Attendance figures have been released for the Long Beach Grand Prix with a weekend total of 175,000. This is up from last years 170,000 for the Champ Car World Series finale. On the surface, a bump of 5,000 doesn’t seem to carry much significance, but with the stagnant economy, the numbers should be read as a win for the race promoters.
But the numbers only tell part of the story. This event’s headline act is far more stable than CART or CCWS was in their last few visits here. The ownership of the former CCWS also owns the rights to run the race, preventing IndyCar from running there. Now with the uncertainty of the split in open wheel racing, it would appear that Long Beach is poised to reap great benefit from its association with IndyCar.
Versus also saw an increase in their viewership this weekend. The Nielsen numbers indicate that almost 389,000 households tuned in to watch the race, garnering a 0.5 rating. The same race last year on ESPN2 drew almost 486,000 households. Last years race was the swan song for CCWS, but also an IndyCar points paying event since it coincided with the Motegi Japan. When unification occurred so late in the game, the only option was to run both races and have them both pay IndyCar points.
While Versus again lagged behind ESPN & ESPN2’s numbers, it is not panic time. Versus is building the IndyCar brand on their channel and “superserving” (their word) the IndyCar fan base. With the quality of the product that we have observed so far, and the networks dedication to their new property, I think it is clear that Versus will be able to grow the IndyCar audience. And since the IndyCar series signed with Versus for the next ten years, they think Versus is capable of doing that.
With the circuit moving to Kansas City this weekend, one has to wonder how the television ratings will pan out after the first oval of the season. The IndyCar fan base is very diverse, but those who have been following the IRL after the split have a certain affinity to the ovals. On top of that, the casual fan in the US is more likely to be interested in watching an oval than a street course. I think we are poised to see a good increase in the TV numbers this weekend above the half million household mark.
However, if you haven’t tuned in to the Versus broadcast yet, I would advise you do so this weekend. The ABC part of the schedule is picking up for Indy and Milwaukee and we will be back to the same abysmal coverage we have been stuck with for years now.