Avoid The NFL At All Costs

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One phenomenon I have noticed for the past three Septembers is the severe drop in traffic to this site once football season begins in earnest – by probably more than twenty-five percent. I don’t think that means that my September posts are that much more boring than usual – it just means that fan interest is diverted elsewhere.

Most of my friends consider me to be a hard-core fan of the IZOD IndyCar Series, yet had there been an IndyCar race this past weekend – it would have been relegated to the DVR. I dedicated the entire weekend to watching college and pro-football. I realize that not all race fans are also football fans like me, but many are.

I’m not trying to suggest that my little IndyCar site is an accurate gauge of fan interest in the series, but for three years running there has been a significant drop in traffic after Labor Day. There is also another drop-off during the off-season, but not nearly as sharp as the September drop.

The sports landscape is jam-packed in the fall. NCAA football and the NFL are foremost in the minds of most sports fans throughout September. Add the Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series in October along with Midnight Madness in college basketball and there are more than a few distractions to occupy the most casual of sports fans. Oh, and in case anyone’s interested – the NHL and the NBA are starting to make noise in October when there are no labor disputes to interfere.

With everything that is going on in September and October, suffice it to say that IndyCar is nowhere on the radar of most sports fans after Labor Day. Even NASCAR recognizes this. Their ratings drop significantly after the start of football season. That’s why they created the ridiculous “Chase For The Championship” – just to spark some interest at this time of year. I’m not sure they’ve reached their objective, but that’s their worry – not ours.

The IZOD IndyCar Series has made great strides in the last two seasons under the direction of Randy Bernard. But there are still great obstacles ahead before he gets this series where he wants it and where it needs to be. In order to achieve that goal, the sport needs fans. More fans. New fans. This sport is still too much of a niche sport followed mostly by a few die-hards, to go up against a behemoth like the NFL and the other fall staples.

The Tennessee Titans looked abysmal this past Sunday. Although they only lost by two, it had the feel of a blowout. But you know what? I’ll be watching again this Sunday – this time from the stands as they play the Ravens. They will almost certainly be routed again, but I’ll watch the next week and the next. On October 2nd, they will play at the Cleveland Browns. The game will still be going on as the IZOD IndyCar Series gets underway at Kentucky. Will I flip over and watch the race? Not on your life. I’ll DVR it and catch it delayed and breeze through the commercials until I catch up to it live. I don’t think that’s what the sponsors had in mind. Fortunately, the Titans have a bye-week the weekend of the Las Vegas finale.

The thing is – I consider myself to be an IndyCar die-hard. If I’m not watching a race live as crazy as I am about this sport, what does that say? Does it say I’m not a real fan or does it suggest that INDYCAR should consider shifting the schedule so that they’re not foolishly taking on the NFL head-to-head?

In 2007, the powers that be at the time actually had a rare good idea. They realized how fruitless it was trying to take on the NFL and scheduled the final race on the Sunday after Labor Day. The mistake they made at the time was trying to condense the schedule by cramming seventeen races into a shortened window. The season began on March 24th and ended September10th – with an extra week thrown in at Indianapolis compared to now. That put way too much strain on the crews. Unlike NASCAR, most IndyCar teams utilize the same personnel at the shop during the week and at the track on the weekends. There were few off-dates that season and the move proved unpopular with the teams.

It is my understanding that Randy Bernard wants to start the season earlier. This year saw the season start at St. Petersburg on March 27. I’ve read where Mr. Bernard would like to start the season in early March or even in February – close to when NASCAR kicks off with the Daytona 500. That would suit me just fine. At that time of year, we are so starved for racing that we’ll watch the Rolex 24, the Daytona 500 and Sebring. It satisfies the craving but it is frustrating knowing that the IZOD IndyCar Series season is still a full six weeks away.

The schedule I’d like to see implemented would be to start an eighteen race schedule in late February, have at least one oval race before the Indianapolis 500 and then wrap up the season on Labor Day weekend. The Sunday afternoon this past Labor Day weekend was thin when it came to sports. The only football was a rainy game between West Virginia and Marshall. Unless you live in that area, there was probably not a whole lot of interest in that match-up. It may have explained why the IZOD IndyCar race at Baltimore drew such good ratings on Versus (0.6). Had this been the race to decide the championship on ABC, I would argue that the ratings would be much higher.

