Reserving the Right to Change My Mind

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Over the years, one of the most common criticisms I’ve heard of people is to say that so and so never likes to admit that they’re wrong. My question is who does?

I don’t think it’s a sign of an egomaniac to say that someone likes to admit a mistake. If you were to show me someone that actually enjoys that, I propose that you are showing me someone with some deep-rooted issues. None of us like to admit a mistake or that we were wrong.

There is a big difference in not liking to admit you were wrong about something and refusing to admit it. Sometimes the facts leave you no choice but to admit you were wrong. Such is the case here with me. But it’s even worse when you’ve flip-flopped on an issue. Let me explain.

If you’ve been reading this site for a long time, you may recall that in the early days of this site, I advocated for ending the IndyCar season before Labor Day to avoid any conflicts with the NFL. I felt like it was pointless to go up against the behemoth that is the NFL if they were serious about growing the series.

As recently as 2013, the IndyCar season ended as late as October 19. I know because we were at Fontana that weekend. It was a little surreal because when we left Nashville that Thursday, it was rainy and 45°. When our flight touched down at LAX, it was sunny and in the mid-nineties. We never saw a single cloud until we returned to Nashville the following Monday, when we were greeted by the same weather we had left behind a few days earlier.

For the next season, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles made a concerted effort to end the season before Labor Day to avoid any conflict whatsoever. The 2014 season finale at Fontana was moved to Saturday night, August 30 – more than a week before the NFL kicked off the regular season.

That meant that the IndyCar offseason grew by almost two months, growing from five months to seven months. They threw us a bone by scheduling the 2015 season-opener in Brazil the first weekend in March, but there was one slight problem – it never happened. The 2014 season ended on August 30 and the 2015 season didn’t start until March 29. By ending the 2014 and 2015 seasons by Labor Day, that meant a lot of racing was crammed into a shorter period of time. Off-weekends were rare. That may have sounded good for race fans, but it created a hardship for the teams and the series.

No one liked having a five-month season and a seven-month offseason. With NASCAR and Formula One going deep into November, wrapping up the IndyCar season in August left fans wanting more. We went through this scenario for two years, with little improvement in TV ratings. This two-year experiment was enough. Even though I had been advocating to avoid the NFL at all cost for years, I had to admit that I hated ending the season in August. As much as it went against my grain, I had to publicly admit I was wrong…or was I?

Since the 2016 season, the NTT IndyCar Series has made it a point to schedule two races in September – usually one over Labor Day weekend, with the season-finale a couple of weeks later. This year, there was a three-week gap between Portland and Laguna Seca. It was the fourth three-week gap of the season between races. Three weeks is way too long between races and having four such gaps in a seventeen-race season is way too many.

Last week, Robin Miller wrote an article on Racer.com about the final TV ratings for NBC’s first season as the exclusive TV partner for the NTT IndyCar Series. It was a very in-depth analysis that looked at the improved numbers for the Indianapolis 500, as well as the Top-Ten markets for IndyCar viewers nationwide. It was no surprise that Indianapolis was the top market, while five of the Top-Ten markets were in the Midwest.

One little nugget of information in this article made me question if I had been right all along in thinking that IndyCar should finish its season in August.

Miller pointed out that the race broadcast on Big NBC (over-the-air network) from Road America, was the most viewed of any non-Indianapolis 500 broadcast with 1.108 million viewers. That race took place in June, after a one-week break after almost two months of consecutive on-track activity for IndyCar.

Conversely, the season-finale from Laguna Seca – also airing on Big NBC – drew only 736,000 viewers. This was the championship-deciding race between four contenders. There were two big differences between Road America and Laguna Seca. The season-finale was coming off of a three-week break after the most recent race in Portland, and most importantly – the NFL was in Week Three of the regular season by Laguna Seca.

As much as we love going to Road America, it was just another race. It was the tenth race of a seventeen race season that had very little drama. Alexander Rossi took the lead over pole-sitter Colton Herta by Turn Three and never looked back. Rossi completely dominated. Yet over 1.1 million viewers tuned in for what was essentially a boring race.

