Is There Too Much Hype For This Weekend?

Normally, I’m not one to buy into a lot of hype. Whenever the Super Bowl finally rolls around after two weeks of hype, I’m usually so sick of hearing about it I just want to get on with the kickoff and not even watch the seven hour pre-game show. Everything the NBA does is over-hyped. They even hyped the fact that they had cancelled the fist two weeks of the season due to a lockout – as if anyone really cared.

The Major League playoffs and World Series are still fairly understated, which is one reason I still like baseball, although not with the fervor I once did before they lost the World Series in the mid-nineties. Hockey also does a good job of under-selling the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I’m not a hockey fan, but I went to a Predators playoff game back in the spring and was impressed with the high-intensity throughout the entire game.

I generally prefer events that are lacking in hype. Just let the event speak for itself is what I’ve always thought was a good rule to follow. That’s why I was initially a little skeptical of all the hype that started brewing after Randy Bernard announced the season finale for the IZOD IndyCar Series at Las Vegas.

But something different needed to be done. When you are going against the NFL, the baseball playoffs and the start of the NHL season – you need to do something to get even some of the die-hards to watch. Two weekends ago, there was a great race at Kentucky that only 188,000 people bothered to tune in for. That translates into a 0.1 rating for the final Versus broadcast of the season. I would think that some infomercials or test patterns might fare better than that. Last year’s season finale barely registered any better, and that was with a points battle similar to this one.

Fortunately, the Las Vegas finale is to be carried by ABC on Sunday. That will help. Randy Bernard has vowed to resign if the ratings fail to exceed a 0.8. Maybe he recognizes that this job is harder than expected and this may be an easy out. I hope that isn’t the case. Hopefully, the ratings will be better than a 1.0 – not only to keep Randy on board, but a race of this importance on ABC needs to be higher than that anyway.

So therefore, the needed hype. And there has been plenty of it.

Earlier in the season, we learned of a promotion that allowed anyone buying a ticket to an IZOD IndyCar Series race at any point in the season, to get a free ticket to the Vegas race. Then there was the announced promotion of getting two free tickets when booking a room at MGM Resorts. Now there is the Go-Daddy Challenge which will pay Dan Wheldon and a lucky fan $2.5 million each if Wheldon can win the finale. This came after there were no takers to the proposed $5million offered to any non-IndyCar driver who could win the race. All this to go along with the drama of deciding the championship between Dario Franchitti and Will Power.

Some had complained about the original $5 million challenge. Even more are complaining about the deal offered to Wheldon. Perhaps they think it is a gimmick. Well, they are right – but so what? This isn’t the storied Indianapolis 500 that has one hundred years of sacred tradition to fall back on. This is an event that is starving for anyone who might have a reason to watch.

We are now witnessing Randy Bernard at his best. He is in his element in Las Vegas. He has many connections in Vegas and he is using them. He would be delinquent in his duties of CEO if he neglected to utilize those contacts. I consider Randy Bernard to be a Humpy Wheeler with good taste. In fact, I’ll go further – Humpy always came across as a bit of a buffoon that also happened to be a showman. Randy Bernard impresses me as an excellent businessman that understands what is needed to promote an event. There have been hits and there have been misses, but the hits are outnumbering the misses.

With so many free tickets available, hopefully the stands at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will appear close to full on television. There is something about flipping around and landing on an event that no one is attending. Subconsciously, you think that if no one is wasting their time to go, why should I watch?

As a die-hard, I’m going to be tuning in anyway. I’m obviously curious who will win this championship. But I’m also curious to see how this product comes across on television. Will it have the feeling of something special, or will it have the same feeling of the Kentucky race? Kentucky was a great race, but there were very few people in the stands and not many more watching at home. Once I saw the crowd, I was afraid the numbers would be bad. Unfortunately, I was right.

More than anything else, this one race may determine Randy Bernard’s legacy at INDYCAR. If there are no bodies in the stands and no eyes watching at home, it could have a very negative impact heading into the off-season. However, if the stands look packed and they can pull some good ratings – it could give the series some much-needed momentum for the cold winter months.

ABC/ESPN has done their part – sort of. This past Monday night, ESPN ran an excellent ad promoting the finale and of course, Danica Patrick’s “farewell to the series that made her a star”. It ran during the pre-game before the Lions beat the Bears. Unfortunately, I don’t recall seeing the ad run during the game itself – but I can’t claim I was glued to the TV throughout the entire game, so I could have missed it.

So for those that say the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale is being over-hyped, I say it needs to be. If for no other reason, it needs to be over-hyped just to see what the results of such action will generate. If it isn’t successful, I’ll promise Randy Bernard is already working on a Plan B for next year – just in case.

George Phillips

12 Responses to “Is There Too Much Hype For This Weekend?”

  1. I’m ready for this race. Hype away–it still pales in comparison to Nascar or NFL.

    Unfortunately, took a look at the schedule that CCavin listed in his blog yesterday and the schedule for next year (if he’s right) is unimpressive, sparse and disheartening.

    I hope Vegas is able to boost ratings and attendance a bit but I’m also thinking that Indycar needs to think way outside that box and make even bigger swings at change if it wants to become a legitimate racing series outside of the 500.

  2. Hype, hype, hype! Go for it! As a long time record and radio guy they are singing my song. On the big events like Indy I like all of the additional hype and souvineers it creates . As a kid I had gathered a nice collection of STP decals as well as other race sponser paraphanalia from the gas stations in north Indianapolis. Flags. magazines, whatever, I like it. By the way, STP used to provide a slick 4 pager with the previous year’s drivers, their finish and other interesting facts and figures. I wish someone would do that again.

