How Did This Happen?

Posted in IndyCar on March 18, 2019 by Oilpressure

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There is a popular TV commercial out right now with the tagline “Stay in your lane, bro”. I should probably heed that advice and stick with what I know, rather than treading into waters where I could be eaten by sharks that know a lot more about this topic than I do. But I’m going to give it a try.

Just before the first race of the season at St. Petersburg, the NTT IndyCar Series released a carefully crafted announcement of the various international TV rights for the series. I knew that readers of this site that live in other countries were growing concerned; because the season-opening race was just days away and they didn’t know if they would even be able to watch it.

When I read the press release, it appeared to address all of the questions that international readers had – most notably those in Canada and the UK. It seemed benign enough as I read it and went about my day. I was busy at the day job that day and never had a chance to check social media until that night. But when I did, it didn’t take long to decipher that international fans were outraged – especially those in Canada.

I still couldn’t figure out why all the angst, until I read this article by legendary Canadian motorsports journalist Norris McDonald. If you aren’t familiar with him, he is the Robin Miller of Canada – meaning that he is usually right.

McDonald’s account paints a picture of IndyCar completely misreading the Canadian television landscape. Once they started to understand some of what was going on, it was way too late in the game. Arrogance and ignorance is a very dangerous combination.

My question is…how did this happen?

Hulman & Company (parent company of IndyCar) CEO Mark Miles is a very bright guy. He proved that when he was head of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and has proven it many times as head of IndyCar – a position he has held since December of 2012. I have not agreed with all of his moves, most notably the Indianapolis 500 qualifying format in place from 2014 through 2018; but he has made a lot of moves deserving of universal praise by fans.

I thought he did a great job in negotiating what appears to be a fair TV deal with NBC last year. Some fans aren’t happy with introducing NBC Sports Gold into the picture, but that’s where things are headed throughout all sports in this cord-cutting digital age. Personally, I think $50 a year is a bargain for what you get – but that’s just me.

The best thing Mark Miles has ever done is hire Jay Frye. In my mind, Jay Frye is the best leader of open-wheel racing in my lifetime, which now spans more than sixty years. I’ve followed this sport closely since 1965 and I never recall a leader of USAC, CART, Champ Car, IRL or IndyCar with a greater vision and deeper understanding of the sport than Jay Frye.

That’s why I’m puzzled as to how Mark Miles could completely bungle something as important as this?

I’ve gotten to know several Canadian IndyCar folks over the years. Some work for the series, some are journalists and some are fans. Canadian fans are some of the most passionate IndyCar fans you’ll come across. Last year alone, there were three Canadians entered into the Indianapolis 500; James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens and Zachary Claman DeMelo (now known simply as Zach Claman). Scott Goodyear, Paul Tracy, Greg Moore and Jacques Villeneuve are just some of the Canadians that are part of the IndyCar fabric over the years. Canadians passionately support their drivers.

They also support their races, and there needs to be more in Canada. The Honda Indy Toronto is one of the best attended races on the schedule each year. There have also been races in Edmonton and Vancouver over the last couple of decades. CART ran at Montreal, on the same site as the Formula One race for a couple of years. Then there was also Sanair in the eighties, where Rick Mears suffered his catastrophic foot injuries.

IndyCar has had a lot of fans in Canada for an awful long time. To treat them as an afterthought is more of a disgrace, than a disservice.

But according to the McDonald article and several others I’ve read, it appears that is what happened. Canadian fans were treated as an afterthought. It was taken for granted that a media partner was going to jump up for the chance to broadcast IndyCar races in Canada. That didn’t happen.

Without rehashing what McDonald has already laid out, Canadian IndyCar fans are now forced to pay over $200 a year if they want to see all seventeen races. From what I understand, if you live in Canada and pay for cable – you’ll be able to see the eight races that are carried on NBC, and that includes the Indianapolis 500. But if you want to see the nine races carried on NBCSN, they will be asked to pony up $200 to see it on (what I believe is) a streaming service.

At the eleventh hour, Canadians were offered the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for free through said streaming service. From what I’ve read, it was a dismal failure. Some were unable to find it. Some had older computers that were incapable of handling the stream, while others with new equipment still complained of the dreaded spinning wheel as the computer sat trying to buffer the stream.

Canadian fans are irate and justifiably so. If you don’t believe me, check out Robin Miller’s latest mailbag on Racer.com. That will give you an idea of the level of frustration that Canadians are dealing with. Last week on Trackside, Kevin Lee read a tweet from someone in Canada demanding an assurance that this will be fixed soon or that he was done with their show as well. Curt Cavin, now Vice-President of Communications for IndyCar, delicately danced around the subject and pretty much gave the listener the corporate line. I’m not sure he gave the listener the assurance he was looking for.