The championship-deciding race that took place against the NFL drew more than a third less viewers than a ho-hum race in June. Why? Because the NFL was on.

If you factor in the 5.4 million viewers that watched this year’s Indianapolis 500, NBC and all of its platforms drew a total of just over 23 million viewers for the entire 2019 IndyCar season, and that was considered a success. For comparison, the Dallas Cowboys-New Orleans Saints game on NBC’s Sunday Night Football on September 29 drew over 24 million viewers, according to SportsMediaWatch.com. That one game drew more viewers than the seventeen-race IndyCar season that just ended the weekend before.

And for those that claim that the NFL is losing viewers due to the Colin Kaepernick situation – that game saw a 32% increase over NBC’s Week Four Sunday Night Game game in 2018. Overall, ratings for the NFL are up 2.8% through four weeks compared to the same time period last year.

The facts are there. The NFL absolutely dwarfs IndyCar ratings. You can see that there were significantly fewer viewers for the second-most important race of the season, compared to a race in late June when the NFL wasn’t involved.

So which of my stances was correct? Should the NTT IndyCar Series avoid the NFL at all cost and wrap up the season in August? Should they stretch things out to mid-October as they did as recently as 2013? Should they keep things the way they are currently and give fans two races in September before wrapping things up? Over the ten and a half years of doing this site, I’ve advocated for all three. I might as well call this site the Waffle House, since I’ve flip-flopped so much on this issue. I guess I have the right to change my mind – many times.

From a fan’s perspective, I’d like to stretch the season out as long as possible while adding a few more races. But I know that is not feasible at this point. I also know that even though I was beating the drum for it for years, I did not like ending the season in August when it actually happened. What’s the old saying about watching out for what you ask for?

Personally, I think the way it is now is probably the best compromise. Portland was held over Labor Day weekend. There are a few minor conflicts with college football, but the NFL is in that sweet spot between the pre-season and the start of their regular season. If the championship loses viewers to the NFL, so be it. The hardcore fans will still watch the IndyCar season-finale. We deserve something. Not everything should be sacrificed in favor of the coveted casual fan. The series needs to keep their base in mind too. That’s what this current schedule does.

The only tweak I would make is to not have a three week gap between Portland and Laguna Seca. With the distractions that September brings, the IndyCar championship can get lost in the shuffle after three weeks of no activity. Fortunately, next season has only one weekend between Portland and Laguna Seca. They should always strive for that to be the norm going forward.

George Phillips

11 Responses to “Reserving the Right to Change My Mind”

  1. start earlier, race in florida, texas, arizona, california or mexico. end when football begins. and end in st. louis instead of laguna seca.

  2. I don’t mind admitting I was wrong about something because it means I’ve learned something and grown as a person.

    Regarding the NFL, I don’t think it makes much of a difference honestly. If Laguna Seca had been before the NFL season it might have had a couple hundred thousand more viewers, which if we’re honest isn’t much when comparing to other sports and isn’t going to have a big impact on sponsor decisions or anything. In the end there aren’t really any other tracks wanting to add IndyCar to their schedules so adding more races to the season is kind of a moot point anyway.

  3. George , would you rather watch a Titans game this weekend or an IndyCar event? This year I bet the IndyCar event. What other sport shuts down in the fall in deference to the NFL? I can not think of any other . I would rather see IndyCar at least go into early October . Watkins Glen in late September early October is glorious.

  4. I am, like you George, caught on the horns of a dilemma regarding the end of the season. In actual fact, as it is now, I often DVR the IndyCar race that conflicts with the NFL, particularly if the Colts or the Bears are having a game opposite the race.

    Some of that is due to the fact that IndyCar has been devoted to road courses during that period. If there was an exciting oval race, that might send me in the other direction.

    When the series ended with a 500 miler at Fontana, I was far more interested in the race than the Championship. With the series decider on Sonoma (Snore-noma), I would watch the NFL and catch the IndyCar Race when my teams’ games were decided.

