Versus Can Do So Much More

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If you have listened to Trackside With Cavin & Kevin recently, you’ve heard them talk about the lack of ancillary IndyCar programming on Versus. I happen to agree, not that they needed me to validate their stance on anything.

When the Versus deal was first announced, we who were soundly questioning such a decision were told that there would be a variety of different shows and promotions similar to what SPEED does for NASCAR. We were led to believe that after a couple of years, we would wonder why we ever wanted the series on any other channel.

On the plus side; Versus allows at least a three-hour window for all races, allowing for a lengthy pre-race show and plenty of interviews after each race. There is also a one-hour qualifying show, usually shown at the same time each day before the race – sometimes taped, sometimes live. Their coverage for Indy 500 qualifying weekend is excellent as they go pretty much flag-to-flag throughout the weekend and have good programming throughout the month of May, culminating with a post-race show after ABC/ESPN wraps up their coverage.

But that’s about it, unless you want to count the obligatory Danica Patrick infomercial they run prior to the beginning of each season. What I was hoping for – if not expecting – was some regular in-season, mid-week programming along with off-season programming. At the time the deal was signed, Versus acted like they were giddy to get major sports programming that they could build their brand around, along with the NHL. If the IZOD IndyCar Series is considered the cornerstone of the Versus franchise, they are being neglectful of their supposed most prized possession.

Quite a bit of criticism arose regarding the quality of the Versus race coverage toward the end of this, their second season. I’ll agree that their effort slipped considerably after their inaugural season in 2009, but I still prefer watching the Versus coverage over ESPN. Bob Jenkins made many more gaffes than the year before, but you learn to forgive a few mistakes for the overall presence of a good broadcaster. The voice of the SEC football telecasts on CBS, Verne Lundquist, probably makes more mistakes on any given broadcast than most other sportscasters – but he is also one of my favorites. That’s the way I feel about Bob Jenkins.

I also like the other guys in the booth, Jon Beekhuis and Robbie Buhl, and I think the three of them mesh well together. ESPN probably has a slight edge in pit-reporting. Robbie Floyd and Lindy Thackston both slid back some from their debut season of ’09. Jack Arute could be good if he would forget the ridiculous props and his feeling that we tune in to see him. We don’t. Nor do we recognize Jack as the next Barbara Walters. His black & white “In Color” segments are borderline creepy. Jack needs to give up his aspirations of being a stand-up comic and get back to basics. That’s what got him to where he is – not being a pit-side clown.

But getting back to Curt Cavin’s complaint of no ancillary programming from Versus – there’s so much more that they could do. I don’t think that the Versus slate is so full of high-rated quality programming, that they couldn’t devote some decent air time to the IZOD IndyCar Series. And when I say decent air time, I don’t mean airing a show at 2:30 am. It doesn’t even need to be that creative. All one needs to do is look at the plethora of NASCAR related shows on SPEED to get an idea on what to do. Lindy Thackston would probably relish the opportunity to dress in something besides her trackside weekend attire. She would probably do an excellent job in some Wednesday night show in a magazine format.

Last year, I floated an idea that was generally shot down in the comments section – that was for Versus to air classic races from yesteryear. ESPN has built an entire channel around sports re-runs. Surely, I‘m not the only one who might want to watch the 1984 CART race from Phoenix or the 1991 Michigan 500. On a cold dreary night in February, I would certainly watch an old classic race over a late-night basketball game from the Mountain West conference. I’m sure something could be worked out with ESPN to allow airing of these old races. IMS Productions could open up the vault to show the many films of past Indy 500’s. that would make winter seem shorter. Although the idea was roundly criticized, I still think it’s a great idea. There are no production costs involved and it builds interest in what they claim is the franchise product of their fledgling network. NFL Films has flourished by splicing old clips together and laying down a soundtrack narrated by the late John Facenda  or the late Harry Kalas. ESPN actually had a show in the late eighties hosted by Bob Jenkins and the late Larry Nuber that was focused on past Indy 500’s. Maybe conjure something up along those lines.

Who knows what the future holds for Versus? Now that it looks like the Comcast purchase of NBC will go through, maybe Comcast can figure out how to leverage NBC to enhance their struggling sports channel. Most believe that Versus will be re-launched as the NBC Sports Channel. Of course, Versus is already the product of a reincarnation – having been known as the Outdoor Life Network. Many say that they should move some races over to NBC. My understanding is that ABC has an exclusive contract for network broadcasting of the IZOD IndyCar Series. I believe that contract runs for at least two more years – possibly more. In the meantime, there are eight more years to go with the Versus deal.

