Who Should Educate New Fans?
When we were at Barber Motorsports Park a couple of weeks ago, one thing I wrote about was how a large number of those in attendance for qualifying seemed to have no clue what was going on. When I mentioned it here, there were varying opinions on the subject.
Quite honestly, the situation with qualifying is the same as the problem for the entire IZOD IndyCar Series – it’s a good show that no one understands or knows about.
Susan and I sat in the stands for Fast-Six qualifying at Barber. We both knew exactly what was going on with the strategy of most teams sitting until the last few minutes of qualifying. The problem was – most of the fans sitting around us did not. Fans seemed to grasp the basic concept that there were two groups going out to qualify. Beyond that, most seemed to be sitting there scratching their collective heads as there were long periods where there were no cars on track at all – even as the clock atop the scoring pylon kept ticking. For the final session – what is considered the “shoot-out – most fans around us started packing up to leave with five minutes to go. They all thought it was over.
Clearly, there is a disconnect – but whose fault is it?
Contrary to popular belief, the crowd at Barber is not ignorant. These are not transplanted NASCAR fans who are just passing the time until Talladega. For the most part, the crowd at Barber is very knowledgeable about road racing. They are just not considered to be the hard-core fans that listen to Mike King and the IMS Radio Network every race weekend via the internet for practice times and qualifying results.
Mike King and crew are piped in over the PA at Barber and probably most tracks on the schedule. Although this exposes the crowd to all of Mike King’s weekly gaffes, it doesn’t really explain to the casual fan what the basic rules and strategies are – and it shouldn’t. The IMS Radio Network should not be dummied down so that it is unbearable for the knowledgeable fan to listen to. The broadcasters on the IMS Network do a good job of engaging the hard-core fan during the practice and qualifying broadcasts – to gear it down to an introductory and novice level wouldn’t be fair.
Perhaps the local tracks should take it upon themselves to have a separate person on the PA to educate the fans in attendance to what is about to happen and what they can expect.
The argument is; whose responsibility is it to make sure those in attendance know what’s going on? Should INDYCAR print out an easy to read one-sheet flyer to hand out on qualifying morning that explains the qualifying procedure? They already do this, but it is buried within the fan guide that was readily available at Barber. How much responsibility is on the fan to learn these things? Granted there is some, but fans are lazy.
I go back to my hockey analogy. I can’t count how many Nashville Predators games I have been to over the years, yet I still don’t exactly know what those blue lines mean and don’t even think about asking me to explain icing. I could ask someone to sit down and explain it to me. At the very least, I could Google the rules and have a much better understanding of what I’m watching the next time I go. Instead, I sit there and cheer when the puck goes into the net, but have no clue what everyone is booing about half the time. I just sit there in ignorant bliss and sip on my nine-dollar beer, while munching on my seven-dollar hot dog.
The one thing this series needs more than anything is to cultivate new fans – with “cultivate” being the operative word. The fan that tunes into one race and never come back does the series no good in the long run. I cringe when I hear people say that baseball is boring. It’s only boring because they don’t understand the intricacies and strategies of the game. Is it baseball’s job to go out of their way to educate every fan about how the lack of the DH in the National League affects the strategy on when to leave a pitcher in the game? No, but baseball has major TV contracts in place and is not hurting for fans as much as open-wheel racing is.
Like this one, there are many blogs out there that focus on IndyCar. The problem is, most of them are geared towards the hard-core fan because they are written by hard-core fans. Quite honestly, I have no interest in dumbing down this site on the off-chance that a newbie might stumble across it. Like all other IndyCar blogs, the readers that come here already know the rules and strategies. If this site suddenly became a daily public service announcement for those that need educating about the sport – I have an idea that my tens of readers would dry up quickly.
When I go to IndyCar.com, I want to read news written for someone who knows the sport – not to be spoon-fed as if I am a first-time visitor to the site. However, it might be wise on their part to have a tab labeled “For the Newbie” or something along those lines. There they can develop content intended to attract and educate potential new fans.
So what is the answer? I really don’t know, but they need to do something. It was eye-opening for me at Barber to see fans leaving in droves before the pole position was even decided. Perhaps, representatives from IndyCar should sit in the stands at qualifying and listen first-hand to what the fans are saying. I’m hoping they do that anyway rather than listening to a focus group that studies surveys and hypothesizing what fans are thinking.
For the informed, the Fast-Six qualifying format is very exciting. Obviously, NASCAR thinks so since they have just announced that they are going to a group format for qualifying at their two road course events at Watkins Glen and Sonoma – of course, they’ll claim they invented it along with the SAFER barrier and the HANS devise. But those that don’t know what is happening will continue to leave race tracks on Saturday wondering why they paid money to watch cars sit in the pits. I think educating fans about the sport is a basic and fundamental need and a priority item that needs to be addressed.