Something New to Complain About

Groundhog Day is not until tomorrow, but it seemed like I was watching the Bill Murray semi-classic when the television schedule for IndyCar was released last week. When the dates and venues for the 2023 season were announced last September, we had to go through the usual gnashing of teeth over the lack of ovals, too many street courses and of course; the regular wondering when Michigan and Cleveland will finally re-appear on the schedule. Now we are going through it again.

The comments on social media are pretty predictable, each time the schedule is released – no matter how many positive entries there are on it. I feel like Michigan, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Surfer’s Paradise could all be included on a new schedule; but there would still be a group campaigning that NOLA and Edmonton should be there instead.

Do you remember prior to the 2019 IndyCar season, when NBC could do no wrong? Those were the days when ABC still carried a handful of races, including the Indianapolis 500. As long as we had Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear to complain about, NBC was golden in the eyes of fans. We loved what we had been seeing on NBCSN for years, and we wanted that for all of the IndyCar content we consumed. But when NBC became the sole television partner to the NTT IndyCar Series in 2019 – they suddenly shifted to the focus of the ire felt by IndyCar fans. The partner that could do no wrong, could suddenly do no right – at least in the eyes of some fans.

When they took over, NBC brought us NBC Sports Gold; a streaming platform that provided coverage of each practice, as professional as race broadcasts. You could also watch live qualifying coverage, when the NBCSN broadcast was going to be delayed. It ended up costing less than $5 a month.

When I first heard about it, I was ecstatic that we could get all of that for what I thought was a good value. But then, the Legions of the Miserable came out of the woodwork and told everyone what a rip-off this was. They said they preferred the free You Tube telecasts of practice that featured stationary cameras and commentary piped in from the IndyCar Radio Network.

While I thoroughly enjoy listening to Mark Jaynes, Jake Query and our other friends on the network; the overall production of the practice You Tube broadcasts was a little subpar. NBC Gold put as much into the practice production as they did the race – with no breaks for commercials. Yet everyone complained.

When NBC Sports Gold went away, and all practices and qualifying were shifted to Peacock; I saw it as a good thing. Apparently others didn’t. For those that had Comcast Xfinity as their cable provider, Peacock was free and the app was already on the cable box. Those that had cut the cord or received their content in other ways, would have to pay $4.99 a month for a Peacock subscription. That’s far less than the current price of a carton of eggs.

Fans were outraged! They felt that NBC and IndyCar had secretly conspired together to turn their backs on the fans. They paid no attention to the fact that the cost was the same as NBC Sports Gold, but they weren’t just limited to IndyCar content. Subscribers had access to all of their IndyCar catalogue, as well as NASCAR, IMSA and any other form of motorsports that NBC carried. Fans also got access to any sport that NBC covered, including NFL Sunday Night Football and the Triple Crown of Horse Racing. Subscribers also had access to the entire NBC library of shows, and even shows not originally produced by NBC, like Yellowstone.

You get the point – IndyCar fans like to complain. If you go back and read the comments over the release of TV times, you would think that IndyCar and NBC are both extensions of Satan. And of course, the comments weren’t limited to the TV times – USA Network and Peacock got particularly slammed because some races will only be shown there.

Keep in mind, thirteen of the seventeen races will be shown on Big (over-the-air) NBC. That is so key for viewer exposure, in that quest for new fans. Only Road America, Mid-Ohio and the IMS August road course will be shown on USA Network. Like last year, Toronto will be shown exclusively on Peacock. The rest will all be shown live on Big NBC.

Although it happened last year, you can only imagine the anger spewing from fans over Toronto being on Peacock. I get it that fans don’t like it, but keep in mind – per the contract, NBC has the right to put two races on Peacock each season. So far, they’ve only done one each season– so it could be worse.

Here is the entire 2023 IndyCar schedule, with starting times and TV networks:

2023 IndyCar

As far as the times go, there are only a couple of notable changes over the past couple of years. Most notably is the Music City Grand Prix. Two years ago, the race started at 4:30 local time. With two red flags and a lot of caution laps, it was near dark when the race finally finished. Marcus Ericsson’s victory lane celebration actually took place in the dark. Last year, the starting time was moved up to 2:30 pm, but the start was delayed by rain. Still it was finished way before daylight was threatened. This year, the starting time has been moved up to 11:00 am local time. While that may actually hurt the local crowd, it selfishly works for me, and it should also help those that want to drive back to Indianapolis afterwards.

The other noticeable change is Gateway. Since its return to the schedule in 2017, Gateway had always been a Saturday night race until last year. Due to a well-placed rain-delay, Gateway finished last year’s Saturday race in total darkness as well. The likelihood of that happening this year is a lot lower. The race has been moved to Sunday with a 2:30 local start time. This is where I will agree with the complainers. I think Gateway, and the Saturday Iowa race should be run at night. The cars look so much better under the lights, except for those running a matte finish – they just sort of disappear.

