INDYCAR – Don’t Look to the Olympics

Yesterday the Indianapolis Business Journal released an article in their sports section where it was opined that NBC’s recent win for the next few Olympic installments would help INDYCAR/Versus ratings. An assessment that I believe is a little bit of a stretch and probably wishful thinking at best. No disrespect to the author obviously, but I just don’t see how this is going to help anything.

The Olympic Games is a massive television draw that is usually spread out over a number of networks. Swimming on one channel and track on another. This will see a number of events televised on the Versus network that is billed as a cheaper alternative to ESPN. The problem is not many households get Versus without an upgrade to their current cable/dish television package. It was thought viewers who wanted to see the Olympics would upgrade their package to get Versus and the extra events that go along with it. I disagree unless Versus gets big time events like Michael Phelps going for 8,000 gold medals. The fact is, enough of the events will be on NBC and other Comcast stations that people receive without the upgrade. If you missed the event you wanted to see, there is ESPN and re-airing of events that take place. I for one see no reason why I would upgrade my current package. Even if I did, I would probably just turn it off once the Olympics ended.

As far as INDYCAR goes, the current advertising campaign (both series and Versus) will not permit a large growth in the casual sports fan viewership during something like the Olympics. That is after all what we are going for isn’t it? We have the die-hard fans, but we lack the casual fan base. The Indianapolis 500 produced some real theatrics this year and we were able to identify with some new “characters”. Many folks will want to track JR Hildebrand after his turn four accident as well as Graham Rahal and Simona. The month of May produced a number of great stories that will unfortunately be forgotten about given the current channel situation. ABC did INDYCAR no favors during its advertising block with the racing seeming more like commercials than an actual event. The bottom line is that NBC and Comcast need to take the current product shown on Versus and move it to NBC where the casual fan will be more apt to watching. It is unknown which direction NBC/Comcast will go with it, but to solidify the remaining portion of this 10 year deal, it would benefit them (Comcast) as well to move the series to NBC. We will wait and see which direction they go.

Back to the Olympic topic, I have the feeling that the Olympics may actual show a slight drop in ratings with the Versus channel getting events. I am of the opinion that the summer and winter games will suffer the same fate as INDYCAR with a large dip coming from the events televised on that channel. The sad thing is that I think Versus puts together some fantastic productions. The quality of the programming is not bad; it is just a matter of how the channel is set on the TV deals that gets them in the end. With economic times being tough and no end in sight, I don’t see this deal at all being truly beneficial the way it needs to be for the series. At the end of the day, the series needs a new home in NBC and it needs to be sooner rather than later to be honest. You cannot develop these great stories like we did last month and have them fall on deaf ears for the majority of the schedule.

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5 Thoughts to “INDYCAR – Don’t Look to the Olympics

  1. BigMo500

    Good points, Shaun, but one you’re missing is that NBC will be able to leverage its overall strength with cable/satellite/phone companies during distribution renewals. I formerly worked for a network company. If NBC decides the renamed NBC Sports Channel is a major priority for future growth and needs to get to 100 million households, it will make attractive deals with the cable companies to get there. Not saying this is what’s going to happen, but if NBC has this as a strategy, it will happen.

  2. Mo,

    Great point. You are correct that if they want it to be amazing and everywhere they have the capability for sure. My only hope is that it is not like Fox Sports where there is literally like 1,000 Fox Sports channels for each specified region. That dilutes the value of the station in my opinion and I think you have to pay more for that package as well. It will be interesting to see NBC’s hand in the coming months as they plan a way forward. The only thing I ask from NBC is they take INDYCAR serious and work hard to help in growing the brand.

  3. V. Kurt Bellman

    One slight quibble, Shaun. This – ” Swimming on one channel and track on another.”

    Actually, swimming and track have an extremely tiny intersection for exactly that reason. Swimming and track are both marquis draws, and will both be on NBC primary broadcast network. Swimming a gymnastics dominates week one of an Olympics, and track (and team sport medal round games) dominates the last week.

    Other than that, stout analysis. Well done.

  4. Great point! I figured the “primetime” performances would get the host channel while maybe equestrian (sp) will get put on Versus. Horse riding…PBR….there is a slight connection right? Lol! Thank you for the kind words!

  5. People in markets like Boston who have RCN Cable are not able to get Versus since RCN is a rival in the same markets as Comcast.

    Versus (or its future name “The NBC Sports Network” is a Mickey Mouse operation. Until that channel can get past Comcast’s urine wars with rivals it will never get even 1.0 rating. Ask the NHL how well the Stanley Cup finals on Versus is working out. No one is watching those games.

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