A Win-Win Situation

Last week, we got word that Formula One and SPEED, an affiliate of FOX, were parting ways. What had been suspected was confirmed over the weekend – that Formula One would be moving to NBC and the NBC Sports Network for 2013. NBC will carry four races, including the Canadian Grand Prix in June and the final three races in November – while the remainder will be shown on NBCSN.

Shortly after the rumor mill started spinning, I saw a mixed reaction from fans on Twitter. While some saw this as a positive move for the IZOD IndyCar Series, there was the predictable gnashing of teeth from others who saw this as another nail in the IndyCar coffin. While I can see where there might be some legitimate concerns from IndyCar fans – overall, I see this as a good thing for IndyCar.

IndyCar and CEO Randy Bernard are not even halfway through the ten-year contract with NBCSN that former and possibly future IndyCar boss Tony George saddled them with. While the onscreen production has been very good, the ratings started out abysmal and have declined since. There have been many theories tossed about as to how this could be. There is no simple answer nor is there a quick fix. But one of the many factors that continue to plague the television ratings is that people simply don’t know if they have NBCSN, and if they do – where is it on their dial?

Remember when this package started back in 2009, it was on a channel with a strange name – Versus, which had been re-named from the Outdoor Life Channel. The only reason I had heard of Versus was because it carried the NHL after the last lockout, mainly because ESPN had already declined and they needed a home quickly. Versus was the sports outlet for Comcast. Like ESPN in their infancy, Versus carried obscure sports that few had heard of (or had much interest in). I’m not much of a hockey fan, but living in a town with an NHL franchise, I did hear about the excellent job that Versus did with hockey.

What Versus did with hockey, they did with IndyCar. They gave each race a three-hour window to insure a long pre-race show as well as enough time for a decent post-race show. Their broadcast team treated the races as if it was their honor to telecast them. They gave qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 top-priority, since ABC would be getting the race. The only disappointment I saw was the lack of mid-week or offseason programming that we were expecting. Kevin Lee, Lindy Thackston and Robin Miller were given a once-a-week show that aired on Tuesday afternoons that lasted for only four weeks in the month of May, before it was cancelled.

Beginning this past January, Versus was re-branded as the NBC Sports Network. It has been hoped that the NBC moniker will give the channel more credibility and help viewers identify the channel. It was also hoped that ratings would increase for IndyCar races due to cross-promotion between NBC Sports and their fledgling sports channel. It didn’t materialize.

Everyone is now taking on the behemoth that ESPN has become. Why not? Walk into any restaurant or bar in this country and you will find at least one television permanently tuned to ESPN. Go to a sports bar and dozens of TV’s are hooked to any one of the ESPN family of networks. Along with NBCSN, there is also an even more obscure sports channel offered by CBS cleverly named CBS Sports Network. FOX has had the regional FOX Sports Net networks for years, but they are now in the process of launching a major sports network. It is rumored that it may launch using the channels currently utilized by SPEED. That way they wouldn’t have to build it from the ground up. They would simply re-launch SPEED from square-one and use the existing outlets already in place on cable systems. It’s a shrewd move on their part, but racing fans could suffer. That is also rumored why FOX and SPEED allowed themselves to be outbid by NBC for the US rights to Formula One.

So, how can this new deal help IndyCar? This may be a stretch on my part, but the answer is visibility. What does IndyCar need more than anything? New fans. Not the Danica Patrick fan that will leave as quickly as they showed up. No, I mean new racing fans. Four F1 races on NBC means eyes – lots of eyes. The European slant and the futuristic cars of Formula One appeal to young fans much more than NASCAR – this according to my twenty-three year old son. Surely, NBC will use the F1 races as a platform to promote IndyCar.

In addition to that, there are four F1 races on NBCSN on the same day they are to carry IndyCar later in the day. That will mean an even more natural lead-in. I just don’t see how having Formula One on the same family of networks will hurt IndyCar.

The biggest question I can think of is what will become of Bob Varsha? His voice has become synonymous with Formula one over the years. With Bob Jenkins retiring, his name has already been mentioned as a possible replacement. Before this announcement, I never would have thought that he would make the move from F1 to IndyCar. Now, however, he could become the voice of open-wheel racing. NBC will still utilize the world feed, as SPEED did. The broadcasters were rarely at the race. Instead, they were huddled in a studio in Charlotte, NC watching monitors and doing commentary. Varsha could probably handle the workload of doing both – even if it meant broadcasting an F1 race from a remote studio from the site of that afternoon’s IndyCar race – and then broadcast the IndyCar race. I’m sure he appreciates me volunteering how much work he can handle.

