It Could Be a Lot Worse

Posted in IndyCar on June 16, 2021 by Oilpressure

Early Monday morning, Adam Stern of The Sports Business Journal reported that NBC Sports and IndyCar were close to renewing their deal for NBC to continue broadcasting IndyCar races and the Indianapolis 500. The timing was a little ironic, given that NBC was just coming off of a weekend where just about every fan was ticked off for one reason or another.

Last weekend was the first time I’ve had any problem with NBC. When the current TV deal was being negotiated in early 2018, fans were more than willing to campaign for NBC to get the full contract as they wanted to push ESPN out the door. Once NBC stepped into the role of the exclusive television partner, the exact same fans that had been singing their praises seemed to turn on NBC.

Other than last weekend’s complete debacle, where the start of Saturday’s race was completely missed in favor of a lacrosse match, the post-race was promised to be on one outlet and wasn’t and the French Open forced two-thirds of Sunday’s telecast to be shifted to CNBC – I’ve really been very pleased with NBC’s coverage of the series.

Being on over-the-air network is always a double-edged sword. Broadcast windows are so tight that the big network is going to have to make a tough business decision, if things don’t go as planned. Unfortunately, there are a lot more fans of Grand Slam Tennis than IndyCar, so network executives made the call based on who draws the biggest ratings. It’s not that NBC hates IndyCar, it’s strictly how can the network make the most money.

The lacrosse thing? That’s another matter.

So the timing of a story that IndyCar and NBC might continue their relationship may be a little interesting, but I’m not surprised. I’m not always prone to bragging, but if you go back and read anything I’ve written about a potential TV partner, I’ve always wrapped it up with saying that I still think when it is all said and done – NBC will still be broadcasting IndyCar races and the Indianapolis 500 for years to come.

Of the four traditional outlets, ABC/ESPN had made it clear they were not interested – and I don’t think there was any real interest in going back to them. It would have been similar to getting back together with an old girlfriend after a nasty and extended break-up. It would sound workable at first, but it wouldn’t take long for both sides to remember why the relationship didn’t work in the first place.

FOX has NASCAR filling up their weekends for the first half of the season and MLB Playoffs and the NFL filling up their fall weekends. I’m not sure they were ever in the mix.

Many pointed to CBS, but that didn’t excite me. While I like their coverage of football and college basketball, I did not like the prospect of many or most races being relegated to the CBS Sports Network. Most consider ESPN, NBCSN and FS1 to be the top cable sports networks. If you go way down the food chain, you’ll find the CBS Sports Network. It’s terrible! There is such a huge drop-off from CBS Sports to CBS Sports Network, it’s hard to believe they are owned by the same company. Last week, CBS put an end to any speculation when they flat-out said they had no interest in IndyCar or the Indianapolis 500. Ouch!

That leaves NBC, unless we want to go to You Tube, Hulu or MAVTV. With more and more cord-cutters leaving cable, the digital world is a mess. Some say pay streaming apps are the future, while others claim that free streaming through You Tube is the way to go. Truth be known, no one knows what television viewing will look like five years from now. Things have changed so much in the past few years that anyone claiming they know where things are headed is lying.

That’s why the expiring NBC deal was for only three years. It allowed flexibility for both parties to adjust and conform to the technology three years down the road.

Televised sports are also evolving at an alarming rate. No longer can program directors make long-term decisions based on historical data. For years, sports viewing habits stayed the same and most sports programming did as well. But what was true in 2018 is not always relevant in 2021. For the most part, televised sports has been a losing proposition, unless you are the NFL or the SEC. That’s why the TV ratings number that last month’s Indianapolis 500 generated was so significant. It drew the highest number of viewers it had drawn in the past five years. Not too many sports entities or sporting events can currently make that claim.

But let’s be honest, as long as network television continues this model of filling Saturdays and Sundays with sports programming – networks need sports properties. FOX and CBS have their Sundays filled with NFL programming in the fall, as well as college football and basketball. CBS has a heavy golf calendar also. FOX has NASCAR and baseball also. ESPN has college football and basketball, Formula One that they pay nothing for, Monday Night Football, Major League Baseball, the NBA and they’ve just picked up the NHL for the first time in about fifteen years.

What exactly does NBC have? They have IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 exclusively. They also have NASCAR for the second half of the season. They have Sunday Night Football and Notre Dame Football for home games only. NBC has the Triple Crown of horse racing. Of course they also have the Olympics, which calls for all hands on deck for two weeks out of every two years. They have lost the NHL to ESPN. NBC probably doesn’t want to admit it, especially in a contract year – but they probably need IndyCar too. Without IndyCar, their sports inventory is a little sparse.

