Let The Offseason Begin

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We are now almost two weeks into the dreaded IndyCar offseason. With the announcement and confirmation that the IndyCar Series would end the 2014 season on Labor Day next season, it has been a popular notion to say that this current offseason is going to be seven months long.

Well, I have good news for you. Today is November 1. The first race next season is at St. Petersburg on March 30. I never did real well in math, but the way I figure it – that’s slightly less than five months from today.

Is five months really that long? The NFL wraps up its season the first week in February. They don’t start playing for real until early September. If you want to get technical, most teams begin their worthless pre-season play in early August. Even if you count their pre-season, that’s still more than five months.

Major League Baseball just wrapped up its season with the Red Sox drubbing of the Cardinals Wednesday night. They start their regular season back about the same time as IndyCar does. It’s a little less than five months, but not by much. The NBA, NHL and NASCAR have shorter offseasons, but most everyone agrees that their seasons are all way too long anyway.

The point is, it seems that there is a lot of whining and moaning about the long offseason we are facing. Please remember that the one we are headed into is a month shorter than last year’s. The 2012 season finale at Fontana took place on September 15. This year’s season-ending race was run on October 19. One of the few things being done by this new regime is ending the IndyCar season after Labor Day. The series is in desperate need of ratings. That won’t happen trying to run races on NBCSN while the NFL or even college football is on.

Did you see the ratings for the Houston double-header on Oct 5-6? They barely even registered. Estimates are that 161,000 watched each race. That’s not in the Houston area or the Indianapolis market. That’s total for the entire US. For a nation of almost 317 million people – that doesn’t even qualify as a blip. NASCAR takes a huge hit in their ratings after Labor Day, but their ratings on ESPN are averaging anywhere from thirty to fifty times what IndyCar is drawing most weekends. With those numbers, NASCAR can take a hit and still survive. IndyCar cannot.

I said the other day that Randy Bernard listened to fans. The vast majority of fans want the IndyCar season to run through Labor Day and even through the end of October. For once, I applaud the administration for not adhering to fans wishes on this topic. I think Mark Miles deserves credit for admitting that with IndyCar in its current state, it cannot survive trying to take on the NFL for even part of its season.

Even though the selfish kid inside of me would like to have an IndyCar race every weekend, the grown-up in me knows that having about half as many races as NASCAR makes each event more special. I don’t consider five months to be a long offseason. Teams need time to reset and regroup. We fans do as well. Sometimes the speculation and anticipation of the offseason can be just as entertaining as the season can be. Considering the football and baseball offseasons are about the same length of time – I really think five months is about right.

So why have so many been claiming this offseason is seven months? I suppose they are assuming the 2015 season will be starting at the end of March also. Although I don’t consider five months too long for an offseason – seven is too long. So is six. Once the half-year threshold is crossed, all bets are off.

We have been told many times that next season is the transition year, but we can expect major improvements in many aspects of the IndyCar Series in 2015.By that, I am assuming that to mean more races at more venues – not just creating more races through double-headers. More venues mean more weekends. The 2014 season is already being compressed, by ending on Labor Day weekend. If they expand the schedule with more weekends, there is only one way to do that – start the season earlier.

While I do think the IndyCar season should end by Labor Day, I thing it should start much earlier. Golf and tennis find warm locales to host events during the late winter-early spring months. IndyCar can do the same. Remember the old IRL schedule began at Walt Disney World in January, the Saturday before the Super Bowl. I don’t think the season should start that early, but mid to late February sounds sensible to me. By the time the IndyCars are fired up at St. Petersburg next March, NASCAR will already be into its sixth points-paying race weekend. Formula One will have completed their second race before IndyCar turns a wheel in competition. Even then, we are looking at a six month offseason. Maybe if they could find a way to make the season just one or two weeks longer than the offseason – everyone would be happy.

I could be wrong, but I think in racing, there is much more enthusiasm at the early stages of the season, than at the end. It is frustrating for IndyCar fans to watch the Rolex 24, six weeks of NASCAR and a couple of Formula One races before IndyCar finally takes the stage. Although I like to look at it as saving the best for last – I don’t think that is the general perception. Instead, IndyCar fails to capitalize (again) on the excitement and momentum created by other racing series. They are forgotten about before they get out of the gate.

So before we all assume that we’ll be enduring a seven month offseason in the near-future, let’s see what Mark Miles & Company come up with for 2015. If that season starts again in late March – well, they deserve whatever moaning comes their way.