All you need to do is look at the ratings for last year’s championship finale at Homestead that was actually run on a Saturday to avoid the NFL and the number was still minimal. It was a great race that was highly anticipated among we die-hards, yet we were the only ones that watched it. This year there are two races scheduled to go up against the NFL and a Japan race set to start at 11:30 eastern time. All of this spread out over a six week period – not a recipe to keep fans interested as football hits high gear.

I love open-wheel racing. And yes – I anticipate the beginning of the IZOD IndyCar Series season more than the beginning of football season. And then, there is nothing in sports that gets my blood pumping like the magical Month of May. But at this time of year, my interest in racing seems to wane as football takes over. I want Randy Bernard to succeed in his quest to restore open-wheel racing to where it once was in the American consciousness. I fully believe that as much as the series has grown – they are still not even close to the point where they can take on the NFL on Sunday’s. I think the best way to grow this sport is to kick off the season in late February and crown the champion by Labor Day. Otherwise, the season will seem to trickle to a meaningless close.

George Phillips

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20 Responses to “Avoid The NFL At All Costs”

  1. Ben Twickerbill Says:

    It doesn’t matter. REAL race fans will watch whenever they are on, regardless of whatever “stick & ball” sport is going on…
    And so should the guy writing at Oilpressure…lol

  2. I like you’re idea. These last 2 months of the season die with a whimper. And by Februrary I’m starved to see a race. Moving the season forward 6 weeks would be wonderful.

    Looking at the NASCAR schedule, it looks like the only warm weather tracks they run in that time frame are Daytona, Phoenix, Fontana, and Texas. Seems like it’d be possible to run some street races (St. Pete, Long Beach, Sau Paulo) and still squeeze a few ovals in (Homestead? anywhere else in a warm climate?)

    • Simon Garfunkel Says:

      I agree totally. The IICS needs to find tracks to run in the early spring when we all need our racing fix. Concede the fall to football, the MLB World Series, NHL, NBA, etc. Memorial Day is an open wheel tradition. Let Labor Day become one too.

      I also concur with George that at least one oval needs to be before Indy.

      • I ALSO agree totally with George. Start in Feb when the NFL is finished and NHL and NBA aren’t yet in playoff mode. End around Labor Day, when most local tract racing seasons are winding down (at least up here in the Midwest).
        Given the choice between da Bears and my beloved Indycar, I’m DVR’ing the race!

  3. I like the February start and Labor Day Finish. Go Bears!

  4. Another possible reason for light September traffic, George–no race last weekend, Japan @ midnight this week and no race next weekend. Not exactly building to a climactic finish…

    I vote for starting earlier, condensing the schedule, avoiding scheduling conflicts with Nascar and finishing before the NFL starts the regular season.

    • I agree with what Redcar is saying. The end of the season needs to finish strong, with the last 3 or 4 races being run without 2-3 week breaks between them. Finish with a bang on Labor Day weekend.

      I also would love to see IndyCar start right after the Superbowl. Not only is it a relatively quiet time for motorsports in general, I think it’s key that they also get started before F1.

  5. Much of North America has excellent weather in September. I think you have to take advantage of that. The NFL has become very popular, but a lot of that lately has been because of fantasy football. I don’t need to be watching the game to follow my fantasy team any more.

    The breaks in the season, running street courses for six weeks followed by a couple of ovals is doing more damage to the Indy car season than the NFL. These gaps between the two types of racing in the schedule is just not working.

  6. By the end of the summer I have attended several races including other circuits. The fall weekends are now calling for other activities and it would be nice to have already settled the championship. I feel the same about NASCAR and “The Chase” doesn’t do it for me. I also know that a lot of folks have kids in school so, from an attendance standpoint, a fall race weekend get-away may not be practical.

    One more point…When the Football season is over, that suits me too. I think that baseball is getting too long and have the World Series in November is, to me, getting ridiculous.

  7. George–I agree with your concept of starting in late February and wrapping up no later than mid-September. If the racing and series is strong enough, it would pull fans to watch a compelling championship race in mid-September against early season football.

