorious era when icons such as A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti reigned over the Brickyard, there must be some serious changes.” Newberry suggested several changes that include an emphasis on speed, allowing more of the drivers' personalities to enter the sport, standardizing race start times and expanding the series. IndyCar also would be “well served to give its drivers a little more leeway with their lips.” There are “some intriguing personalities in the garage," including the "social media-savvy” James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves. In addition, there is “absolutely no consistency to the start times on this year's schedule.” There are “eight different start times for the 16 races, which makes it tough for those at home to keep up." Driver Justin Wilson: "I know when a NASCAR race is going to be on. For the most part, it's either Saturday night or Sunday afternoons. We need to pick a start time that's universal." Newberry wrote, “Everyone knows that 16 races are not enough, which is why IndyCar officials are actively pursuing more events.” They have already announced a new street race in Houston for ‘13 and “are downright desperate to get more ovals on the schedule.” Driver Graham Rahal: "We're out of the public's eye too much" (AP, 5/24).
NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith, in his first remarks since a collusion lawsuit was filed against the NFL in U.S. District Court in Minnesota on Wednesday, said that the union “had no choice but to seek legal action,” according to A.J. Perez of FOXSPORTS.com. Smith said, “Simply stated, cartels do what will cartels do when left unchecked. … When we feel those rules are violated, we will, on behalf of our players, always act in their best interests.” He added, “The second paradigm we know is that we have to live within the laws of these United States. Once again, where we find those involved in this business have violated that duty, out of respect for our players, that’s what we’ll do.” Smith said, “I guess the first thing I would ask is that (the owners) aren’t denying the existence of the collusion, does it?” An arbitrator upheld the penalties given to the Redskins and Cowboys for allegedly frontloading contracts during the uncapped ’10 season. Smith said that it was “not a coincidence the NFLPA brought its lawsuit a day later.” Perez noted the league “has denied that collusion among ownership ever existed” (FOXSPORTS.com, 5/24). Smith Friday morning on ESPN Radio said, “We’ll have an opportunity certainly to find out what information the National Football League has … and certainly going to be interested in whether there’s any emails between people talking about a secret agreement. It is our job, frankly, to enforce the laws of the United States if we believe they’ve been broken, and certainly our right to enforce the laws under the CBA." Smith: "We have a great deal and a strong deal ... but the critical part of that deal is going to ensure that everybody abides by the rules” ("Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN Radio, 5/25).
ALL TEAMS ARE DEFENDANTS: In DC, Mark Maske reported NFLPA officials Thursday confirmed that all 32 NFL teams, including the Redskins and Cowboys, “are defendants in the lawsuit.” Smith said, “If there’s evidence that is developed later on that would demonstrate that any one of those teams did not abide by the conspiracy, then my guess is those teams will make the appropriate assertions and we’ll see where we end up.” When asked if he thinks the evidence indicates the Redskins and Cowboys did not participate in the alleged collusion, Smith said: “My view is the facts that we had justified and supported the complaint that we filed” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 5/24).
UNHAPPY CAMPER: Smith said that the NFL and the players’ union “are looking for a new candidate to oversee a population study that would be a precursor to players being blood-tested for human growth hormone.” He added that the search "must recommence after a mutually agreeable candidate withdrew from conducting the study.” Smith: “We just recently found out ... the league’s choice to run the population study that we had consented to recently withdrew and said that he wasn’t the right person to get this done. I’m thrilled that the league has made a decision to move forward with the population study. I’m a little frustrated that their selection has now pulled out so that we have to again re-up and try to get this done.” The WASHINGTON POST’s Maske noted the league “had no comment.” But a source said that the league “believes the union’s actions caused the scientist who had agreed to do the population study to withdraw” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 5/24). USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell writes, "Seems that anything the NFL suggests these days is a bad idea to Smith” (USA TODAY, 5/25).
NASCAR fans top the annual list of the "25 Most Influential People, Places and Things In NASCAR" due to their "ability to affect change in NASCAR," according to Jim Utter of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. The actions of NASCAR and track owners "show how much fans' opinions matter." Daytona Int'l Speedway "polled ticket buyers on whether they preferred the two-car, nose-to-tail tandem racing or pack racing, and their responses prompted rule changes by NASCAR this season to favor the latter." Also, when ticket sales "sagged for the second consecutive season" for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith conducted an "unscientific poll of fans, then cited the results in his decision to alter the track’s surface, hoping to tighten the racing." Utter: "The fans know they have influence" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/25).25 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE, PLACES & THINGS IN NASCAR
1) Race fans 14) Tony Stewart 2) Twitter/Social Media 15) Darrell Waltrip 3) France family 16) The weather 4) Economy 17) NASCAR HOF 5) Danica Patrick 18) Track repavements 6) Dale Earnhardt Jr. 19) Brad Keselowski 7) Bruton Smith/SMI 20) Jack Roush 8) Manufacturers 21) Richard Childress Racing 9) Mike Helton 22) Eddie Gossage 10) Competition on track 23) Goodyear Tire Co. 11) TV networks 24) Carl Edwards 12) Jimmie Johnson 25) Sprint 13) Rick Hendrick
The ATP World Tour is engaged in settlement discussions with an insurance company the tennis circuit earlier this month sued for $1.5M. The insurer, Pittsburgh-based National Union Fire Insurance Company, a division of AIG, insured part of the ATP’s legal expenses as part of its '08 antitrust trial. The ATP contends the company has not paid the $1.5M it owes. In a filing with a Florida federal court yesterday, the insurer said the ATP essentially agreed to suspend the case while the two sides are in settlement discussions. “The parties agree that National Union shall not be required to respond to the Complaint unless and until ATP notifies National Union that it is required to respond,” the insurer said in the filing. The ATP incurred $20M in legal fees during the trial. National Union is responsible for about half of that, and has already paid $8.3M. The ATP is still seeking to reclaim the legal fees from the Hamburg, Germany, event that sued the tour for demoting the status of the tournament. A jury ruled for the ATP. A federal appeals court recently remanded a case on the question of whether an ATP bylaw -- one that requires a tournament that loses a lawsuit against the ATP to pay legal expense -- is legal.