Be Careful What You Wish For…

The taste of crow is very unappealing, but as we approach the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale this Saturday night – I’m afraid it may be a big part of my Labor Day diet. For years, I’ve been beating the drum in favor of ending the season on Labor Day weekend. The thought was that it was a losing battle to try and go up against the NFL regular season, which starts the Thursday after Labor Day. It’s quite possible that a race going up against the NFL on their opening day, may actually register a 0.0 rating – and yes, that’s possible.

Of course, when I was advocating ending the season earlier, my thought was they may move the start of the season up to late February. I never really thought that the powers-that-be would think it was a good idea to continue starting the season on the last weekend in March and cram the schedule into five months.

But you know the old saying – Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. Without a lot of rhetoric and dancing around the issue, while trying to justify some statements – I’ll just come out and say it. I was wrong!

Last season, the season finale took place on October 19th. The problem with last season was that after Labor Day, the series went into hibernation for five weeks before resurfacing for the double-header at Houston in the first week in October. By the time the series got back to racing, the NFL season was already a quarter of the way done. Two weeks after Houston, came the finale at Fontana. So after Labor Day, the series visited two venues in a seven week period, while most of the sporting world was focused on college and pro football – and the racing world was following NASCAR’s Chase and Formula One winding down. That’s not a recipe for maximizing exposure.

Before this season, the earliest the Verizon IndyCar Series had ended its season was when the 2007 season wrapped up its seventeen-race season at Chicagoland on September 9th. For the record, the season has never ended as early as it will this season – unless you count that ridiculous 1996 season that only had three races and ended with the Indianapolis 500. Fortunately, that experiment was never tried again.

Conversely, CART ran at Fontana five different times in the month of November between 1998 and 2003. In 2002, CART finished their season in Mexico City as late as November 17th. That may have been a little late, considering that Thanksgiving Day was just a week and a half later. When the stores are already decked out in Christmas decorations, I’m not sure that many people other than us die-hards are following a sport that started way before Easter. There has to be a decent compromise.

In 2011 and 2013, the season ended in mid-October. In 2012, it was mid-September. My thought is to end it around either the last weekend of September or the first weekend of October. But if the season stretched to the first weekend of October, they need to be having at least a couple of races in September in order to keep interest up among casual fans.

I’ve read where some say “Forget the casual fans or the stick-and-ball fans. They’re not real race fans anyway.” That attitude is a little short-sighted. Those are the ones we need. For years, market research has shown that IndyCar and the NFL share a lot of the same demographics. There is a lot more overlap between the NFL and IndyCar than there is between the NFL and NASCAR. Why that is, I’m not sure – but it is foolish to think that IndyCar does not need the NFL fans.

I consider myself a die-hard IndyCar fan I’ve passionately followed this sport for most of my life. But I am also a very passionate football fan. Unlike many, I am as much a fan of college football as I am the NFL. I don’t favor one over the other. Susan doesn’t like to see the fall come, because she knows it’s hard to move me from the television most weekends – unless we’re going to a game.

That’s why I was so adamant about ending the season on Labor Day weekend. This season, I’ll be shifting gears in less than twenty-four hours. The Verizon IndyCar Series will crown its champion late Saturday night (early Sunday morning – depending on where you are). The next night, my Tennessee Vols will kickoff their season against Utah State on the SEC Network. That’s going to be two great nights of TV viewing for me, but it’ll hit me in about a week that our IndyCar season is over until who knows when. At that point, I know I’ll be feeling like every other IndyCar fan – lost.

A lowly over-aged blogger in Nashville had nothing to do with the decision to end the season this early, but I’m hoping they extend the schedule through September. It doesn’t sound like it’s going to change in 2015, but I’m hoping Mark Miles opens his eyes and realizes that this is too early and does something about it by 2016. I’ll admit I was wrong on this. I’m hoping Mark Miles can swallow his pride and admit he was too.

George Phillips

27 Responses to “Be Careful What You Wish For…”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Lets face it, the series visits too few venues, it starts late and ends too early and still has large gaps between races. I personally could care less about double headers, it adds to the total race count but does little to add to potential interest in the series. I too am an avid IC fan, but I will be honest, I am losing interest. F1 and Tudor are looking better and better with each passing season.

  2. I think it’s the perfect time to end the season. They just need to start it sooner.

  3. The final race should be the first weekend in October, before the baseball post season really gets rolling.

    And they need to be consistent. They need to pick dates for some of these races and not change them for 3 years. Let them develop some tradition and consistency. These date changes are hurting these races more than anything else.

    I definitely don’t think they should start the season sooner. Late March is actually a pretty good start time. They gain nothing by starting the same time Nascar does and will be overshadowed by Daytona.

  4. I don’t know when they should end it, but I am perfectly happy with it ending when it does. How that affects the venues and promoters is another story entirely, but hopefully there will be give on both sides to make it work for everyone.

