One of my most consistent and long term gripes about INDYCAR over the years is the lousy way the franchise has been treated by its decades-long broadcast partner. Once upon a time, ABC was great. Unfortunately, the Roone Arledges and Don Ohlmeyers of the olden days are long gone. Now run by ESPN, there does not seem to be anyone even remotely associated with the INDYCAR franchise at ESPN that knows the first thing about it. That is a genuine shame. The outright neglect of the franchise over the past dozen or so years has directly contributed to an oft-lamented decline in popularity of Indy Cars. Their relentless pursuit of all things NASCAR has been blatant. One need look no further than the ESPN web site for confirmation.
One very pleasant surprise revealed yesterday was that IMS Productions has been told to ‘hold off’ on further negotiation with the ESPN/ABC folks according to an Indianapolis Star article by Curt Cavin. That article reminds us that INDYCAR is contractually linked to ESPN/ABC through 2012, and presumably they have the first right of refusal should another network want to carry races. That other network, of course, is NBC after that network’s acquisition by Comcast may finally be concluded by the end of the month. Given the high product quality thus far by Versus and NBC’s reputation for revitalizing neglected sports properties (usually by ABC) a real opportunity exists.
Even Versus will benefit from the linkage. The lament of most simplistic thinking folks is that Versus is not in enough households, certainly not as many as even ESPN2. Potential rebranding of Versus (and perhaps other channels) as ‘NBC Sports’ might pay huge dividends.
ESPN on ABC generally does a good job in its presentation of the 500, but most of the credit probably goes to IMS Productions. The on-air staff used for INDYCAR by ESPN on ABC is sub-par. 2011 should be an interesting year on the broadcasting front. I am optimistic that positive evolution will continue.
On another note, there are rumors around the racing community that Lindy Thackston may not be back on the Versus team for 2011. My main question is this: How can we as fans be forced to put up with Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear on ABC but not get Lindy on Versus? The Versus team we had last year was absolutely great. This is one rumor I hope is untrue. I urge the readership to send your thoughts to Versus.
Versus will also be returning the Indy Lights series to television, albeit on a tape delay basis. That’s a start.