Supposedly, Randy Bernard has his concerns about the current Versus programming and has had several meetings with Versus. He is well acquainted with them from his days at Professional Bull Riding, so maybe he can get them to see that they need to do more. Unless he can convince them to enhance the series with additional programming, the series is stuck in TV purgatory. They are saddled with ABC who wants the 500, reluctantly puts up with four other races – but will not allow another network to carry races. Their cable alternative is a channel that regularly features fishing, deer-hunting, bull riding and cage fighting as their main line of programming.

Randy Bernard has faced a lot of challenges in his first year on the job. Most of them, he has met head-on and dealt with them favorably. The television situation may end up being the most critical to the future of the IZOD IndyCar Series. Let’s hope he can get some results there, as well.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Versus Can Do So Much More”

  1. In addition to (quasi) live Indy Lights races, Versus should add a show with five or seven drivers, at least half of them among the top 10, where they discuss the previous race and/or the next race (depending on the date) plus the state and future of IndyCar. Fox Sports and El Garage do that on Monday night, although you probably have major league sports games at that moment of the week. Argentine tin-top racing have 40+ major race weekends in a year, 11-16 races each series.

  2. The American Mutt Says:

    Could VS make back the money it would take to buy the rights to air the old ABC owned races?

  3. There are just so many opportunities here.

    Perhaps Trackside Live could be turned into a TV show, kind of like Dave Despain’s call-in show on SPEED?

    I also could see a series of half-hour specials hosted by Donald Davidson covering classic cars, Indy legends, and highlights of races in the past.

    Perhaps a couple of half-hour specials regarding the 2012 car.

    Maybe a few shows that spend time with each of the drivers during the off-season. With Tony Kanaan doing the Ironman 70.3 Miami triathlon this weekend, there should be somebody there with a camera.

    There are just so many opportunities – it just seems that maybe Versus doesn’t have the manpower to follow everything.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I voted to put Indy Lights on TV because the series needs to have television exposure outside of the Indianapolis race if it is to have any significant car count and subsequent success in fielding and graduating talented drivers.

    A midweek Indy Car show would be excellent, but I wonder if Versus would program around it or if it would often be preempted for live events (especially during hockey season). I also wonder if IndyCar generates enough content to keep a weekly show interesting during the offseason.

    I think an all racing-oriented show like RPM2Night would do very well on Versus, if given a consistent time slot and the press and highlight rights to all series. Probably a pipe dream…

  5. Chris Lukens Says:

    George, you need to add a choice of “All the above”.
    Travis, I REALLY like your idea of a show with Donald Davidson.

  6. Spot-on, George. I totally agree with everything you wrote here.

    What I would like to see from Versus IndyCar coverage if I had my druthers-which I don’t:

    A show like RPM 2night or NASCAR Now like ESPN did or does or like NASCAR Race Hub like Speed does now.

    Re-airs of recent races as well as classic races from all the sanctioning bodies-USAC/CART/ChampCar/IRL/IndyCar.

    Airing races of Firestone Indy Lights as well as other “Road to Indy” ladder series-F2000 and Star Mazda.

    Even an IndyCar type “reality” show following the drivers on and off-track might not be a bad idea. Whether any of these or any of the ideas you and others have floated-all of which are good ideas-will come to fruition remains to be seen.

  7. I’m smart enough to find versus. Why isn’t the rest of the country? I see no problems, just complainers. But then that’s what IndyCar fans tend to be.

  8. The Lapper Says:

    I like the prime time show, but I would also replay it on Saturday or Sunday moning. I catch the f1 sho and NASCAR show then and would enjoy seeing IndyCar. Of course, that is just me.

    Looking for soul food and a place to eat
    The Lapper

  9. This post was exactly what needs to be done. NASCAR is on SPPED 24/7 and it make me cringe every time I go past it on the dial. There is even a game show on NASCAR trivia. Why can’t VS have a midweek show? Replay of old races is a great idea too. I’m sick of the complaining about the VS deal. Look it is signed and a done deal. Why would Versus let a buyout happen? It make no sense from their point of view. Even if they let us out of deal where would we go? ESPN and ABC aren’t interested. SPEED is a NASCAR product and we aren’t on good terms with those folks right now.

  10. North America still needs a racing TV channel!

    A group on facebook (North America needs a racing TV channel) has around 1,300 members. Many people from around North America are upset.

    Also, if fans in North America were able to see more racing from both North America and around the world and vice versa, would that not help everyone?

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