Trying To Maintain IndyCar’s Relevance
Growing up in the sixties, college football was more popular than pro-football. There were two pro-football leagues that competed for fans, players and TV ratings – meaning both sides suffered (sound familiar?). Baseball was king in those days, along with boxing and horse-racing. Tennis would make a huge surge in the seventies and early eighties.
In the south, hockey was a sport played by Yankees and Canadians. I never recall seeing a hockey game played even on television, until after the ‘Miracle on Ice” game in the 1980 Winter Olympics. It was never available on television in the south – or at least I never found it. Soccer was nothing but a sport played by communists.
Basketball was popular in many areas, but not where I lived. Where I lived – it was mostly football. But in my family, racing was huge.
In motorsports, I was able to see a few taped and condensed versions of Formula One races on ABC’s Wide World of Sports along with the occasional sprint, stock and champ car race that might be found, but that was it. Remember, when I was a kid, we had four channels – CBS, NBC, ABC & Public Television. Choices were limited to what network execs thought we should see.
College football was big, but it had an odd end to its season. Instead of deciding their championship through a playoff like most stick & ball sports, the very best teams played in a few bowl games at the end of the season and voters decided the national championship. In earlier years, the national champion was actually determined before the bowl games were played.
There were four major bowls; the Rose, Cotton, Sugar and Orange. There were a few secondary bowls like the Liberty, Gator, Bluebonnet, Tangerine (now the Capital One Bowl), Sun and Peach (now the Chick-Fil-A Bowl). Altogether, there were enough bowls to award twenty college teams for an outstanding season. Lose three games or more, and there was an excellent chance your team would stay home for the holidays.
The four major bowl games were played on New Year’s Day. The remaining six or so, were interspersed throughout the month of December. The matchups were usually good and a bowl game was considered “must-see” TV for any sports fan. Four games on New Year’s Day was considered a football bonanza. CBS started things off with the Cotton Bowl around noon, then NBC featured the ‘Granddaddy of Them All” – the Rose Bowl around 3:00. Then ABC and NBC battled for nighttime viewers between the Sugar and Orange respectively.
The early seventies saw the birth of the Fiesta Bowl. It was considered heresy when the Fiesta Bowl joined the New Year’s Day lineup in the early eighties. Somewhere along the way, it surpassed the Cotton in order of importance – in part, due to the much better January climate in Phoenix as compared to Dallas.
Then in the late seventies and early eighties, more and more games started springing up. They came and went. There was the Garden State Bowl in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. My alma mater (Tennessee) has the distinction of playing in the fourth and final installment of that frigid game, defeating Wisconsin 28-21.
Other meaningless bowls that came and went since that time were the All-American Bowl (1977-1990, Birmingham), the California Bowl (1981-1991, Fresno), the Cherry Bowl (1984-1985, Pontiac, MI), the Freedom Bowl (1984-1994, Anaheim), the Houston Bowl (2000-2005, Houston), the International Bowl (2006-2009, Toronto), the Oahu Bowl (1998-2000, Honolulu) and the Sunflower Bowl (1982-1986, Winfield, KS). There are more, but you get the idea.
This year, there are thirty-five post-season bowl games – meaning that seventy college football teams will go bowling this season. Make it to .500 and you’re probably in a bowl. Talk about rewarding mediocrity. To make matters worse, there are four more bowls on the horizon for 2014. If no bowls fold (which is unlikely), that means there could be thirty-nine bowls hosting seventy-eight teams next season, when college football moves to a four-team playoff to determine the National Champion.
So George, is this not an IndyCar racing website? Yes, and I’m getting to that.
If you haven’t noticed by the TV ratings and bodies in the stands, the bowl system has become completely irrelevant and meaningless in today’s sports landscape. This season, you have two teams playing for the National Championship – Florida State and Auburn. All other bowl teams are playing for pride and have no shot at anything other than a nice gift bag and a suntan – assuming they are lucky enough to be playing in a warm-weather climate, no longer a given these days.
The good old boys in loud polyester blazers are too blind to see that no one cares about their games. They are completely insignificant, yet the bowl committees continue to do things the same old way and wonder why they host games in empty stadiums. The times have passed the bowl games by. They have seen their day, just as boxing, tennis and horse racing have seen their best times come and go. They haven’t adjusted to today’s market. Instead, they sat by all fat and happy and thought they could ride the fatted cow into the financial sunset.
To put things in business terms, they have gone the way of Kodak and Blockbuster – companies that were iconic brands that lacked the foresight to alter their strategy when demand for their products changed. By the time they did change, it was too late.
So, George – what do college bowl games and failed companies have to do with IndyCar?
Actually, this has everything in the world to do with IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 in particular. Regular visitors to this site know that I am an IndyCar die-hard, an Indianapolis 500 purist and that I despise change. Nothing would please me more than to have the Indianapolis 500 feature the innovations it did in the sixties, or for the IndyCar Series to have the appeal that CART had in the early nineties.
But I’m also a realist. I understand that if IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 don’t move forward and evolve with the changing times, the race (and series) that we have all grown to love for decades will continue to lose its relevance and go the way of the dodo. Some consider it blasphemous to think that we could ever live to see the day where the Indianapolis 500 is just a memory. I consider it a real possibility and it has been for some time.
Twenty years ago, who would have thought that daily newspapers in large metropolitan areas would be on life-support? Well, today they are and have been for some time. Many are already gone. Those left employ about one-fourth what they did in the nineties. When it is all said and done, the only newspaper organizations left will be those that had enough foresight to see that they had to completely change their business model for survival. If they didn’t lay the groundwork years ago to become an internet media company, they have doomed themselves to certain extinction. For many papers still in existence, if they have failed to adapt to the current and future needs of their customers – it’s now a question of when and not if they go under.
So, not to be so “gloom & doomy” at this festive time of year – but this is why I am not as opposed to some of the changes that Mark Miles and Company are proposing for the Indianapolis 500, as some are. I don’t like the changes, but what is currently being done is not working. It works for me, but they’ve got me. I’ll keep coming until they bulldoze the place and so will a bunch of others like me.
But in twenty years, I’ll be seventy-five and possibly too feeble to continue basing my entire year around the Month of May. How will they replace me and the die-hards like me? The series and race have become so insignificant and irrelevant that an entire generation is growing up that has never even heard of the Indianapolis 500. I know there are many hard-core fans currently in their twenties of thirties, but there just are not enough to sustain the product.
This is why whoever replaced Randy Bernard was so crucial to the future of the series and the 500. Three months ago, I was trying to decide if Miles even had a pulse himself, much less if he had the pulse of the fans. Now that he has surfaced with some fairly radical changes, he is seeing a lot of pushback from fans.
It pains me to tell these fans that the roadster, Silent Sam and Sid Collins aren’t coming back. I wish they were, but they’re not. We are in survival mode against an unprecedented wide field of entertainment choices for fans. Things are going to have to change to maintain what we are so passi9onate about. As much as I live by the slogan that “change is bad”, sometimes it is necessary. Remember what Will Rogers said; “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
Mark Miles is not paid to just sit there.