IndyCar Hopes Tight Championship Will Draw Attention Depsite Ongoing TV Struggles
The Izod IndyCar Series concludes its season Saturday night with the MavTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway, and it remains to be seen whether a “tight championship battle" between Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay "helps drum up attention for the IndyCar series, which is grappling with weak attendance and low TV ratings at many races,” according to Jim Peltz of the L.A. TIMES. This year's Indy 500 on ABC had “a ratings boost, to 4.3 from 4.0 a year earlier,” but no other IndyCar race “had a rating above 1.0 this year.” The ratings dilemma is “only one of the issues faced” by IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. Andretti Autosport Owner Michael Andretti said, "Randy's got a tough job. I wouldn't want it." Peltz notes some team owners are “annoyed with what they say are high prices for replacement parts on the new car.” There also is the “recurring criticism that IndyCar's schedule has too many races on streets and curvy road courses (10 this year) and not enough on oval tracks.” Bernard “hopes to have 19 races in 2013, up from 15 this year, and he's proposing doubleheaders in which separate IndyCar races would be held Saturday and Sunday on the same weekend at the same track.” Bernard said, "I hope to see at least two doubleheaders (next year) because I think that helps develop story lines and helps grow the business and viewership" (L.A. TIMES, 9/14).
TV TIME: The AP’s Jenna Fryer wrote one of the “biggest problems the series is facing is horrific television ratings.” Despite the “strong product, a brutal television package has made IndyCar the best kept secret in racing.” The circuit is "locked into a long deal that puts the bulk of the races" on NBC Sports Network, and drivers have been "outspoken all year in blaming the network for doing a poor job of promoting the series.” Driver Scott Dixon Thursday said, “NBC does a pretty crappy job of promotion, and the broadcast is OK, but the booth needs a major shake-up. You understand why NASCAR has such a big following, they have such a big television presence and it's promoted very well. They have sideshows and while the racing may not be a better product, they do a good job of promoting it and putting it out there.” He added, "So much these days for sponsors is based on ratings, and unfortunately we don't have them right now in IndyCar” (AP, 9/13). Driver Ryan Briscoe said, “We have a competition package we can sell to the racing fan. What we have to get now is a TV package. I honestly think we have everything except for the right television package.” In San Diego, Bill Center notes IndyCar is “out of sight of sponsors,” and sponsors and TV “drive racing” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 9/14).
BORN IN THE USA: Hunter-Reay enters Saturday's race 17 points behind Power for the championship, and USA TODAY's Jeff Olson noted he would be the first American to win the IndyCar title since Sam Hornish Jr. in '06. He also would be the first American since Al Unser Jr. in '94 "to do so while open-wheel racing was governed by a single sanctioning body." Blame for IndyCar's lack of popularity lies "with a confusing split that divided fans of the sport for 12 years, but many say a lack of American racers is the root of the general disinterest." Just six Americans are "entered in the 26-car field" Saturday. However, some drivers "see American fans beginning to welcome foreign drivers." Power, an Australian, said, "When you look at somebody like [Brazilian] Tony Kanaan, the American fans really embrace that guy. ... Americans love a good story. They love someone who can get it done on the track. I think they like a good personality." Olson noted Bernard "walks a tightrope on the subject, embracing the possibility of an American champion while celebrating the sport's international cast." He said, "When you have an American doing well, it helps your sport in the U.S. But the important thing is that we have to continue to attract the best in the world. If we've done one thing this season, that's it" (USATODAY.com, 9/13).