George Phillips

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8 Responses to “Let The Offseason Begin”

  1. I like your thought process here George. There are a lot of things that I think people put too much thought into. The off-season, the crowd size, TV ratings, etc. The ratings especially, because so many people watch races on “illegal” channels online, so those numbers are skewed a little bit.

    I can understand if you don’t like ANY other sports, then maybe it is too long. Honestly though, everyone has other interests to keep them occupied until the start of next season. There is football, hockey, and my personal favorite, basketball. Aside from sports there are entertaining holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and the activities that go along with it.

    The off-season will be over before we know it, and we’ll have another exciting season to get revved up about. If you need some stuff to hold you over until March though, check out my video page on my site – http://www.OpenWheelAmerica.com – which has every Indianapolis 500 mile race ever run. The videos from the past 40 years or so are all full-length broadcasts.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    As much as I enjoy the fact that racing (and baseball) season turns into football season turns into basketball season, I do miss each of these sports in their respective offseason (especially basketball). I think that goes for big fans of any sport.

    Still, the griping about the Indycar offseason, whether 5 or 7 months long, is quite understandable. More than anything, Indycar fans are going to compare the Indycar offseason to those of other racing series and when compared to NASCAR/Formula 1/Grand ALMS/NHRA/World of Outlaws/USAC/AMA/my local track, even 5 months is a long offseason.

  3. George, I like the idea of starting the season MUCH earlier. I’ve posted to several blogs (maybe even this one) that I think Mark Miles should be shopping for someplace to race on the weekend between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. It could be done in Phoenix, Houston, South America, or at Homestead, of course (assuming the Super Bowl isn’t in the same locale.)

    First it is a totally BORING sports weekend. Aside from college hoops (which is a month away from March Madness,) the NBA (months away from the playoffs) and the Pro Bowl (yawn,) you’ve got the NHL (on the same network,) the PGA tour stop somewhere and that’s about it. NASCAR is still a couple of weeks out. Have something before the Rolex. If there’s anyone wanting to watch racing, you’d be the only game in town.

    I fully concur that Labor Day needs to be the end of the season, at least until something changes radically. Hell, even I don’t watch the races live up against the NFL, although it’s tough to stay off line so as not to find out the results before I crank up the DVR.

  4. Nascar’s schedule is mind-numbingly long. I like the condensed Indycar schedule (this year’s was terrible) and agree that if they add races it should be in the spring. Personally, I’d love to see COTA in Austin and the Phoenix oval added in the Spring.

  5. If IndyCar adds races in late winter and early spring, they should be tracks in the USA IMHO. While the 2014 schedule features 17 races, that involves only 10 states. There are huge areas of the country that do not have a IndyCar race remotely close. Fans need a team or event in their state or region to identify with and to be able to get to without having to travel over half the country. The NFL plays 16 games in a season but are involved in over twice as many states as IndyCar. Same for NASCAR. IndyCar is not going to create any new fans (and better TV ratings) by racing in Australia or whereever. IndyCar has priced itself out of most markets.

  6. As I have said before, IndyCar needs to start the weekend after the Rolex 24 hors race, then end Labor Day weekend. Rolex “activates” the season, then IndyCar can run some races at least every other week, expanding the season. The only warm weather area for racing that would be eliminated is Brazil, due to the proximity to Carnival. Well, and New Orleans, now that I think about it.

    Too early in 2014 to add Ft Lauderdale, but not 2015, if they can pull together a deal. Hell, maybe they could race around Miami. I don’t see Homestead is viable, as long as NASCAR exists. I’m sure the track would love to have an early race there, and it would be ideal temperature-wise, but not gonna happen due to racing politics.

  7. I don’t think football or any other sports played any role in the Houston Grand Prix’s poor TV ratings. Casual fans had 5 weeks to forget about the upcoming Houston weekend. Big gaps between races is a terrible idea; Champ Car often had that problem in its final years because of cancelled races. IndyCar should have no problem running through October so long as no more than one off-weekend exists between any 2 races. The ratings are about .5 anyway, so what’s the difference if 100,000-ish viewers are lost to another sport during the fall?

  8. Indy car should probably run from approximately April 1 to October 1. Ending the season on Labor Day weekend is a mistake. Have a couple of races in September. Make them Saturday races if the concern is the NFL. I would definitely not start the season any earlier than it is now. They are already up against March madness.

    I think the fear of the NFL is overblown. The gaps in the schedule this year did more damage than the NFL could ever do.

    I agree that the Nascar season is too long. Their problem is they have to run Daytona in February.

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