ESPN Looking For Another Uptick In Indy 500 Ratings, Hoping Key Storylines Emerge
The Indianapolis 500 this Sunday on ABC will have "no shortage of compelling story lines," leaving TV execs "feeling confident about another bump in viewership this year," according to Dave Skretta of the AP. Ratings for the race "dropped precipitously throughout the 1990s," and while there have "been a few spikes along the way, the trend continued until ratings bottomed out in 2008." The past few years have "witnessed a modest resurgence," and last year's race won by Dario Franchitti "resulted in a four-year high." ESPN VP/Motorsports Rich Feinberg said, "I know the IndyCar ratings have been challenged in certain areas, but as a production team, the best thing we can do is tell these stories." Skretta reported TV execs also "hope that those stories turn enough casual viewers into regulars for the rest of ABC-ESPN's package of races this season." The net is "making a few tweaks to this year's telecast," the biggest being ESPN's Lindsay Czarniak "taking over from Brent Musburger as the host." Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever are "back to handle analyst work" with Marty Reid again calling the race. The net will "use 84 cameras, including several dozen onboard cameras and an improved camera running over a cable above pit road that moves faster than ever." Ultra-high-speed cameras that were "introduced last year also are back with a new location added entering Turn 1" (AP, 5/21).
ELITE GROUP: In California, Michael Lev writes it is a "significant milestone" for Czarniak to be the first woman to host the Indy 500, especially considering "the men who preceded" her. If "sports broadcasting had a Mount Rushmore," previous Indy 500 hosts Musburger, Al Michaels, Keith Jackson and Jim McKay "probably would be on it." Czarniak: "Of course I'm proud and honored to be the first woman to do it. I more so look at the talent of the men who've done it before me. That's the biggest form of flattery." Feinberg considers Czarniak a "rising star" for the net (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 5/24).
TRIPLE PLAY: In L.A., Tom Hoffarth notes this weekend will see NBC air the F1 Monaco Grand Prix live Sunday at 7:30am ET, followed by the Indy 500 on ABC at 11:00am, then Fox "caps the pre-Memorial Day trifecta" with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at 5:30pm. Feinberg admitted that Indy 500 ratings have "been 'challenged in certain areas' when up against a glamorous NASCAR event, but it doesn't mean the network is pulling back on expenses linked to coverage" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 5/24).