It’s Time For Versus To Step Up
Even though the Iowa race was more entertaining to watch than most others this season, the only people that know that are the very few that watched. The overnight ratings for ABC’s telecast pulled a whopping 0.8; down 27% from the 1.1 rating for Iowa last year. Overall, the two races on ABC other than the Indy 500 (which also drew poorly) have averaged a 0.7 overnight, down a whopping 30% from the 1.0 from last year.
So what does all of this mean? I am not a media analyst so I won’t attempt to explain what each ratings point (or in this case – fraction of a point) represents. Suffice it to say, though – far fewer people are watching IndyCar races this year than last. Nor, will I pretend to know how to fix it quickly. If I knew that, I would be sitting in Terry Angstadt’s office at 16th & Georgetown.
But as a fan that watches this series from a couch instead of a grandstand most of the time, I can offer a few suggestions. Most have heard/read my previous rant about ABC/ESPN poor coverage of the series, so I’ll try to not belabor those points. If you so choose, you may read it here.
I don’t recall seeing any promos on ABC or ESPN leading up to the Iowa race, but to be fair – I wasn’t completely glued to ESPN for the past couple of weeks. I’m not an NBA fan, so I did not watch one second of the NBA Finals. I’ll assume that ABC ran promos then, but I don’t really know. I do watch baseball, and I don’t recall seeing ANY race promotions during baseball or SportsCenter for the past two weeks – although I did see ads promoting the NASCAR race at Sonoma that was to be shown on a competing network.
My suggestion is this – move everything except for the Indianapolis 500 over to Versus. The IRL is committed to Versus for another nine years, anyway. Versus is trying to leverage their IndyCar coverage to grow their own brand. Let both sides jump in with both feet beginning next year. Another step is for ABC to strike a deal so that Versus can actually produce the broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 with the Versus on-air talent and production crew, and have ABC simply carry the feed.
There was a certain disconnect at Indy this year. We had been spoiled with the excellent Versus coverage throughout the season. With all of their extensive qualifying coverage that Versus provided during the Month of May leading up to the race, it was a little unnerving seeing and hearing these “other people” telling us what we had been seeing through different eyes for the past two months. With ABC covering only five races this season, it reinforces the stepchild status that we IndyCar fans have been feeling from ABC/ESPN for some time now.
If it could be worked out where Bob Jenkins, Robbie Buhl and Jon Beekhuis could call the races with ABC logos and graphics – why not? ABC certainly gives the impression that they care little about the Indy 500 and even less about the series.
And while they are re-working the Indy telecast, please do something about the role of “host”. Personally, I never quite understood the purpose of that role. But if they feel the need to have a host…please, make it a racing guy. Brent Musburger may be a sports television icon, but on a racing telecast — he is an embarrassment, as he trips over half of the drivers names and has his mouth fill with saliva as he drools over the very mention of Danica Patrick.
If ABC is averaging a 0.7 rating with a 30% drop from last year, what would it hurt to move all but Indy over to Versus? At this point, what have they got to lose? I’m sure ESPN would love to not be saddled with those five races for next year. At least there would be more continuity. We die-hards would know where to tune in every week. Versus could promote the races on ESPN and other outlets, just as TNT did with Sonoma.
Another suggestion I would make to Versus would be to produce a weekly IndyCar show to air live, during the middle of the week. Taking a cue from the many NASCAR shows on SPEED and ESPN, they could have a host moderate a discussion between drivers, team members, etc. Maybe they could even copy one format that has a couple of regular drivers on each week and they basically sit and talk, unscripted for thirty minutes to an hour. This would help Versus enhance the product they have invested in; while allowing the IRL a vehicle to promote their drivers and teams.
The IndyCar brand did not diminish overnight and it will take a long time to build it back. The IRL and Versus are in a long-term agreement with each other. They are both trying to grow their brand and identity through each other. It will take time. Versus is owned by Comcast, so their resources seem to be in place. After what has erupted within the Hulman-George family in the past month, the IRL’s funding seems to be tenuous, at best. Both sides say they are in this agreement for the long haul. If that’s the case, then it may be time for the IRL to ditch ABC/ESPN altogether and cast their lot with Versus.