IndyCar’s Latest Scheduling Casualty
Friday brought the confirmation of what many people had been speculating about – that the Grand Prix of Baltimore will not run in 2014. Actually, the official story from the Baltimore Business Journal says it is cancelled for 2015 as well. The City of Baltimore, the promoter and the IndyCar Series could not come up with a suitable date for the next two years.
Although it was not totally unexpected, this is a real kick in the gut to IndyCar fans. There is no way to spin any positives from this. None.
Conspiracy theorists generally draw laughter from me. I tend to take things at face value. But you have to wonder, was this really over not being able to find a suitable date or was there more to this story? I really don’t know the answer to that. With approximately thirty possible decent weather weekends with which to work – you’d think that IndyCar and the city could have found at least one weekend they could agree upon.
One problem is that the area where the race is held, is also very close to the Oriole’s stadium, the Raven’s stadium and the convention center. There is no way that a race can be run during the same weekend of an MLB or NFL game, or when there is a major convention in town. Keep in mind, even though the Orioles and the Ravens play in different facilities, the Ravens had to move their Super Bowl winning Thursday night slot to Denver – simply because the Orioles were playing that night and they would not agree to move their game. That’s how tight it must be in that area.
The MLB schedule has just been released, so everyone knows what they are working with there. The NFL schedule for next year won’t be released until next April. The Ravens can request that the weekend of the IndyCar race be left open. There is no guarantee that the NFL will oblige, but historically – they generally try to accommodate a team’s request.
Apparently, the city was very pleased with this year’s attendance. There were reportedly over 152,000 in attendance over the three-day weekend. With that many people in the area of the Inner Harbor – I would think that restaurants and bars did a booming business over the Labor Day weekend. Last year’s race generated an estimated economic impact of approximately $40 million. But for various reasons, some city politicians weren’t so thrilled.
In this day and age, we are always looking for someone to blame. I’m not quite sure who is at fault here. Is it the city itself? Supposedly, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was no longer a supporter of the event. Apparently, she was not seen anywhere on the grounds of the event the entire weekend this year. Was it the owner of the event, Race On, LLC? Perhaps it was Andretti Sports Marketing, who actually runs the event for Race On. Or does the blame eventually land in IndyCar’s lap, even if they were somewhat powerless? If I had to guess, I’d say there is a lot of blame to be spread around to all parties, but from what I read and hear – I think the bulk may fall mostly with a disagreement between the city and Race On.
I don’t blame this on IndyCar’s desire to end the season around Labor Day. From what I understand, the city had already informed the series that Labor Day would be a conflict for next year. But I do fault the series for not finding some way to keep a relatively new venue that has proven to be popular with fans, on the schedule somehow. I understand that date equity is important at other tracks, but I would think that some concessions could have been made somewhere.
I try to stay positive about this series. I believe in what they are trying to do long-term and I think their on-track product is terrific. But I have to count this as another black eye for IndyCar. This was one of the few well-attended events, yet they let it slip away. IndyCar keeps shooting themselves in the foot and adding fuel to the growing perception that they can’t get out of their own way.
The argument why there are so few ovals left on the schedule has been that very few of the potential ovals actually want an IndyCar race. The same tracks get mentioned each year as possible venues to host a race “next” season – Phoenix, Michigan, Chicagoland, etc – but when the schedule is released each year, they are not there.
If they can’t land a new oval track to add to the mix, couldn’t they at least keep hold of the decent road and street courses? Apparently not.
We have yet to see the full 2014 schedule. We got a glimpse last week of some venues through other series releasing their schedule which runs concurrent with IndyCar at certain events. It showed no surprises or date movements at races such as St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Belle Isle and Mid-Ohio among others. Yawn.
I have been supportive of Mark Miles since he took over the series. I think he is a very smart and talented executive. When others claimed he was doing nothing, I defended him by saying that just because he is not an open book like Randy Bernard, doesn’t mean he is not doing anything. I felt confident that there was much going on behind the scenes that we would learn about in good time.
But now is the time to show the fans that some forward steps are being taken. One of Randy Bernard’s greatest strengths was that he actually listened to fans. Now, fans are seeing no progress being made in expanding the series. Not only that – the silence from this new administration brings back the bunker mentality we felt from the Tony George regime, when fans were treated as nothing more than a necessary evil.
So far, the only new race we are hearing about is the probability of a road course race at IMS to kick off the month of May, which is something that some fans don’t even want. We hear no rumors of any new ovals. The only rumors we have heard is that Baltimore and Brazil may be going away. Well, one of those was just confirmed. We’re just waiting for the other one to fall. Baltimore is just the latest scheduling casualty in a long list of casualties with this series. There are certain to be more.
Other than rumors of what’s going away, we hear that there will be one more double-header added – the season-opener at St. Petersburg. That gives the appearance there will be just as many races (nineteen) as there were in 2013. The problem is, two cities are off the schedule with none added. Not to be a “Negative Nate”, but that is not my definition of a forward step or even status quo. I call that losing ground.