A slight change is Barber. Last year’s race started at Noon local time, giving those of us who attended ample time to get back home. This year, the race starts at 2:00 local time. That’s not a huge change, but it will make for a longer night driving home to Nashville.

Everything else is either the same or within an hour of last year’s starting times. But that didn’t stop the complainers from complaining. In about another five to six weeks, those blue envelopes containing tickets to this year’s Indianapolis 500 will be arriving in our mailboxes. I hate to see what complaints those things will generate. Now, about the lack of video coverage for Thursday’s Open Test…

George Phillips

7 Responses to “Something New to Complain About”

  1. Same old, same old. The Boston Consulting Group decided that the Indycar season should end halfway through the season and Indycar still thinks they’re right I guess. The problem is NFL competition don’tcha know… and yet F1 COTA pulled in 440,000
    fans on October 24/22.
    There’s something really wrong here.
    There’s a lot of room for the missing tracks.

    • billytheskink Says:

      COTA also pulled in TV viewership 100,000 viewers BELOW ESPN’s year-long average for F1 races (1.21 million) despite being on a more widely available network (ABC) and at a more easily accessible time (1:30 ET) than most F1 races. That the broadcast was up against the NFL and NASCAR when most F1 broadcasts are not goes a good ways into explaining that.

      The handful of Indycar broadcasts that have gone up against the NFL since 2016 have drawn, on average, just 73% of the series average yearlong viewership on like networks (comparing NBC to NBC viewership average, or NBCSN to NBCSN). Since 2019 that figure is just 52%. Much as I wish it wasn’t, the NFL effect is there.

      That said, I do think the BCG-instilled fear of racing during NFL season is a bit overblown, especially if fall dates work especially well for tracks that are willing partners (both Houston and Fontana left the schedule in large part because they could net get their preferred fall dates). It is, though, easy to see why the powers that be would need convincing… particularly those at NBC.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Given the massive schedule turnover Indycar has seen in recent years (21 tracks lost in the last 15 years alone, 46 in the last 30 years!), a staid schedule is a positive for the series and I wish more folks saw it that way. Nevertheless, I would like to see a longer schedule and a return to my own pet list of tracks that I like.

    It is unfortunate for NBC and for Indycar that Peacock was fairly late to the streaming game and is, thus, well behind others in subscribers and prestige (plus, they no longer carry The Rockford Files). Thus, it is more likely to be viewed as an additional charge on top of a cable bill rather than as a component of a family TV budget (as more popular services are). While I won’t defend Peacock’s much-maligned Daytona 24 coverage, I will not blame them for running ads during their coverage since most streaming services are beginning to do the same unless you agree to pay a higher fee. Ad-free broadcasts are wonderful… and tremendously unprofitable, which is why the industry is running away from them as fast as they possibly can.

  3. The schedule is fine. Just move those ovals Geroge mentioned to night races, and eventually add three or four more races as well.

    Peacock…..I’m more than happy to pay my 5 bucks a month for Peacock Premium. The week of ‘500’ practice coverage in May is easily worth the $60 bucks a year it costs me. Hell, back in the Tyson days we used to spend more than that for Pay-Per-View boxing matches that lasted one round! Then you throw in the coverage for all the other practices and qualifying for all the other IndyCar races. Then there’s the other entertaining content on their service…(that new show “Poker Face” is outstanding!) It’s entirely worth it.

    Plus, if you’re like me and you enjoy the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Peacock was amazing. No more jumping around from network to cable stations, to having to just look at timing & scoring on the computer during gaps in the televised broadcast. This year I put on Peacock at 1:30 on Saturday, and never turned it off. 24 hour full coverage. Perfect!

  4. I like the consistency of the 2023 calendar when compared to the one of last year. Also, NBC is doing a good job. The saying goes “never change a winning team”. This saying comes from motorsport and applies here as much as it does elsewhere, too.

    Consistency in scheduling and date equity is needed when you want to grow a series.

    This calendar is pretty good. Ad for those iRacing fans, there are enough former IndyCar racetracks on there with which you could schedule a likewise interesting series, albeit without the current calendar’s blue riband events.

  5. good blog post and comments
    as usual

  6. Britindycarfan26 Says:

    Memo to Indycar …… if we must race 3 times at Indy in a standard (no lockdowns 🤞!) single year and twice on the road course …… couldn’t the 2nd one at least be slightly different and use the old f1 banked final corner/oval turn one banking section? Then at least that way it’s 3 different tracks even if all 3 only at the single venue (all be it the greatest venue but still) … it’s only my opinion but I don’t mind if a racing series uses the same venue more then once in a single championship … just as long as it’s a slightly different track even if it’s only a difference in a single corner I still have that as a basic demand!

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