    If you think about it, being sad about the season ending so early is a good thing. It means that what we’re missing is good enough to be missed even before absence making the heart grow fonder. I am a casual NFL fan, I don’t follow anything outside of Regular Season Week 1 through to the Super Bowl, except for the Draft and even then I’m not actually watching or reading with any real knowledge. Because the NFL goes away (I live in the UK so it completely goes away for us!) for a large portion of the year, I miss it and am happy as a pig in filth when it returns. Contrast that to the Formula One or Premier League seasons (I am a hardcore fan of the first and a casual fan of the second): both run for three-quarters of the year and two-thirds of the way through I am thoroughly sick of both and want the championships done and dusted as soon as possible.

    Even if I think IndyCar’s product is so much better (for now; aero kits might be good for the series but I seriously doubt we will continue to see the off-the-charts racing we’ve been spoiled with these past three seasons) than those two examples, would a 9-month IndyCar season make me feel any different? I know we don’t have those but some do advocate it, in a dreamland scenario where there are 20 different venues spread over the year. My guess is I’d end up being sick of those and wanting the finale to hurry up, because that’s just how things are now in my generation of lower attention spans – we want our champion now, dammit!

    Hopefully these international races go ahead and the off-season will only be 5 and a bit months (minus a bit either side with driver changes and pre-season testing, so call it 5 months). I can live with that. My brain tells me 4 months is an easier wait, but I’m not sure if 8 months would be a more enjoyable viewing period. As you say yourself, be careful of what you wish for.

    I really don’t know if the new order of things will be better for IndyCar, if it will be better despite it or if it will wreck all other initiatives that would have otherwise have worked. But speaking as a fan for myself, I can live with this. For the next 5 months my Sundays will be filled with NFL obsession and when that’s over it’ll be time to welcome back IndyCar. I couldn’t wish for anything better.

  5. George, I hope you and others will continue to beat this drum with the fervor of similarly converted folks. We need more races at MORE VENUES and a longer season IMHO.

    While I have been a lifelong Packer fan, the one thing about football that makes me want to throw something at the TV is the “prevent defense”. The only thing that a prevent defense prevents is winning. That also applies to racing and it applies to the current IndyCar schedule. Compare the wimpy IndyCar schedule to the Nascar schedule released yesterday. Nascar has many more races at more venues, and most importantly, there is strong continuity to their schedule. No Houston this year, New Orleans next year, etc.

    Given a choice between watching an IndyCar race while the Packers (fill in your favorite team here) are playing I will watch the race and DVR the Packers. Other race fans may watch the game and DVR the race. In any case, the race will be watched live or at a convenient time. Apparently the mysterious TV ratings folks have not found a way to count DVR viewings.

    Here in Wisconsin folks are swimming, playing baseball, and fishing while the NHL playoffs are still taking place. Hockey fans simply DVR the match if they want to be outside.

    I don’t believe IndyCar loses fans during the football season. Fans are only lost to the almighty TV ratings folks who apparently don’t have a DVR app.
    It’s having races affordably close enough to go to that creates opportunities for attracting new fans.

    No more prevent defense please!

  6. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Personally, I think a holiday weekend is a terrible time to have a race on TV, as it reduces the available eyeballs to view it (also assumes the delayed viewing via dvr is not fully counted in the TV ratings), which is why I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of overlap in schedule (mid-Sept) with road, street, oval races to close out the season.

    If possible, incorporate the season ending two or three races with time slots right next to NFL football on NBC network.

    I do agree that once NFL and college get rolling, there’s precious little time for any other sports viewing (including the mighty NASCAR), by the 99.875% of the general public who are not Indycar fans, so to do this is futile in my view.

    TV (ratings) is king and ever thus. Until the perception of Indycar gets significantly elevated with the general public AND the TV product provides vastly more excitement to the casual viewer, nothing much will change.

    • Having the race start at 7:00 PDT is awful for half the country. Am glad it will be cooler and the drivers won’t have a bad time with the setting sun. I doubt the ratings will be stellar.

  7. I agree that ending on Labor Day is a mistake. Two main reasons. The first is obviously it makes the season too short, unless you start really early. Indycar is not starting really early, and even if it does it appears Miles will try and race internationally in the Southern Hemisphere which negates some of the benefit. Second problem is weather. September is too nice weather wise to leave blank. Most of the tracks I want to see added onto the schedule are Northern tracks which really can’t be raced on before May. It might not be so bad if Indycar didn’t also hit Texas, Sonoma, and Houston (RIP) in the summer which to be honest is a bit odd. September would be better weather for the hotter tracks and extend the time to accommodate more Northern track.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    Ending the season by Labor Day is asinine because it is arbitrary, at least in regards to needs of the promoters who actually put on the races. If the series cannot accommodate promoters with desired dates (within reason, large gaps in the schedule benefit neither side), they will continue to struggle to grow the schedule. The races themselves are ground zero for Indycar, event health is as critical as anything to the series. As important as television is, you have to have events to televise in the first place.

    The Labor Day ultimatum has quite possibly killed the Houston race, and even the Indycar media seems to openly believe it will damage the Fontana race. I struggle to see what positives outweigh damaging two title-sponsored events in major media markets.

