The Mixed Bag That Is The 2014 TV Schedule
The television schedule for the 2014 IndyCar season was released last week. As usual, it was a mixed bag. There were a couple of pleasant surprises, as well as a few head-scratchers; but the majority of it was mostly expected.
First, the positives – the race at Barber Motorsports Park had been reported as being on a Saturday next season. The Barber website said it was Sunday, but the IndyCar website said Saturday. I don’t know if it was a typo, or if there was some initial confusion or if the race had originally been slated for Saturday. Whatever the case, it’s now showing up everywhere as a Sunday race.
Selfishly, I much prefer the Sunday date. Barber is one of the few races I go to each year. We make a three-day weekend out of it. I was not pleased that our three-day weekend had been trimmed to two. Now, it has been confirmed as being a three-day weekend with the race being run on Sunday as it always is.
Another pleasant surprise also involves Barber, as well as Long Beach. It had been reported earlier that ABC/ESPN would carry the first six races of the season before handing the baton to NBCSN for the remainder of the season. While ABC will carry the opener at St. Petersburg, NBCSN will carry Long Beach and Barber. I know many see that as a negative, having two spring races on an obscure cable channel, instead of network television – but I don’t see it that way.
The hard-core fans seem to enjoy the NBCSN broadcasts over that of ABC, which has a habit of describing a race as if the viewer has never seen one before. That statement is not entirely fair, because we know there will be changes to the ABC booth next season. We just don’t know who will replace Marty Reid or if there are any other changes coming. But based on recent years, it’s safe to say that the ABC booth has mostly been an exercise in IndyCar Racing 101.
ABC comes back for the entire month of May, which will consist of three races as well as qualifying weekend for the Indianapolis 500. The ABC return kicks off with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which will be a Saturday race on May 10th at 3:30 EDT.
The road course debut at Indianapolis will be followed by the first real negative surprise of last week’s announcement. We already know that qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 will have a different look in 2014. It just hasn’t been confirmed how different it will be, One thing we now know is that the TV coverage will have a different look, as well. For the past few years, we have been spoiled by wall-to-wall coverage of qualifying on Versus/NBCSN. Even though I was always present on the grounds of IMS, I would always set the DVR and watch the coverage throughout the following week before the race.
To me, it was the most enjoyable coverage of the entire season. The broadcast had a laid-back feel to it. If there was no on-track activity, they always seemed to have interesting stories to tell and interviews to share. I know I’m a hopeless junkie, but I still have this past qualifying weekend on the DVR and will go back and watch parts of it periodically, just to give me my offseason racing fix. It helps throughout the cold offseason.
For 2014, ABC takes over coverage and will not come close to the six hours a day that NBCSN gave us. On Saturday, ABC will cover only the last two hours of qualifying, going from 4-6. The next day, ABC will be on the air from 1-3. I’m not sure if qualifying is over by then with the revamped format or what, but regardless – four hours over both days is all we’re getting from ABC for qualifying. Of course, ABC will handle Race Day duties as they have for almost fifty years.
The month of May officially closes out on Saturday May 31st, when ABC covers the first race of the double-header at Belle Isle in Detroit. They will obviously be there the next day for Race Two also, but by then, the calendar will have officially crossed over into June. That race will conclude the ABC/ESPN portion of the schedule. The next week at Texas sees NBCSN take over for the remainder of the year. Just watch – the Texas race will be unforgettable, now that it is back on cable. ABC gave Texas a Saturday night prime time network slot, and it was a dud. It may have been the dullest race of the season. I can’t blame ABC/ESPN for not trying that again.
The remainder of the schedule offered few surprises, but I can still find a couple of things to gripe about. For instance, the Pocono race starts at noon EDT. That means 11:00 am if you live in Nashville or Chicago. Worse than that – it means 9:00 am, if you happen to live on the west coast. Maybe Californians are used to it, but I’m not sure a lot of people will be tuning in to NBCSN at 9:00 am if they happen to live in the Pacific time zone. I realize it’s a 500-miler but it seems a later starting time could have been found.
My biggest gripe is the opposite situation – coverage for the season finale at Fontana does not start until 9:00 pm EDT (6:00 pm PDT). Even those of us who live In the central time zone will have to stay up until midnight to see the champion crowned. Those on Indianapolis time will wait until 1:00 am to see the conclusion. That just can’t be good for ratings. I don’t know if NBCSN wanted the race to start that late, or if the track or the series requested that due to the almost certain intense heat that will come with running that race on the last day in August.
As I said, overall there were no huge surprises other than qualifying weekend at Indianapolis. Everything else is minor, either way. But the fact that qualifying coverage has been cut by two-thirds does not set well with me. I guess I’ll just have to pay more attention to everything while I’m there, since there will be no full re-caps once I get home.
But compared to what we had in the sixties when I was growing up and the sport was much bigger – this type of coverage is great. It’s a clear example of how spoiled we fans have become over the years.