Are Dynasties Always A Bad Thing?

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One of the more popular laments about the current state of the IZOD IndyCar Series is that the same two teams, Penske and Ganassi, win all of the races. Granted, it takes away from any intrigue or drama for any of us – the die-hards that will tune into each race regardless of the quality of the product; but is it possible that having one or two dynasties win all of the races might actually help lure some casual fans? For hypothetical purposes for this discussion only, we’ll assume that the races are broadcast on a mainstream network that has high visibility.

The casual fan is absolutely coveted by the series. That is where the growth of the series will take place in the near future. Those of us that watch every race, tune in religiously to Curt Cavin & Kevin Lee every Thursday night and peruse through all of the IndyCar blogs on a daily basis will probably continue to do so, no matter what. They’ve got us. It’s those fans out there that might have some curiosity about this sport that they are going after. They are hoping that they’ll stumble upon a race and get hooked. It somehow happened to all of us at some point in time.

Chances are, if a casual fan happens upon a race with Helio Castroneves leading, they will have heard of him. They probably know the name of Roger Penske also. Chip Ganassi’s name is not really known outside of racing circles, but the Target livery is certainly recognizable. Casual fans will pull for someone they’ve heard of. That’s what sucks them into a sport, at first.

The World Series starts tonight. Most that follow baseball closely figured it would probably be another match-up between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies. Instead, it will be the San Francisco Giants against the Texas Rangers. Although those of us that follow baseball see this as a refreshing change, those in television believe it will be a ratings disaster. To many people, the only baseball they may watch during the season is the World Series – and that is when the marquee names like the Yankees or Red Sox are taking on famous large market teams like the Dodgers or Braves. The teams that the casual fans are aware of are not there, and the fear is that no one but hard-core baseball fans will tune in.

If a channel surfer is flipping around on Memorial Day, what is more likely to keep his or her interest – Helio Castroneves leading in a Penske car followed closely by Danica Patrick; or Dreyer & Reinbold driver Mike Conway chasing down leader Alex Lloyd? To us hard-core fans, the second scenario sounds much more appealing, because we know the struggles both drivers have had as well as their respective teams. But the casual fan doesn’t know these drivers, have never heard of their teams and their cars don’t look familiar at all. For the casual fan, a Memorial Day marathon of Murder, She Wrote on TBS might have a better chance of holding their attention.

When my better-half asked me on Sunday who was in the World Series, she had never heard of the Texas Rangers. Granted, she is not a baseball fan at all. In fact, she hates baseball. But she has been known to sit through a World Series game with me and have some level of interest – if she knows something about the teams. I’m not sure who I’m for. The traditionalist in me says pull for the Giants – the number three team in New York, way back when. But I’m also intrigued with this being the Rangers (who were the second version of the Washington Senators), making their first trip ever to the Fall Classic. Whatever the case, I’ll watch – but I’m a baseball fan.

Many people are like my significant other. If they don’t know anything about the teams, they’ll carve pumpkins instead. Much the same could be said about the IZOD IndyCar Series. If they tune into the premier event – the Indianapolis 500 – and recognize no names, they’ll move on.

Although I’m an unabashed Team Penske fan, I still like seeing other teams win occasionally – and I don’t mean Ganassi. As a hard-core fan, nothing would thrill me more than seeing teams like Panther, Dreyer & Reinbold and KV Racing Technologies be a legitimate threat to win – and actually do it – race after race. That’s what made CART so strong in the early nineties. Yes, Penske and Newman/Haas won most of the races; but each week, teams like Galles, Rahal/Hogan, Dick Simon, and Walker Racing were always considered a threat to win because they did occasionally. That type of balance and depth is what is needed to keep the fan base happy, but having the marquee names consistently at the front is what will help bring in new fans.

Quite honestly, aside from the excitement of the centennial celebration at Indianapolis next May, there’s probably nothing different on the horizon for 2011. We’ll have the same cars for the ninth year in a row and the teams that had them figured out in 2009 and 2010, will probably be the ones winning in 2011. The great equalizer will be when the new equipment debuts in 2012. Until then, Penske and Ganassi will probably continue their winning ways. The silver lining to that is that it just might be more appealing to the coveted casual fan.

George Phillips

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11 Responses to “Are Dynasties Always A Bad Thing?”

  1. The series will be healthier when more teams are productive, but it’s up to the other teams to rise to the occasion. The best teams should win most of the time. And that’s why it’s so exciting when a non-Penske/Ganassi team manages to pull the upset.

    Take the top two or three teams in Nascar–what percentage of races do they normally win in a year? Or F1?

  2. I think the fall in NASCAR ratings while JJ’s won four titles suggest that this doesn’t work in the US with racing. Plus, in stick and ball, all teams (normally) manage to win a game or two, even if they’re awful, so there’s at least something to look forward to. In NASCAR, they’ve got fairly good parity in theory, over 25 cars could win, in practice, more in the 10-15 range. F1 has only 2-3 teams, but then F1 has horrible ratings in the US…

  3. Don’t blame Jimmie for NASCAR’s decline. NASCAR’s decline occurred because of all the gimmicks they added (the chase, the top 35 rule, California replacing the Southern 500, green-white-checkered, shootout-style restarts, etc…, etc…) NASCAR was not in decline when Dale Earnhardt won 6 out of 9 titles in 1986-1994, nor when Jeff Gordon won three out of four from 1995-1998 (and should have won all four of those titles since 1996 should have been his with a REAL points system).