But fans of the IZOD IndyCar Series shouldn’t fret with the increased race coverage at NBCSN. More racing means more exposure. Everybody wins.

George Phillips

18 Responses to “A Win-Win Situation”

  1. Apparently Varsha is tied to Fox / Speed, so will most likely not be jumping to NBC.
    Still early days and contracts can end prematurely, but the early signs are Varsha will stay where he is.

  2. The F1 website says all races will be streamed live to NBC’s websites. Hasn’t the blame been placed on NBC as to why that doesn’t happen for IndyCar?

    And when they say that, I hope that is an alternative delivery method of live races, not the primary outlet. I hated the 3 tape delayed races on FOX. It’s not like there is a lot of Live sports going on at 8am or 2am, so hopefully we get all of our Friday, Saturday, and Sunday F1 live.

    As for what this all does for Indycar, who cares. Just wait and watch Tony George screw it all up again.

  3. it can’t hurt.

  4. This is a great situation. NBCSN carries more open wheel racing and steps up it’s sports content. As for NBCSN and their and their regional network, they have CSS. What does that mean? It means more availability to the fans. Now, what does that mean? Well, they can place added ancillary programing in targeted areas as well as replays of their premium programming. They already do this with the NCAA and NFL programs. Also, and I speak from my many years in broadcasting, it is still up to INDYCAR to fight for every minute that is available for their programming AND promotion. Also, someone, other than Randy (he runs the series, remember?!) has to be in place to oversee NBC as well as ABC do what they are contracted to do. No doubt he will hire an experienced broadcast watchdog.

    • By the way, I hope that the 24 Hours of Daytona gets picked up and I look forward to Racer Magazine’s website becoming stronger.

  5. Brian from NY Says:

    I think your right, George. The addition of F1 to NBCS will be a nice boost to the IndyCar series for a couple of reasons. It will increase exposure to fans of open wheel racing and it bring added content to the NBCS channel.

    To give you an example, my son races go karts (sprint karts not oval karts) and almost to a man everybody who is involved in Karting is a F1 fan. They follow the F1 season very closely and watch or DVR every race. Much of the talk at the track is about the latest news in F1 or discussing the latest race. Surprisingly very few follow or watch IndyCar closely. Being one of the few that follows both series, I always found it interesting why IndyCar doesn’t get the same love as F1. To the Karting parents and kids, F1 is the ultimate goal while IndyCar is considered a shell of it’s former glory. By putting F1 on NBCS with IndyCar, those fans that love openwheel racing and F1 might give IndyCar a second look. I think if they watch the great product on track they will become fans again. They are the low hanging fruit that IndyCar needs to attract and this is a perfect opportunity to do that.

    The other positive is that a network is only as good as the totality of their shows. If CBC or NBC only had one good show and the rest of the air time was infomercial programming they wouldn’t last very long in this marketplace. By adding another quality program to their line up, NBCS is giving another reason for people to check out their product. ESPN has been successful by adding Baseball, Football, Racing, etc to their line up, so that the average sports fan can flip over to their channel and usually find something to watch. The more that NBCS can add to their programming and increase their audience is a good thing for IndyCar. To me this is a win win for IndyCar.

    • Simon Garfunkel Says:

      Excellent point! Don’t forget that in the early 90’s, F1 & CART were both carried by ESPN. You could catch an F1 race in the morning and the CART race that afternoon and never change the dial. Is it a coincidence that this is when CART was in its heyday?

  6. Carburetor Says:

    I believe this will be a big boost for IndyCar as it brings a higher profile open wheel series to the same network and thus helps brand that network as the premier open wheel series broadcaster. IMO part of the problem with low ratings for IndyCar on NBCSN is that there is not enough similar programming, so the casual fan doesn’t think to channel surf to NBCSN to see what they have on. Bass fishing and hunting are great sports, but I would think have a small audience niche. If the casual racing fan thinks there might be an IndyCar race somewhere and channel surfs to a fishing program, they likely would not connect that channel with racing. However, if the same viewer surfed and found a Formula 1 race, they might begin associating that channel with open wheel racing.

    George, you must be in Halloween mode already, since the thought of Tony George re-taking command of IndyCar is as scary as it can get. Nothing quite like having a CEO with the personality of a brick to lead you to the promised land…..very frightening.

