Why Ovals Do Not Seem Popular In IndyCar

ArroganceCommonly mistaken assumptions some folks harbor, then subsequently spout on the Internet, is that ovals are dying. Many then assume that as a result non-oval racing is becoming more popular. That is a laughable assumption. Look no further than NBC Sports’ high dollar ‘investment’ in Formula 1. Ratings are no better than those for IndyCar, and NBC Sports gets IndyCar for a fraction of the cost. And if ovals are not popular why would NBC Sports also invest hundreds of millions for a piece of the NASCAR schedule?

The primary reason why IndyCar ovals are perceived as a dying breed is because the entire genre is once again being co-opted by squatting road racers whose aspirations are either Formula 1 or creation of a facsimile with the word ‘Indy’ as an identity. Most either could not make it and/or washed out in Formula 1 or its ladders. ‘Ovals are just not popular any more’ is a prophecy most participants would like to make self-fulfilling because it fits their subjective view of what the sport should be. That is the mold into which the sport is once again being bent,

IndyCar Participants Visit Texas
IndyCar Participants Visit Texas

‘supported’ by panicked shrieks about ‘pack racing,’ derision of oval enthusiasts as ‘gomers,’ and worse.

We are down to six ovals, and several current participants never waste an opportunity to insult oval hosts in some way. The annual excursion to Texas is proof of such aberrant behavior.

Squatters are able to operate in this manner because management of the sport, while not explicitly complicit, is unwilling to see or expend any energy beyond the Indianapolis Motor Speedway unless Mark Miles can plug in a pro Tennis model of blue chip brand names facilitating millions of dollars into IMS coffers by sponsoring events in far-flung locales outside North America. If/when that happens there is a 100% chance such venues will be non-ovals; probably temporary circuits. Even if IMS management was inclined to try and make events outside IMS work they have rarely demonstrated any ability or willingness to effectively market itself.

SimpleOne of my frequent head slaps is the level of presentation effort IndyCar expends at big ovals such as Pocono or Fontana. By and large that effort is zero. There are no meaningful support events, large gaps in the on-track schedule, no must see entertainment companions and other than minimal promotion track management does no promotional activity by IndyCar. Rolling up merchandise trailers and a relatively hokey ‘fan zone’ is not effective. Nor is handing a mic to Michael Young so that he can shout ‘are you ready’ at a few thousand masochists.

Because IndyCar takes an active hands off stance outside IMS and cannot effectively promote itself outside Indy television partners are not aware of IndyCar either. IndyCar was the first motorsports signing of the NBC Sports Network. When IndyCar signed with Versus, and again when Versus was re-branded NBC Sports Network, the excitement by that brass in press conferences bordered on orgasmic. That enthusiasm disappeared almost immediately. Despite decent ratings and little expense IndyCar is barely promoted by NBC Sports, while Formula 1 is promoted roughly 4 times as much. Soccer? About 50 times as much, which is also true of any stick and ball entity. NASCAR doesn’t resume its NBC run until July but for nearly a year has been promoted over IndyCar by a nearly 10 to 1 ratio.

The story is no different for ESPN on ABC, whose editorial stance regarding IndyCar is even more egregious.  It is not really fair to blame the broadcast partners. They are simply ignorant or unaware IndyCar is an entity, much less one that

IndyCAr Marketing
IndyCar Marketing

occupies a small portion of their schedule. That again points back to a continuing, ongoing massive lack of effort in and/or failure of marketing on a broader scale than IMS by current management. There must be more to these types of arrangements than simply funneling portions of series sponsorship dollars into spot avails in the network broadcasts.

There exist as many oval racing enthusiasts as ever. None of them is ever given incentive to buy tickets. They are far too expensive, and once purchased no real ‘experience’ other than IndyCars on the track is generally offered. Partner entities such as Andretti Sports Marketing sell only expensive multi-day packages, and purchasers are nearly continuously pitched for ‘upgrades’ from the time they purchase to the time they leave tracks. At most of their promoted tracks budget conscious GA purchasers are relegated to small patches of leper-colony-like exile with non-optimal vantage points. New Orleans, in particular, was more of a joke than most. They seem as out of touch with a potential audience as IndyCar. Both assume their clientele is only high income and white collar. That is because those are the only people who can afford the price and show up, and there are not enough of them to effectively butter the bread.

As usual, the fantasies of management and the reality of what they manage remain distantly spaced. Until that cluelessness changes the niche in which IndyCar sits is the niche in which it will remain.

