Commonly 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,
‘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.
One 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
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.