    I have to confess, I found this year’s race at Laguna Seca exciting and worthy of watching live (which I did not.) That is NOT the norm for road and street courses, for me anyway.

    Personally, I would love to see the series end at Homestead. It’s in the Eastern time zone, it’s an oval, and (if you follow the idea of closing the season in September,) it’s far enough away from the NASCAR finale that HMS might be interested in doing it. Even better if it was a night race, but the diversity of interests in college football would dictate that a potential Saturday afternoon race might work also.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Homestead may be more interested in a fall Indycar race now as well because starting next year their NASCAR date moves to March.

      I’m not sure why it moves to March, exactly. I guess maybe ISC thinks their expensive new stands and suites at Phoenix will fetch higher prices if it is the finale.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    Indycar’s avoidance of the NFL is understandable, but I do not think that ending by Labor Day should be a hard and fast rule for the series. If the series is approached by a promoter that wants to race beyond Labor Day and is willing to pay for the privilege, it would be silly of the series to refuse to listen. A healthy racing series is built on healthy events as much as anything.

    It is worth noting that while the Laguna Seca race drew only 736,000 viewers on NBC up against the NFL, it was not the only NBC race that struggled. Mid-Ohio drew just 670,000 in July up against NASCAR on NBCSN and Detroit 1 drew only 761,000 on a Saturday in early June (Detroit 1 likely lost viewers because of the delayed start). NASCAR, Saturdays, and night races all cut into Indycar ratings on a level comparable to the NFL, but none of those things are avoided if the race in question is a healthy event.

    I have pointed several times and will continue to point to the Fontana and Houston examples. The series pushing both of these races into June in 2014 and 2015 resulted in their immediate departure from the calendar as the 2015 Fontana race is infamous for its low attendance and the 2014 Houston races drew maybe half of the solid 2013 October crowds. What did Indycar gain by pushing these two races into June? A couple of tenths of a ratings point? (2015 Fontana did do very well on NBCSN.) I can tell you for sure, though, that they lost two title-sponsored sanctioning fee-paying events that still had years left on their contracts (Fontana’s ran through 2016 and Houston’s through 2018).

    • I was a bit surprised to see pretty low (relatively) ratings on the big NBC all season. Not that I expected them to bring in 2 million viewers per race but I figured most of them would crack 1 million, but I think only 2 of the non-Indy races on NBC barely ticked over the million mark. Hopefully an increase next year but probably not a whole lot.

      • billytheskink Says:

        The Indy GP, Detroit 2, Road America, and Portland all drew over 1 million viewers on NBC this year, all of them drawing within a very narrow range of 1.066 million and 1.104 million. The Sunday 500 qualifying broadcast likely would have broken 1 million viewers as well (it drew 997,000) had it not consisted entirely of a rain delay. It probably would have been the best-rated non-500 broadcast, actually, as it consistently was in ABC’s last two years.

        This is a small improvement over ABC in some respects, they had not drawn over 1 million viewers for the Indy GP or Detroit since 2016. ABC’s best non-500 boradcasts in recent years, though, the St. Pete opener and the two days of Indy 500 qualifying coverage, do slightly outperform NBC’s best non-500 broadcasts from this year.

  6. In the week leading up to the Laguna Seca race, IndyCar forums on the web were unusually quiet. I wondered if that was the case because there were so many Sonoma fans, disappointed that IndyCar was not returning. I guess it wasn’t because the turnout at the box office at Laguna Seca was reportedly pretty good. So could it have been football season?

  7. the old baseball saying is: hit ’em where they ain’t.
    if TV ratings control the schedule, then scheduling
    “where they ain’t” makes economic and broadcast
    sense to those who decide such things.

  8. Something I’ve often wondered, if the NFL is so bad to go against then why not have a few races on Saturday to end the season? Sure, there’s college football but those games typically attract tv ratings in the 3-5 million range (or lower) which is a lot smaller than the NFL. Push St. Louis to Saturday night on Labor Day weekend (weather would be nicer), then have Portland and Laguna Seca on Saturdays with the finale around the first of October. Seems like a simple solution.

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