Are Dynasties Always A Bad Thing?
One of the more popular laments about the current state of the IZOD IndyCar Series is that the same two teams, Penske and Ganassi, win all of the races. Granted, it takes away from any intrigue or drama for any of us – the die-hards that will tune into each race regardless of the quality of the product; but is it possible that having one or two dynasties win all of the races might actually help lure some casual fans? For hypothetical purposes for this discussion only, we’ll assume that the races are broadcast on a mainstream network that has high visibility.
The casual fan is absolutely coveted by the series. That is where the growth of the series will take place in the near future. Those of us that watch every race, tune in religiously to Curt Cavin & Kevin Lee every Thursday night and peruse through all of the IndyCar blogs on a daily basis will probably continue to do so, no matter what. They’ve got us. It’s those fans out there that might have some curiosity about this sport that they are going after. They are hoping that they’ll stumble upon a race and get hooked. It somehow happened to all of us at some point in time.
Chances are, if a casual fan happens upon a race with Helio Castroneves leading, they will have heard of him. They probably know the name of Roger Penske also. Chip Ganassi’s name is not really known outside of racing circles, but the Target livery is certainly recognizable. Casual fans will pull for someone they’ve heard of. That’s what sucks them into a sport, at first.
The World Series starts tonight. Most that follow baseball closely figured it would probably be another match-up between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies. Instead, it will be the San Francisco Giants against the Texas Rangers. Although those of us that follow baseball see this as a refreshing change, those in television believe it will be a ratings disaster. To many people, the only baseball they may watch during the season is the World Series – and that is when the marquee names like the Yankees or Red Sox are taking on famous large market teams like the Dodgers or Braves. The teams that the casual fans are aware of are not there, and the fear is that no one but hard-core baseball fans will tune in.
If a channel surfer is flipping around on Memorial Day, what is more likely to keep his or her interest – Helio Castroneves leading in a Penske car followed closely by Danica Patrick; or Dreyer & Reinbold driver Mike Conway chasing down leader Alex Lloyd? To us hard-core fans, the second scenario sounds much more appealing, because we know the struggles both drivers have had as well as their respective teams. But the casual fan doesn’t know these drivers, have never heard of their teams and their cars don’t look familiar at all. For the casual fan, a Memorial Day marathon of Murder, She Wrote on TBS might have a better chance of holding their attention.
When my better-half asked me on Sunday who was in the World Series, she had never heard of the Texas Rangers. Granted, she is not a baseball fan at all. In fact, she hates baseball. But she has been known to sit through a World Series game with me and have some level of interest – if she knows something about the teams. I’m not sure who I’m for. The traditionalist in me says pull for the Giants – the number three team in New York, way back when. But I’m also intrigued with this being the Rangers (who were the second version of the Washington Senators), making their first trip ever to the Fall Classic. Whatever the case, I’ll watch – but I’m a baseball fan.
Many people are like my significant other. If they don’t know anything about the teams, they’ll carve pumpkins instead. Much the same could be said about the IZOD IndyCar Series. If they tune into the premier event – the Indianapolis 500 – and recognize no names, they’ll move on.
Although I’m an unabashed Team Penske fan, I still like seeing other teams win occasionally – and I don’t mean Ganassi. As a hard-core fan, nothing would thrill me more than seeing teams like Panther, Dreyer & Reinbold and KV Racing Technologies be a legitimate threat to win – and actually do it – race after race. That’s what made CART so strong in the early nineties. Yes, Penske and Newman/Haas won most of the races; but each week, teams like Galles, Rahal/Hogan, Dick Simon, and Walker Racing were always considered a threat to win because they did occasionally. That type of balance and depth is what is needed to keep the fan base happy, but having the marquee names consistently at the front is what will help bring in new fans.
Quite honestly, aside from the excitement of the centennial celebration at Indianapolis next May, there’s probably nothing different on the horizon for 2011. We’ll have the same cars for the ninth year in a row and the teams that had them figured out in 2009 and 2010, will probably be the ones winning in 2011. The great equalizer will be when the new equipment debuts in 2012. Until then, Penske and Ganassi will probably continue their winning ways. The silver lining to that is that it just might be more appealing to the coveted casual fan.