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you! Did I say thank you for bringing the prompters into the discussion as opposed to just those who sit on the couch? It would not surprise me if the Fontana race does not come back if they cannot get a September date. As you stated, event health is as critical as anything to the series. I have mentioned here before that I have been attending races at the Milwaukee Mile since 1950. If that race goes away, I will quickly lose interest in the series. And as the “catchfence” writer suggests, IndyCar and the teams need to adjust their business model to reflect the realities of today’s racing market place. Going to Dubai is sort of like going to one of those payday loan places for a quick fix.

  9. There are 2 reasons for the short season/lack of venues. First the sanctioning fees are too high to attract more promoters. Second the teams are cash strapped because of the high car costs and travel expenses. IndyCar has to forget about recovering its lost millions from the Tony George era and quit focusing on short term profits.

  10. I say that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I am all for going into September, maybe put Nashville (if the Novation group can put it together) on the schedule to beat the heat. I will keep up with college scores, but most of the games in early September are not the rivalries, so I wouldn’t miss much. I would go to a race if I could and I would definitly watch it on TV, unless the Chicago Bears were on another channel.

  11. Not all gloom and doom today. April 12th in N’awlins!

  12. The only good thing to come out of throwing out Houston, Fontana and possibly TMS, too, because of the “no events later than Labor Day” credo by the Boston Consulting Group is that it will open up some time slots in the schedule for Elkhart Lake, Chicagoland, Kentucky, Portland, Laguna and an Australian race.

  13. Here’s the rub with throwing out the current strategy of “end by Labor Day, move up the start of the season, score a couple big international paydays in February/March, wash/rinse/repeat”: we haven’t seen a full annual cycle of the Mark Miles business plan. Miles was named CEO of IndyCar in November 2012, when the schedule was already set for 2013. 2014-2015 is Miles’ first stab at aligning the schedule as he has seen fit (and the 2015 part of that stab is every bit as important as the 2014 part…we’re only half way through that cycle). Is it possible for ANY kind of business to make progress of any sort if it keeps changing business plans every 18 months?

    Look, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of how things are right now. I wishwishwishwish that we had races at Road America and several other places (and I would support those by paying actual dollars to go see them). And the fact that the schedule ends at roughly September 1st kind of hamstrings even the possibility of putting those events/places on the schedule (the ability of those places being able to pay the required sanctioning fee being an entirely separate argument…which I have to say that I feel like IndyCar has probably priced itself where it needs to be to operate; I covered that at length in these here comments about a month ago). But the current strategy apparently sits like this for 2015:

    1. Get a couple big paydays at Dubai/Brasilia, which will allow the Series and teams to have a better chance of operating profitably.
    2. Keep hammering fans with constant action from mid-March to September 1st.
    3. Hope that the current upward TV trends continue upward as a result of #2.
    4. More sponsors come on board as a result of upward TV trends.
    5. Be able to reduce sanctioning fees such that you can go to different tracks or make it so that said different tracks can attract title sponsorship and be able to afford sanctioning fee.
    6. Everybody lives blissfully happily ever after.

    Maybe it sucks to say, but we’ve gotta let that play out for a while longer and see if it works. Or else we’re going to be having the “what in the world is IndyCar going to do to survive?” and “IndyCar has no idea what it’s doing!” conversations again 12 months from now. And again 12 months later. And again 12 months after that…

    • Good thoughts Geek. Thanks.

      • Just when I thought I may have scored a few decent points, along comes this guy using logic and common sense. Curses, foiled again!

    • I agree that Miles’ current strategy is still in its 1st season and it’s too early to say how it turns out. Here’s hoping it is indeed a good way to increase sponsor interest in the series, as you have lined out nicely in your previous posting.

      Yet, the Mickyard is not coming back any day soon so how are they going to fill that late February slot on the schedule? With Homestead? With Fontana?

  14. 1.) I am going to Baltimore this weekend for the very reason IndyCar is not. I will be at Ravens (curse them) stadium Saturday at noon to see my Buckeyes take on the Naval Academy. I am happy for once I will not root for a blowout and I will not hate the opponent. Those boys will be doing great things for this country in the Navy and Marines for me to ever with that. That being said, I am DVRing the Fontana Saturday night because I do not believe it will be on in Baltimore bars.

    2.) I was elated this morning to find the AP report on New Orleans being in April. I will attend that race. The wife and I have already scouted out a cruise leaving NO the day after. It will be our vacation next year. If the NO race was in the fall as Robin Miller speculated, the trip would never of happened. We have been to IndyCar races at Long Beach, Detroit, Indy, and for the last five years, at Mid-Ohio. We love IndyCar.

    3.) My wife and I have also attended two Kentucky Cup races including this year. We always wanted to attend an Indycar race at Kentucky but never did because they were always during football season. Ohio State is undefeated against NASCAR and IndyCar.

    The three points all get to the same conclusion: IndyCar (and NASCAR) should end by Labor Day weekend. They all become afterthoughts. Yes IndyCar needs to start in February, but it will be hard to get ratings and fans in seats once the pigskin kicks off. IndyCar has emerged as my second favorite sport. But between the Buckeyes, Browns, and my wife’s Panthers, it gets lost in the shuffle and is relegated to DVR and attending a race is out of the question.

  15. After Labor Day don’t worry about going head to head with the NFL, just have the races on Saturday……

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