    The real challenge for Mr. Bernard (as you stated) is how to grow this series’ fan base beyond the die-hards. As a die-hard fan, I will confess to my waning interest simply due to the lack of competition. Realistically, in Indycar only about 15%-25% of the starting grid have a genuine chance of winning. Compare that to NASCAR (I’m not a die-hard fan, but am a casual fan), which I would estimate at least 30%-40% of the field can win any given race, and you’ll have more interest. The predictability of Indycar isn’t much of an attraction if one likes to root for the underdog to win at least once in awhile. Indycar caters too much to sponsors for the greater good of the sport, i.e. the races in Japan (a disaster) and Sonoma (yawner) and team preferences (lack of ingenuity in equipment packages). This presents challenges when appealling to casual or potential fans that want to believe in open competition. Without it, there isn’t sufficient attraction to pull anyone away from a mainstream sport like football or baseball. Let’s face it, when a team with a losing record can still make the playoffs (Seattle Seahawks), fans will stay engaged. There needs to be greater competition by a greater number of drivers/teams in order for the series to become more interesting.

  8. I would go to the Kentucky race every year if it wasn’t the same day as Ohio State Football.

    You are dead on with this post George.

  9. It makes sense not to compete with the NFL and MLB playoffs, but the problem is ending the season on Labor Day weekend leads to a massive off season. I guess if the season started early febuary (right before the super bowl?) It might work, but the year that Indycar ended early had a massive, massive offseason. That sucked, even if it made the Indycar team owners happy.

  10. Why do you not like Japan?

  11. IndyCar could do the season in three sections. Flyaway races in South America to start the season in February. A summer-long stretch of US races, and then once football starts, flyaway races in Asia. Asia doesn’t care about the NFL. Do your Japan and China races then if they are willing to pay for races.

    If you want to have a grand finale world championship race in the US, eg. Vegas, then do it Labor Day weekend like George says.

  12. james t suel Says:

    I never leave racing! Ill watch a game every once in a while. Stick an ball sports are just childerns games to me. Racing is life ,everything else is just waiting!!

  13. Chris Lukens Says:

    You may have thought that the Tennessee Titans looked abysmal this past Sunday, but they still looked better than the Denver Broncos did on Monday night. However they are my team and I will root for them.

    I’m in the same situation as you are George. Bronco’s vs Green Bay on Oct 2, and it’s a 2pm (mountain) game so they will be head to head. Sorry, Indycar loses. October 16 is the Bronco’s bye week.

    I voted for starting the season earlier and ending earlier. However, if they insist on having races in September and October they should consider running them on Saturday night.

  14. I agrew with Bob F. People in Wisconsin and Canada need their races in June-August, or nobody would stand the cold weather. F1 does the same with the British, German and Belgian races.

    But people in Miami and California also prefer to have their races in warmer weather. That’s why Nascar has the second Daytona race and F1 the Valencia race in July. Would people in Long Beach attend the same in February? I don’t know too much about weather in the United States, but I guess not.

    I like part of what Simona Fan says. But I’d do only two touraments: the usual championship from late March to whenever they can. and a World Cup from October to March with races like Surfers Paradise (nice weather), Brazil and the Middle East.

  15. George, I would take your idea and run it one step further. Close the season on Labor Day Weekend with a Sunday afternoon 500 from either Vegas (or, if they ever got back on board,) Michigan. First, NASCAR likes running a twilight race at Atlanta that weekend on Sunday night. The NFL doesn’t go for another week (well, til Thursday night anyway.)

    Set up the two 500′s (Indy and Vegas/Michigan) as double poiints races. That way, if there is a close race for the championship, the “double points” at the end \makes it even more important. It also sets up a possibility for a special bonus if one driver, (even a one-off such as Wheldon is this year) could win BOTH 500′s.

    This makes WAY more sense to me than trying to lure someone outside of INDYCAR to try and run one race for a $5 mil bonus. Let’s face it, not everyone is capable of piloting an INDYCAR at 230-240 mph, regardless of their other experience. I always thought that the idea of an outsider trying to run in an INDYCAR, particularly someon who had never done so, was an invitation to a tragedy, the LAST thing our sport needs right now.

  16. And, oh, by the way, at least your Titans had a chance of winning the game. More than I can say my the Peyton-less Colts. They look awful and the folks in the Indy press are already thinking Andrew Luck.

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