Things Might Be Looking Up

After producing one of the best street races I have ever seen, the Izod IndyCar Series scored another round of good luck when it was announced on Monday that the seven month battle between DirecTV and Versus had come to an end. In the end, IndyCar fans lost three races; Motegi and Homestead at the end of the 2009 season, and the season opener Sunday at Brazil.

I don’t know if Randy Bernard had anything to do with this or not. I know he had connections on both sides of the dispute, but it may have been more about the NHL playoffs coming up more than anything. But if Mr. Bernard had any hand in the ending of the standoff, it just reaffirms the early reports I’m hearing that this guy knows what he’s doing.

With all of the question marks that arose during the offseason, I’m cautiously optimistic with what I’ve seen in the last few weeks. I think everything that Izod has done has been positive. Regardless of your thoughts on some of the chassis designs, the fact that five groups have shown that much interest in the series is a good sign. But to me, the biggest surprise has been what I’ve seen from new CEO Randy Bernard.

Although he has been on the job for only two and a half weeks, Randy Bernard has certainly turned a few heads. I was guilty of taking a few of the obvious rodeo clown shots at Mr. Bernard, given that he was coming from Professional Bull Riders and had never even seen an IndyCar race. At the time, it seemed to be a curious choice – at best.

Instead, he has taken a fresh and hands-on approach to his position. He doesn’t shy away from the fact that he is new to the sport, but he gives every indication that he has completely embraced it. I’ve heard him twice on Trackside with Cavin & Kevin and he has been incredibly impressive. This Sunday night, Robin Miller is the guest host on Wind Tunnel on SPEED. One of his guests will be Randy Bernard. I would recommend tuning in to listen to what he has to say. He is one of the few heads of a racing series that seems to be more than just a talking head muttering the same tired old rhetoric.

The Izod IndyCar Series is on a (slight) roll. Who would have thought that after such a rocky offseason? The next race at St. Petersburg is on ABC. That’s a mixed bag for the hardcore fans. It’s good because the race will be available to the entire country, even over the airwaves. Sponsors will like it and hopefully some new fans will tune in. Unfortunately, there will be no qualifying show that we have grown accustomed to with Versus. We will also be subjected to the sleepy announcing team of Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear. Hopefully, the producers at ABC/ESPN have taken a cue from Versus and upped their game from past years.

But overall, you have to be pleased with the progress that the Izod IndyCar Series has made in a short period of time. Hopefully, the new leadership is savvy enough to know how to capitalize on it and keep it going.

Now, about combining that open-wheel record book…

George Phillips

12 Responses to “Things Might Be Looking Up”

  1. Drayton Sawyer Says:

    Might very well be on an upswing, but only time will tell. This street race was not nearly as good Long Beach in 98 when Zanardi passed Brian Herta and Dario Franchitti in the closing laps with bent suspension. Toronto in 90 was also exciting, Little Al drove from 8th to 1st passing some of the most legendary drivers of all time……sweeet!

  2. Oh, no. After such a hopeful, upbeat, glass half full article you had to throw in the “combined record books” dig. Now to follow: a bunch of increasing bitter comments on the car war to end all wars…

    From what I’ve read the ratings for Brazil were the third best ever for an Indycar race. That seems positive, considering Versus hadn’t yet returned to DirectTV.

    As far as street races, yes–Brazil was a real nice one–but I still think that’s an exception to the rule rather than the norm. But I’ll still be watching the next two, and the road race, in the hopes that they will change my mind. Because I’m staying positive in 2010.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Yes; let’s be optimistic. Curious that 69 votes in the poll so far yet only two comments so far, not a spate of replies about merger of series…

      • Amen, Brian, optimism is where it’s at given all of the good stuff that we’ve had lately. I’d far rather read 1,000 of George’s posts where he might take one kinda-backhanded slap at something that’s a tad askew than one Robin Miller Q&A column where two dozen people (usually the same people week in, week out) perpetually complain that it’s not 1976 anymore. One guy even complained this week that nobody takes their cars to the track in U-Haul trailers anymore. Dude, where have you been for the last 30 years? Is it not 2010 in some parts of the country?