10 replies to “Why Ovals Do Not Seem Popular In IndyCar

  1. I’ve said this before: IF IndyCar wants to get more bang for their buck from ovals, they need to have ALL of their ladder series events at ovals. I don’t know how well attended the lower level events were at O’Reilly (or whatever they’re calling the former Indianapolis Raceway Park this year,), but it occurs to me that they could certainly run the more junior circuits at IMS on Legends Day. And, to expect a fan to shell out the money for seats at Pocono or Fontana, they certainly could make more of a weekend impact by offering the entire IndyCar “family” at those events.

    This would serve a double purpose in that the drivers in the lower tier series would get exposure to oval track racing, just as the fans would get exposure to the “up and coming” drivers in the feeder series.

  2. Ovals (outside of Indy) don’t seem popular because they aren’t popular. People can pick their favorite scapegoat (TV presentation, lack of promotion, the economy, time of year, etc.) but none of them hold water. The product simply doesn’t sell anymore. Perhaps pairing it with support series races would help, but they’d better hurry. After last night’s dismal crowd at TMS (there might not have been 20,000 there), it’s clear something needs to change immediately.
    Editor’s Note: Hmmmm. Crowd seems OK at the Pocono oval today for cars that are enclosed and go 40mph slower. Then again, NASCAR actually markets itself, provides a weekend worth of entertainment and ensures full fields. As for Texas, tens of thousands of fans tend to disappear in a vast stadium. The Texas IndyCar crowd from last night at Iowa or any street race would have been considered spectacular. I will be happy if/when IndyCar ever decides to take the Indy experience outside Indy. The alternative is no better. Non-oval racing is even less popular than oval racing in the USA.

    1. By all means, the series should be marketed more aggressively, and race weekends should include a full array of support series offerings. As for the TMS attendance, only 47,000 seats were made available for sale, so the 20,000 estimate is obviously quite reasonable. And while it’s not at all clear whether street courses are even less popular than ovals, it is clear that attendance, sponsorship and ratings for the series are trending down, so they need to step up quickly.

  3. street racing is like a fart in the wind. it’s here for a minute then it’s gone. poof. and it leaves a bad odor in the air behind. lies, deceit and eventually fleecing of all taxpayers who had enough. people go to downtown street races because of the party, not the racing. that explains why so many downtowns are successful party locations. it’s all centralized. the people are guaranteed to show up to the party-with-the-race, until the expense is pulled out of their wallets. long beach and st. pete are successful because of their tropical locations and those who actually want the event. there are plenty raceable road courses for those so inclined. indy cars are not put on this earth to negotiate 30 mph hairpin turns. oval racing is the favorite of many. i prefer closer racing and was never against the pack racing as a fan. the drivers who actually did it for years did it successfully and it was a good show for the fans, those who actually pay to see it. but the knee jerk reaction after the vegas race that the ignorant media and public pretty much destroyed the whole concept. so long kansas, michigan, kentucky and chicagoland. i remember seeing plenty of handford device races back around 2000 that were the best ones i’ve ever seen. when the marketing becomes competent and promotes the product instead of the “you need us” mentality they’ve relied on for so long this sport could reignite once again. but remember, oval racing is not for pussy drivers and pussy fans. it’s why there are thousands of dirt track ovals racing all over this country running successful events.

  4. The worst oval race is still better than the best road course or street course race. And the difference is not even close. And is the attendance at places like Barber. Louisiana and Sonoma really all that good compared to ovals? Or is just that there are fewer bleachers and they’re spaced out over many different places along the course — unlike the ovals where most of the bleachers are between turns 4 and 1 — that it gives the impression that more people are at the track?

  5. And oval racing will never grow in popularity on the IndyCar circuit until places that produced great racing — Chicagoland, Kentucky, Nashville, Michigan, etc. are put back on the schedule.

    1. Great tracks, but they were ghost towns on race day. None of those tracks could make it work because fans simply didn’t turn up.
      Editor’s Note: Once fans are given reasons and reasonable cost to turn up they will. That is an elusive concept for series leadership. Great racing is not enough.

      1. But it seems highly unlikely that greater offerings will be forthcoming, let alone at a reasonable cost. Having witnessed first hand the rapid evaporation of the crowds at Chicagoland, Michigan, and Kentucky, one wonders where the series could go.
        Editor’s Note: I would say right back to those three places in particular, only with consistent date equity, actual effort to provide a full weekend of entertainment and action, and actual marketing and promotion over and above what the tracks might do. This effort would need to consist of more than just a couple of merchandise tents, perhaps a smattering of vintage cars and Michael Young screaming ‘are you ready’ into a microphone.

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