    At the moment, IndyCar has two powerhouses (and would still have three if Andretti Autosport hadn’t screwed it up by hiring Marco and Danica when there were much better drivers available). I’d say NASCAR has three (Hendrick, Gibbs, and Childress; Roush/Penske/Stewart-Haas/Earnhardt-Ganassi are competitive but aren’t QUITE powerhouses, and indeed most seasons Roush is, but sure as hell not this year). F1 has three (Red Bull, McLaren, and Ferrari). So probably more or less the same when you consider the sizes of the fields…

    • Sean’s right. The proportion of wins by powerhouse teams is about the same in Cup vs. IndyCar. Now, there are more drivers that drive for those powerhouse Cup teams, because most have 3-4 cars, but most of the #2, #3 and #4 drivers for those teams (your David Ragans, Jeff Burtons, Joey Loganos and the like) are good for maybe one win per year.

      I’m fully in agreement with Cavin and Kevin on their take on the “red cars” possibly being able to attract more casual fans than somebody like Mike Conway or Mario Moraes winning races. The same five guys winning all the races isn’t driving away casual fans because, well, if they’re casual (i.e. tuning in for their first or second IndyCar race), they don’t know that those cars win all the races, due to the fact that they’re brand new to the sport. On the other hand, if somebody tunes in, likes the colors of the Target cars, decides to root for Dario, he wins, then that new fan tunes in again to find Dario running up front, then there’s a good chance that they might tune in again and again. This is the exact same attitude that I myself had when I tuned into F1 for the first time in 1991 and became a fan of Ayrton Senna.

      Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of the same five guys winning all the races, but it’s not me that the Series is trying to attract (um, I’m already here). The big problem, of course, is getting those casual fans to tune in for the first time, period (this is what we’re having problems with being on Versus). Repeat watchers should be less of a problem.

  4. The Lapper Says:

    I think dynasties should be admired, however, I would enjoy seeing Newman/Haas, KVRT and Panther get in the mix as well as Sarah Fisher. Speaking of Dynasties, Newman/Haas has enjoyed one.

  5. David Ragen win a race? Top 15s are rare enough. Winning has never happened on the Cup level. Jeff Burton just died a little being mentioned in the same sentence as him. Ouch.

    • And it looks like the Cat in the Hat is trying to replace Ragen as Trevor Bayne will make his Cup debut in Texas. Ragen gas been a waste in the 6.

      • Yeah, like I said, “maybe” one win. Ragan’s still winless, and has been a crazy disappointment in Cup (truly Benson- or Dallenbach-esque, as far as Roush drivers go). Burton gets thrown into that sentence because he’s as yet winless this season, hence, to me, he’s the clear #3 at Childress. And, yes, Jeff just died a little inside.

      • Hell, I think throwing Ragan in with Benson is a bit much. Yes, Benson was a bust for Roush, but he was one point out of the top ten driving for Bahari’ Racing and finished in the top fifteen in points driving for Tyler Jet Motorsports (you know, the team that Darrell Waltrip took an infinite number of past champion’s provisionals a mere two years prior, and fellow Busch champion David Green scored zero top tens the previous year). Benson had better points finishes driving shit than Ragan did for Roush; why Benson failed at Roush I’ll never know. And surely Benson’s Busch/truck/ASA titles mean something… Lots of Cup drivers didn’t even have any kind of championship (ahem, Elliott Sadler…) I would have mentioned Chad Little or Kevin Lepage instead. Dallenbach I 100% agree. Useless on ovals.

        Jeff Burton has been kind of mediocre lately and seems to have lucked in to almost all his wins at Childress. He’s been in a borderline coma since the 2000 season… I’m oddly not as outraged about that comparison as I am the Benson comparison, even though Burton has objectively had a considerably better career, simply because I think Burton is one of the most overrated drivers out there (even though I’ve employed him in Andy’s game back-to-back years…)

  6. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    George,
    Attractng the casual fan, via well known dynasty team and driver name recognition is a fine theory, however, if the established fan base begins to errode at the dynasty’s expense, what has been gained. I am part of the established fan base, I am the guy who watches every week, the guy who travels to 3 or 4 races per year including the IMS…. I am losing interest, and I am fairly certain I am not the only one…. I realize that many are hanging their hat on the new car, but as far as I am concerned, this will continue to be a spec series, and will pretty much amount to who polishes the BB the best in the coming years. I suppose the first year or possibly two may be somewhat interesting as the aero packages are refined and developed for the various road, street and oval courses. But I have a feeling that soon after the newness wears off that we will settle back in to much of the SOS…. Once you take the opportunity of innovation out of the equation and relegate teams to BB polishing (which by the way costs a great deal of money), you perhaps eliminate two thirds of the field from any serious competition.

  7. Perhaps the Indy League could be a little proactive here by helping the smaller, less well-funded teams afford to do more testing. Testing seems to make all the differnce for TCG and Penske as they can afford it. Perhaps set up testing days for those teamswhere fans can go watch for a small fee with all money going to the teams. It could be made attractive to fans by having a ticket holder win a free two seater ride or tickets to an upcoming race?

    YMMV

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