I don’t blame Curt Cavin. He’s in a tough spot. He didn’t negotiate these deals, but in this new role – it’s his job to defend his employer and spin everything in as favorable a light as possible. When you’re defending something that appears to be indefensible, you’ve got a hard job and your work is cut out for you.

Although I usually don’t use this overused term, this time it fits – this is a perfect storm. On the outside looking in, it appears that everything that could go wrong in these international negotiations did go wrong.

Last November, IndyCar formed a new and separate company called IndyCar Media, to bring all of their media marketing and management in-house. According to the McDonald article, their timing was poor. That probably should have been done about six to twelve months earlier, in order to give this new group time to gauge the interest as contracts were winding down – not after they had already expired.

If you live in the US, this may not interest you in the least. If you don’t really care that Canadians aren’t able to see IndyCar unless they cough up $200, maybe it’ll get your attention that some sponsors count on international eyes seeing the races and the cars their logos are affixed to. The consequences to this are far more reaching than a few foreign fans being inconvenienced. Canadian drivers and other foreign drivers promise sponsors that their product name and logo will be seen in their own countries by so many people.

There are usually two sides to every story, and we’ve just heard one of them. As I said earlier, I have probably opened up a can of worms by giving an opinion on something I really know nothing about. I know just a little bit more about TV international rights packages than I do about brain surgery. But I’ve read a lot from people I think are qualified to speak on it, and they are of the opinion that IndyCar really bungled this. So who am I to disagree with them?

So the real question remains…How (or why) did this happen?

George Phillips

Trendiness, Buzzwords & Pet-Peeves

Posted in IndyCar on March 15, 2019 by Oilpressure

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The NTT IndyCar Series offseason ended this past weekend, with Josef Newgarden and Team Penske collecting the first win of the season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The podium had no real surprises, so it appears to be business as usual. There was a lot of offseason news to write about, which left me little time to devote to some of the more frivolous “puff” pieces I like to do in the offseason. Since there is a weekend between the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the IndyCar Classic at COTA, I thought I would squeeze one in that I had planned to run a couple of weeks ago – so just pretend for a few minutes that we are still in the offseason.

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My First Street Course

Posted in IndyCar on March 13, 2019 by Oilpressure

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By Susan Phillips

The great thing about this race was how well-attended it was. I saw a wide variety of fans—I don’t know if Florida just loves a chance to gather and party or this is a well-established race that always draws a crowd. I did not see this from a fan’s perspective—finding a place to park in the downtown area, getting to the venue, and all the other things involved with attending a race in the downtown area.

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Random Thoughts on St. Petersburg

Posted in IndyCar on March 11, 2019 by Oilpressure

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This will be somewhat abbreviated for a couple of reasons. First, I wrote about the race yesterday soon after it was over. Secondly, it is late Sunday night as I type this. We have a 9:30 am flight to catch and I’m tired. So this will be brief.

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Josef Newgarden Wins at St. Petersburg

Posted in IndyCar on March 10, 2019 by Oilpressure

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The 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is in the books and Josef Newgarden was standing atop the podium after the first checkered flag of the new NTT IndyCar Season was waved.

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It’s Race Day at St. Petersburg!

Posted in IndyCar on March 10, 2019 by Oilpressure

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Race Day started early for Mr. and Mrs. Oilpressure this morning. We had to be at the track early for the complimentary pace car ride offered to members of the media, which hard to believe – we qualify for. We had to be there at 7:30. With the time change, it was still dark when we got to the track. While standing in line, we met a longtime reader of this site named Steve from New Hampshire. He is a very knowledgeable fan an we had a great time talking to him. I would also like to mention another longtime reader we met yesterday – Paul and his wife, from nearby Sarasota, FL. They flagged us down when they spotted us. I always enjoy talking with people that have supported this site over the years.

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St. Petersburg Qualifying Wrap-Up

Posted in IndyCar on March 9, 2019 by Oilpressure

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Call this the first of the year jitters. Throughout the first three practices of the new 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, it was hard to get a grasp as to who was struggling and who had the upper-hand. By the end of the day on Friday, it certainly appeared that this was not going to be the weekend for Team Penske. Felix Rosenqvist led the first practice, while Ryan Hunter-Reay led Practice Two. The highest placed Penske car on Friday was Josef Newgarden, who was seventh quick in Practice One and and ninth quick in Practice Two.

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