Then there is the pandemic to take into account. When the three year contract was agreed upon, starting with the 2019 season – no one knew that Year Two was going to be in the midst of a pandemic, when anything we knew or felt certain about was tossed out the window. I’m sure both parties figured they would have a good read on how the relationship had fared by this time, but how can you judge how anything went in the midst of the pandemic, when schedules changed almost weekly?

While feathers may be a bit ruffled at the moment on both sides, I think this makes the most sense. IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 need a traditional broadcast partner, because right now – that is still the way to reach the most people. Folks grumble about being switched to CNBC or watching practice on Peacock, but at least those outlets are available. I think the day could be coming where the Indianapolis 500 is still carried on the big network, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the rest of the series was moved over to Peacock someday. It won’t be next year, but that day will come, probably sooner than you think. Honestly, I’m fine with that. I prefer watching live qualifying on Peacock because there are no commercials.

Contrary to most people, especially this past weekend – I actually like NBC’s coverage. I don’t hate Leigh Diffey like a lot of people do. He could dial the shouting down a notch or two, but I have no real problems with him. I’m also a fan of Paul Tracy in the booth. Tracy is an accomplished racer with thirty-one IndyCar wins to his credit and a championship. PT’s thirty-one wins is almost as many IndyCar races as Townsend Bell has entered. Bell has raced in thirty-nine IndyCar races from 2001 to 2016, without even a podium. Yet, Bell is the one who comes off as the smartest guy in the room.

Is their coverage perfect, no – but it’s the best we’ve seen since the Paul Page, Bobby Unser and Sam Posey days. Memories seem short these days. It seems not many remember Marty Reid, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever. Some of you probably winced when you heard that NBC and IndyCar are closing in on renewing their deal. Just remember – it could be a lot worse.

George Phillips

Random Thoughts on Belle Isle

Posted in IndyCar on June 14, 2021 by Oilpressure

When it comes to eating crow, I am a big believer in doing it – even when it applies to me. For years, I have disparaged Belle Isle every time the NTT IndyCar Series raced on the island in the Detroit River, in between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario to the south (yes, to the south). I figured about the only good to come out of the pandemic, was that it took Belle Isle off of the schedule last year. Readers here took me to task because of my opinions of Belle Isle and the shots that I took at the race weekend. When it became to only remaining double-header on the schedule, I winced that we had to endure it twice in one weekend.

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Belle Isle Preview

Posted in IndyCar on June 11, 2021 by Oilpressure

Over the years, I have been criticized for being too outspoken about my feelings for the site of this weekend’s NTT IndyCar Series event. To prevent offending anyone, let’s just say if I were to rank the thirteen venues that will host IndyCar races this season, Belle Isle world rank thirteenth. That doesn’t mean I don’t love it; I just love twelve other tracks more than this one. I’ll just leave it at that.

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It’s Time to Turn the Page

Posted in IndyCar on June 9, 2021 by Oilpressure

We’ve all had a week and a half to unpack, digest and dissect the Indianapolis 500 – and to fully understand what an enjoyable race it was to watch in person, as well as on TV. When people at work who didn’t even watch it would ask me if we had a good time, my answer was always the same – Ten years from now, I think I will still look back at the 2021 Indianapolis 500 as one of my favorites in my lifetime.

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Random Thoughts on the Indianapolis 500

Posted in Indianapolis 500 on May 31, 2021 by Oilpressure

I am going to insert myself into this a little bit, but when it’s my website, I guess I can do whatever I want. As I sit and type this in our hotel room on Monday morning, I am still amazed at what we witnessed yesterday. I’ve been to a lot of Indianapolis 500s in my lifetime, but I’ve also missed more than I care to admit – including a twenty-year gap between 1972 and 1992. If you look at those dates, you’ll notice that I was never there when the first four-time winners won their fourth. In fact, I never saw Rick Mears win any of his races.

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Indianapolis 500 Wrap-Up

Posted in Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 2021 by Oilpressure

Not only was the finish of the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 one of the most exciting I’ve seen in a while, this was a very popular win. It has been forty-four years since AJ Foyt became the first four-time winner. Ten years later, Al Unser joined the club. Just four years later, Rick Mears became the third four-time winner in 1991.

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My Race to the Finish Line

Posted in Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 2021 by Oilpressure

By Susan Phillips

I can’t believe I made it! Almost eleven months ago, I was definitely facing an uncertain future–and here I am at The Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Making future plans when you have pancreatic cancer is like making a bet that you will be here. I reserved our golf carts at Road America in February—You have to bet on yourself and your will to survive. That sounds dramatic, but that is probably what the drivers face when they get in a race car. They have the heart and the will to get in their cars and rely on their skill to get them safely to the end of the race—and victory.

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