  3. My thoughts exactly, George. Except I don’t like being on the same page with you. It makes me feel uncomfortable.

  4. Amen, Speedgeek. I concur completely with what you said.

    I also feel optimistic. I view the series as 3 years old. 3 year olds are just learning to walk and talk and find out what is going on in the world. That’s where I feel the series is at. There’s certainly room for improvement, but I feel very optimistic about the IZOD IndyCar series right now.

  5. I think things went well, considering the issue’s Sao Paolo had, and it defintly was an exciting race.

    The TV ratings improvement was good, but .4 overall is still .2 lower then Camping World Truck ratings, and almost a ful 1 point below Nationwide and PBR. So there’s a ways to go.

    The hope has to be it’s just time to get ratings back up. But the problem is that there may not be enough time before sponsors, as well as Izod and Vs. get tired of such low ratings.

    • Izod knows the score. It’s not like they signed their deal 15 years ago, it was just 6 months ago, and they knew full well what the TV ratings were last year. They know this isn’t an overnight turn around. And Versus isn’t going to cut and run or anything, because if the ratings aren’t all that great, that’s on them (and their promotional ability) as much as it’s on IndyCar. Ratings aren’t great, and things in general aren’t perfect, but they’re going the right direction for a change.

      Nobody’s suggesting that we all start doing backflips because a return to the heady days of 1993 are right around the corner or whatever, just that people stop claiming that the League is in such an unhealthy state that it won’t be around long enough to see the Finger Lakes this season. We’re not going to be pulling Nationwide-type numbers by Long Beach. Or maybe even by Long Beach 2011. Or 2012. Just try to have some patience. You’ve got to walk before you can run.

      • I’m not expecting Nationwide (1.3ish) by Long Beach this year, but by 2012, ratings need to be to that point. Sponsors need a reason to care, and .4 ratings really aren’t enough, particularly when even the trucks can outdo that. Of course Indy helps a ton, but still, .4 isn’t going to cut it.

        Izod does have an out clause. They are probably not expecting great initial ratings, but are looking for sustained and major growth. On the other hand, prehaps they’ll stay because of Indy?

        Eventually, though, VS. will get tired of the horrible Indycar ratings, and if not drop them, stop trying as hard as they are now.

      • Savage Henry Says:

        Izod is thinking that by 2013 or 2014 everyone will be talking about how they got the deal of the century getting the title sponsorship of a property like this for so cheap. I hope they are right. Hopefully they’ll be able to gain some nice momentum over the next couple of years (while F1 legislates themselves into a good cure for insomnia and NASCAR tries to get somebody killed) and can really take advantage when the new car(s) come out in 2012 or 2013. It would be especially great if they allowed to speeds to come up when they bring in the new cars, too.

      • Not quite sure I understand the logic of Versus dropping Indycar comment. Versus is the one who paid Indycar to let them broadcast races on their network. I am sure that Versus was well aware of the state of Indycar when they signed the deal. I would imagine that Versus had the confidence in themselves to be a better broadcast partner than what they currently had with ABC/ESPN and they could gain more viewers to their network as well as helping Indycar. I doubt that television networks “stop trying as hard as they are now” when they have money and time invested in a multiyear deal.

        I think if anyone “drops” anyone it would be Indycar saying that the partnership just isn’t working due to a number of reasons. (ie people won’t pay extra for premium channels to see the race)

  6. Interesting that you should mention Randy Bernard in connection with the dispute between DirectTV and Comcast being settled. On Monday, in a post on the IndyCar fan forum, I asked if anyone joined me in wondering whether or not Bernard — who had been on board as CEO for only two weeks — had anything to do with the sudden and unexpected agreement between the two parties. I went on to say that in my experience coincidences such as this are almost never accidental. Since I did not receive any feedback to my post, perhaps you and I are among the few to make that connection …or care. I also closed by saying that “perhaps Mr. Bernard is someone who can actually get things done.” It appears that we are thinking alike, at least in this case.


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