Avoid The NFL At All Costs
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.