Is There Too Much Hype For This Weekend?
Normally, I’m not one to buy into a lot of hype. Whenever the Super Bowl finally rolls around after two weeks of hype, I’m usually so sick of hearing about it I just want to get on with the kickoff and not even watch the seven hour pre-game show. Everything the NBA does is over-hyped. They even hyped the fact that they had cancelled the fist two weeks of the season due to a lockout – as if anyone really cared.
The Major League playoffs and World Series are still fairly understated, which is one reason I still like baseball, although not with the fervor I once did before they lost the World Series in the mid-nineties. Hockey also does a good job of under-selling the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I’m not a hockey fan, but I went to a Predators playoff game back in the spring and was impressed with the high-intensity throughout the entire game.
I generally prefer events that are lacking in hype. Just let the event speak for itself is what I’ve always thought was a good rule to follow. That’s why I was initially a little skeptical of all the hype that started brewing after Randy Bernard announced the season finale for the IZOD IndyCar Series at Las Vegas.
But something different needed to be done. When you are going against the NFL, the baseball playoffs and the start of the NHL season – you need to do something to get even some of the die-hards to watch. Two weekends ago, there was a great race at Kentucky that only 188,000 people bothered to tune in for. That translates into a 0.1 rating for the final Versus broadcast of the season. I would think that some infomercials or test patterns might fare better than that. Last year’s season finale barely registered any better, and that was with a points battle similar to this one.
Fortunately, the Las Vegas finale is to be carried by ABC on Sunday. That will help. Randy Bernard has vowed to resign if the ratings fail to exceed a 0.8. Maybe he recognizes that this job is harder than expected and this may be an easy out. I hope that isn’t the case. Hopefully, the ratings will be better than a 1.0 – not only to keep Randy on board, but a race of this importance on ABC needs to be higher than that anyway.
So therefore, the needed hype. And there has been plenty of it.
Earlier in the season, we learned of a promotion that allowed anyone buying a ticket to an IZOD IndyCar Series race at any point in the season, to get a free ticket to the Vegas race. Then there was the announced promotion of getting two free tickets when booking a room at MGM Resorts. Now there is the Go-Daddy Challenge which will pay Dan Wheldon and a lucky fan $2.5 million each if Wheldon can win the finale. This came after there were no takers to the proposed $5million offered to any non-IndyCar driver who could win the race. All this to go along with the drama of deciding the championship between Dario Franchitti and Will Power.
Some had complained about the original $5 million challenge. Even more are complaining about the deal offered to Wheldon. Perhaps they think it is a gimmick. Well, they are right – but so what? This isn’t the storied Indianapolis 500 that has one hundred years of sacred tradition to fall back on. This is an event that is starving for anyone who might have a reason to watch.
We are now witnessing Randy Bernard at his best. He is in his element in Las Vegas. He has many connections in Vegas and he is using them. He would be delinquent in his duties of CEO if he neglected to utilize those contacts. I consider Randy Bernard to be a Humpy Wheeler with good taste. In fact, I’ll go further – Humpy always came across as a bit of a buffoon that also happened to be a showman. Randy Bernard impresses me as an excellent businessman that understands what is needed to promote an event. There have been hits and there have been misses, but the hits are outnumbering the misses.
With so many free tickets available, hopefully the stands at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will appear close to full on television. There is something about flipping around and landing on an event that no one is attending. Subconsciously, you think that if no one is wasting their time to go, why should I watch?
As a die-hard, I’m going to be tuning in anyway. I’m obviously curious who will win this championship. But I’m also curious to see how this product comes across on television. Will it have the feeling of something special, or will it have the same feeling of the Kentucky race? Kentucky was a great race, but there were very few people in the stands and not many more watching at home. Once I saw the crowd, I was afraid the numbers would be bad. Unfortunately, I was right.
More than anything else, this one race may determine Randy Bernard’s legacy at INDYCAR. If there are no bodies in the stands and no eyes watching at home, it could have a very negative impact heading into the off-season. However, if the stands look packed and they can pull some good ratings – it could give the series some much-needed momentum for the cold winter months.
ABC/ESPN has done their part – sort of. This past Monday night, ESPN ran an excellent ad promoting the finale and of course, Danica Patrick’s “farewell to the series that made her a star”. It ran during the pre-game before the Lions beat the Bears. Unfortunately, I don’t recall seeing the ad run during the game itself – but I can’t claim I was glued to the TV throughout the entire game, so I could have missed it.
So for those that say the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale is being over-hyped, I say it needs to be. If for no other reason, it needs to be over-hyped just to see what the results of such action will generate. If it isn’t successful, I’ll promise Randy Bernard is already working on a Plan B for next year – just in case.