    Hype? Bring it on!!!!

  3. carburetor Says:

    I disdain hype and over-drama and like you, George, now tend to avoid all the talking heads that drone on and on leading up to the week’s football, baseball, or basketball game. But let’s face it, the only way to get noticed in the sea of competition for a person’s (or audience’s) attention is to create buzz–no matter how artificial it is. It is as if the spectating public has an attention span of but a few seconds. You cannot even watch a football or baseball game on tv anymore without getting bombarded by some animated robot doing a dance in the corner of the screen, while some crawl is scrolling across the bottom of the picture with repetitive trivia, while some corporate logo/advertisement is graphically superimposed on top of the playing field. It makes watching games on ESPN classic a joy in its simplicity.

    It is never a good thing when your CEO makes an ultimatum. I fear he may be thinking that this challenge is simply too great. The old saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” may be relevant when it comes to trying to create a fan base for IndyCar in these challenging times. I’ve had great passion for this series my entire life, but I can unfortunately see the day when it is merely relegated to “enthusiast” interest only, punctuated by the annual super event, the Indy 500–much in the way I view endurance racing and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I hope I am wrong and Bernard can keep working to pull this series back into more of the mainstream spectating interest.

  4. The Lapper Says:

    The hype for a major event always gets my juices flowing. I will listen to pre-game and pre-race shows, internet news and other bits of information that enter my radar. I love the complete spectical. On race weekend at Indianapolis as well as the month of May, nobody does it better than WFNI (formerly WIBC). Hype adds to the party.

    There will be a show tonight on trampoline

  5. Bring on the hype. Something has to be done. This isn’t an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, regular season race. This is for the championship! One driver is racing for a huge bonus, it’s Danica’s last race, and every car in the field is relegated to museums and vintage racing series as of about 5:30 Sunday night. It deserves to be hyped up, and that seems exactly what Bernard is doing.

  6. I’m with you George (I too share the disdain for over-hype) and in contrast to many other less-hyped events, yes, I think it will be effective… this time.

    If the uber-hype is used to promote each event, I feel it loses marginal effectiveness each time. This is the right time and right place for this. Sadly, I believe the momentum (drink Ye bastards), will be lost in a long winter.

    We needed an ace in the hole for next spring but I still seriously doubt the two or three engines in a single (and vaguely fugly) chassis next season will generate any considerable interest (read: drama) outside the current 180k hardcores.

    Cars can be stars to promote too, and Indycar missed the boat by not allowing mulitple chassis (with ICONIC’s decision) and then further strangling the interest by having mulitple aero kits delayed until 2013. So close we were.

  7. It’s just unfortunate that IndyCar only brings this level of attention and hype two of the 16 races per year. IMS and Las Vegas. Las Vegas seems to be more hyped than even Indy this year when you figure in the festival of ticket giveaways. Fans who go to other races get nada as far as extra bonus hype events. The risk is that that situation will create resentment among paying customers at other venues.

    • I’m not so sure I buy that argument. Isn’t the last game/event/happening of every season, in every form of entertainment (sporting event, concert, TV episode, whatever) usually one of the most hyped, if not the most hyped of the entire season? Why should this be any different? Aren’t we crowning a champion here? You and I both love Iowa, but we’re not crowning squat there, outside of that day’s (or night’s) winner. Isn’t the idea to pick a couple of big events and make a big splash, instead of risking fatigue in the eyes of the public by attempting to hype every single race?

      To George’s original topic: as to the argument that I’ve heard about five dozen times by now, that “we’re relying on gimmicks now! What a cheap show! Let the racing speak for itself!” Well, what do you complainers want? You wanna just repeat what the Series did the last 3-4 years at Homestead (i.e. not much of anything), and then we wind up with 15 people in the stands and about 1,500 watching on TV? What’s that hoary definition of “insanity” again?

  8. Viva Las Vegas!

  9. Jack The Root Says:

    What hype?

    I’ve heard a few radio spots, with some dorky announcer talking about Dario Fran-kee-tee and Will Power and it being Indy Car “Superstar” (really?) Danica Patrick’s last race. But none more then I heard for other races this year on the Disney Networks.

    This thing has ZERO chance at getting a .8 rating. ZERO. Not on a NFL Sunday.

    Hopefully a bunch of people show up with free tickets to make it look decent on TV. But what good does that really do? How many would actually show up, if they had to pay $60 bucks to watch? How much money will the ICS lose on this deal in the long run? How many other promoters are already pissed about this deal? How many teams are pissed that SSM and Wheldon are running for 5 million dollars this weekend (when this challenge was never intended for a Indy Car veteran) and they don’t get jack shit for prize money all year?

    It will be a great race because of how many entries there are. Hopefully nobody gets hurt, because drivers will be throwing caution to the wind with this being the last race of the year and the last time with these cars. Could see some helacious accidents, if not careful. But I’d expect an exciting, if not dangerous race.

    • Hate to agree, but Root is right. What real advertising or commercials have we seen about this race? I mean in the real world–not the Indycar Fan world. I’m concerned about ratings and attendance, but I’m hoping I’m wrong. So much is on the line in regard to future oval venues.

      But I do like what they’ve done with the new trophy. Very appropriate, historical and non-embarrassing.

  10. Why do you care so much about watching full stands? Many track have ridiculously huge stands, some lack them at all. Why does that matter to judge if a race was cool to watch? Of course Indycar needs full stands to keep running, but to enjoy races I only care about what happens on track.

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