A Possible Opportunity For 2011
There are many hot topics in the world of the IZOD IndyCar Series being bandied about. Of course there is the new engine formula just announced. This week, we are expecting an update on the choice of chassis for the 2012 season. Then there is the much welcomed win by Tony Kanaan last weekend at Iowa. One subject that is just starting to pick up steam is the 2011 schedule.
Last summer, we were led to believe that the schedule for this season was going to one that would please most fans. What we got was the addition of two road/street courses at Brazil and Barber Motorsports Park along with the subtraction of oval tracks at Richmond and Milwaukee. Terry Angstadt came across as a snake-oil salesman – as he tried to convince us that this was a great schedule amidst the complaints by fans of a schedule that, for the first time, featured more road courses than ovals. It was not an enviable position to be in. He didn’t purposely create it that way. Things happened beyond his control, but he didn’t have to be so enthusiastic about it either.
So far, we have three confirmed races for 2011; the Indianapolis 500, a new street course through the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore and a return to the 1.058 mile oval at Loudon, NH. Most announcements of tracks renewing are just a formality, but some tracks owned by International Speedway Corporation are in jeopardy of not returning to the schedule for next year. Those are at Homestead, Chicagoland, Kansas and this week’s race at Watkins Glen.
Maybe I’m off the mark, but I think there is an opportunity that those in charge of the schedule have yet to mention as a consideration. There is labor unrest looming in the National Football League. More and more, the possibility seems to exist that there may not be an NFL season in 2011. If that happens, there will be many eyes searching for some form of competition on Sunday afternoons in September and October.
Normally, I am an advocate of wrapping up the IZOD IndyCar Series season before the NFL regular season kicks off. That requires wrapping up the IndyCar season on Labor Day weekend. I realize that I am in the minority on this point, but I think that it is a losing proposition to go head-to-head against the NFL. I consider myself one of the more die-hard IndyCar fans out there. But if there is an IndyCar race running at the same time as a Tennessee Titans game, it is the IndyCar race that gets relegated to the DVR.
If a slate of IZOD IndyCar Series races could be moved into September or October for one time in 2011, and placed on a major network – it could prove to be the move that snags the long-coveted new fans. This would be in the heart of the championship battle. If there is no NFL season, and fans are looking for something to fill their void on Sunday afternoon find a race as captivating as what we had in Iowa – they just might tune in the next week and then get wrapped up in following what is hopefully a close championship battle.
Of course, these are a lot of “ifs” and “hopefully’s” to be basing changing traditional dates for one year only. I’m not saying that the date for the Indy 500 or some of the more entrenched dates should be changed, but some events held in the spring and summer months might be persuaded to shift to fall, given the potential opportunity.
Even if the NFL lockout does take place in 2011, there will still be NASCAR and the baseball pennant races to lure the normal NFL viewers. College football will still allow football fans to get their fix on Saturdays. During the last two labor disputes in the NFL in 1982 and 1987, very few college teams were willing to move their games to Sunday. It would inconvenience most of their fans and the NFL threatened to play some of their games on Saturday if they ever made such a move, in turn hurting their TV ratings and attendance.
Is this something that the braintrusts of the IZOD IndyCar Season should consider? It’s hard to say. The problem is that by the time the 2011 IndyCar schedule has to be in place, there will be no way to get an accurate read on which way the winds are blowing regarding the NFL labor issues. The schedule for 2011 needs to be finalized at some point in August of 2010. They could get the TV partners and tracks to agree to shift many races into early fall of 2011, only to have the NFL and the Player’s Union reach an eleventh hour settlement one year later. If that were to happen, it would prove to be a ratings disaster.
Who knows, even if the league moved mountains to shift those dates around and there was no NFL season in 2011 – is that any guarantee that viewers will flock to the IndyCar race? Baseball and NASCAR may snag all of the NFL would-be viewers. So after opening up that can of worms and exploring the topic, it could be that the gamble would be too great. Staying put on the established schedule may be the best way to go, or maybe move just one race into the traditional NFL slots. But I’ll bet that with the media savvy new leadership at 16th and Georgetown, they have already thought of this and decided the best route to follow. I have full trust in their instincts. It’ll be interesting to see how this new crew will reshape the 2011 schedule.