  7. Chris Lukens Says:

    I voted for Unsure. I’m going to take a wait and see attitude, however I my first take is that it is not good for Indycar.
    I am afraid it will lead to even more confusion in the non-race fan’s mind to be able to differentiate who we are. They can tune into NBCSN to watch a series with open wheel cars, race on road courses, with non-American drivers,
    or they can watch F1.

    • billytheskink Says:

      This is a fair point that is really not often brought up by racing fans. We all know the difference between Indycar and F1, it seems so obvious, but there many who don’t. I can recall attending the Grand Prix of Houston several years back where I was invited to a suite. Several of the people there honestly thought they were attending an F1 race.
      Though I don’t oppose them, road courses, foreign drivers, airboxes, and standing starts don’t help this problem.

      This did work in our favor once. Over half of the reviews of Driven described it as a movie about Formula 1.

      • Savage Henry Says:

        To your point… My uncle, who lives in Houston, was a regular at those Houston CART races. He’s also a veteran of at least 15 Indy 500’s and goes regularly. He, to this day, believes that those races he went to in Houston were F1 races.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    Most of these have already been pointed out.

    – Builds NBCSN’s brand among racing fans (as do Robby Gordon’s stadium trucks and AMA Motocross)
    – F1 (or any) racing makes a good lead-in program to and Indycar race
    – Overlapping promotion of each series on each other’s broadcasts

    – Possible reduction in promotion, broadcast quality, and “importance” on NBCSN
    – Exacerbation of casual fan confusion between Indycar and F1
    – May squeeze out the handful of live Indy Lights broadcasts, minus the Freedom 100

    I think the pros outweigh the cons, but this deal is not necessarily a slam dunk for Indycar.

  9. It’s a good thing. It means more exposure and cross-promotion for Olympics

  10. Can’t wait for NBCSN to give F1 the NHL/ Indycar treatment (1st class broadcasting on their events). F1 on Speed was like family and I’m going to miss everyone that’s part of their coverage.

    1. They need to get the MotoGp tv rights from Speed and they will a stellar lineup of raving properties.

    2. Brand their Motorsports properties like the way ESPN did with their SpeedWorld moniker.

    3. Have a motorsports show (a least one every Sunday) that could be some type of studio show with analysis and opinions following the F1 race and talkup/setup most important races of the day in the world of motorsport (IE: TNN’s Raceday or ESPN2’s RPM 2 Day).

    4. Have a motorsports recap show properly done that doesn’t have a person yelling all the time and looks uncomfortable talking about other racing series except NASCAR. This show also needs to provide analysis and opinions of the races that happened Sunday.

  11. Another “pro” about F1 moving to NBC Sports Network is that F1 and IndyCar races will not have overlapping or simultaneous broadcast windows. When F1 was tape-delayed on FOX during the summer, I had to channel surf between both networks; no more of that!

    I, too, am concerned about broadcasters. Who will replace Jenkins, and who will call the F1 races? Derek Daly (qualifying weekend @ Indy) and Townsend Bell are already in the NBC Sports family and qualify as expert analysts for F1 (Bell filled in for David Hobbs at Monza in 2007 and was very good); they’re good options. Another would be to team up with the BBC and use their broadcast. Or maybe Bob, Steve, & David can all come from SPEED to remain the best motorsport broadcasting team of all.

  12. The two series will need to be presented and branded differently, as said above it will be easy for non-hardcores to confuse two open wheel series (regardless of what type of track they are on – remember a US channel-flicker accustomed to NASCAR might not know F1 doesn’t run on ovals). I’m talking really about the NBC main channel races, as I don’t know if casual channel-flickers or non-hardcores ever venture to NBCSN?

    It could work. F1 has a bigger fanbase in the US than many people think. It is only described as small because it is a smaller percentage than in other countries, in hard numbers I’d bet it was near or equal to that of IndyCar. Or maybe I get a skewed picture from blogs and Twitter.
    Some of them might have left IndyCar back at the end of CART or Champ Car and they might not have come back. Others might write it off as some F1 die-hards here in the UK write it off out of hand, inexplicably so. Put the current IndyCar product directly in front of them right after the F1 race and actually expose them to it. The way the DW12 has been racing they’ll get hooked soon enough. This could work.

    It could work for F1 too if non-F1-watching IndyCar fans start taking a look. I’ve never understood why fans of one aren’t automatically fans of the other. Surely it is the first place you should look after your preferred series.

    Apparently Will Buxton is hosting an IndyCar event in Indy soon. That’s a strange choice of name when you’ve got Jenkins, Reid, Lee, etc, etc. on hand.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: