Episode 254 – OpenPaddock.net Podcast

This week is our “Last Week Tonight” episode, because I’m just now posting the edited podcast almost a week late.  In rally this week I preview GRC Las Vegas, talk about Ken Block’s new Gymkhana beast, and discuss the version 2.0 of the Nameless GT86.  In our UMMMM section we talk about the Torque.tv streaming site, review F1 at COTA and more of Bernie’s madness.  Finally in IndyCar we talk about the new 2015 schedule which was unsurprisingly uninteresting, and the news from MRTI.

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3 Thoughts to “Episode 254 – OpenPaddock.net Podcast

  1. Thanks for addressing my comment on the IndyCar schedule announcement on the show, but I still think you’re being hypercritical, especially if the reason for your criticism is because you remember how awesome the CART schedule is, and you continue to be disappointed that the IndyCar schedule doesn’t stack up. I remember the CART schedule, too. It WAS awesome. However, that’s a series that’s been dead for over 6 1/2 years now. Economically speaking, things have changed in gigantic ways since 2008, let alone since the CART heyday (to my mind) of about 1990 to about 2001. Dollars are not flowing into IndyCar like they were then. Tobacco money is long gone. With the emergence of 100s of cable channels and the diffusing of TV ratings for basically EVERYTHING that’s on TV, other sponsor dollars have also become hard to come by (the Budweisers and Valvolines are finding other ways to spend their marketing dollars). What that means is that IndyCar has to derive a large portion of its operating expenses from sanctioning fees paid by the tracks/venues. Wishing that we can go back to the way things were 15-20 years is pretty pointless, as is comparing the current incremental changes to the schedule to the enormous changes that’d be necessary to get back to those days. I’m basically just glad that IndyCar has 16-17 venues who can pay the sanctioning fees that allow IndyCar to exist and attempt to grow every year. Also, making sweeping, risky changes sounds like a pretty good way to go out of business very quickly, if you haven’t made a wise change. That’s the reason for the incremental year-on-year changes.

    As far as when IndyCar is choosing to end the schedule (you guys continue to take slaps at that, including when discussing the MRTI finale this week), here’s what’s going on: IndyCar and its teams get enough income (sponsorships, sanctioning fees, etc.) to afford to put on 17 or 18 races per year. At this time, any race that you put on after Labor Day is going to be going up against the 800 lb. gorilla of the NFL (unless you do it on a Saturday, in which case you’re still going to struggle somewhat with college football). Also, due to the existing TV contracts, any race you put on after Labor Day is going to be on NBCSN (ABC and NBC are not options). Mark Miles and IndyCar are attempting, through all of their efforts, to score some new fans. Statistically speaking, those theoretical new fans are liable to be NFL-watchers, in that they’ll probably be people who watch sports already, and most current sports watchers already watch the NFL. Schedule against the NFL, and you’ll automatically attract basically zero of those people to watch IndyCar instead. So, IndyCar is trying to maximize their impact by scheduling their races when there is less conflict. Their eventual goal, I’m sure, is to get TV ratings in the 1.0-1.5 range, so that they can attract more sponsorship, which may allow them to reduce sanctioning fees and go to some other tracks, or improve marketing, or whatever other improvement program they deem fit. Schedule against the NFL and you’ll never ever score higher than a 0.3-0.4 TV rating, So why not schedule your 17-18 races in times when you have a better chance of attracting new eyeballs? MRTI, by the way, does not have this same constraint, in that their income is FAR less derived off of TV ratings (I’d bet that they get in the 0.1 range), and far more derived off of “back gate” revenues (teams’ entry fees and paddock passes). They work off of an entirely different economic model, so they are less sensitive to outside forces that would negatively impact fan attendance or TV viewing.

    1. You’re absolutely right, SpeedGeek.
      We are being hypercritical of the VICS schedule as well as all the decisions made at 16th & Georgetown. We are so critical because we’re loyal fans. We are the hardcores that are going to watch races on TV (or internet) and attend races in person (Care to hang with us at Barber in April?) regardless of what we think of the decisions. We pick apart the series, the management and their decisions, as they all affect us directly.

      We aren’t the target audience that Miles & Co. need to enjoy IndyCar. The target audience is the new fan.
      If you want to grow your audience with new fans, you need to expose your product to as many people as possible. Some will consume your product and some will not. he ones that do need to have a reason to come back to remain fans.

      I enjoy going to races in person, especially IndyCar races. Living where I do, I would like to get to all the races that are within my reach, which is a substantial number. With a single days drive, I could get to NOLA (5 hour driver), Barber (11 hours) and TMS (4 hours). I’d also like to get to Indianapolis, which is a longer drive (2 days). Between taking time off work and time away from family (or dragging them along to races), the compressed schedule shatters my grandiose race fan dreams. Likely, the only two IndyCar races I’ll attend this year are NOLA and Barber, with the former being a quick ‘on the cheap’ affair. If the schedule were spread out, more fans could conceivably attend more races. I think we’d all agree that more butts in seats is a good thing.

      Part of getting the VICS “product” (I’m loathe to use that term, but it fits here) in front of as many eyeballs as possible is showing it to as many people as possible. Despite what BCG has whispered in Miles’ ear, there is crossover between fans of pro football and auto racing. The currently implemented compressed schedule and the ideology behind it is going to negate any potential viewers from the hardcore football fans.
      The Petit LeMans recap show that aired on Fox immediately following an early season NFL game is proof of that. A highlight package show for sports car racing got better ratings than every single VICS race that aired on NBCSN.
      That said, the ratings for the PLM show were on par with every VICS race aired on ABC (approximately a million viewers) save for Indianapolis.

      You could argue that NBCSN is the problem, as not every cable subscriber receives NBCSN or their service includes it in a programming package that adds additional cost. That’s a fair argument and I think it’s part of the TV rating problem, and not just for IndyCar. Formula One viewership on NBCSN is roughly twice that of IndyCar on the same network. Add in the fact that some live F1 sessions air on other NBC networks (CNBC, MSNBC) when there are programming conflicts and then re-air on NBCSN. That sort of muddies the viewership numbers.

      Admittedly, we are race fans with minimal influence. We like what we like and we gripe about what we don’t. We’re no different than a fan of a football team who wants their losing coach fired or to dump a quarterback that has a wet noodle of a passing arm. We hope for improvement and continue to support IndyCar.

      And on a personal note, SpeedGeek. Thanks for listening. That may sound trite and perhaps expectation, but it’s genuine and heartfelt.
      The offer to hang out and enjoy a beer and some racing at Barber is just as genuine. We’ll be perched on the hill overlooking Turn 2.

  2. You’ve hit on the exact issue when it comes to trying to get IndyCar in front of more eyeballs, a la what TUSC did with the COTA/Petit packages on Fox Main adjacent to an NFL game: IndyCar doesn’t have a network option at that point in the season. ABC apparently only wants the early season races, and putting IndyCar on NBC Main is not an option at any point of the season, due to the contract with ABC (it apparently forbids IndyCar from appearing on any other Main broadcast network). So, that 1.1 TV rating that TUSC pulled down on Fox is unduplicatable (to coin a terrible phrase) by IndyCar. There apparently are 1.1 million or so folks out there who will watch racing (or leave the channel on racing after an NFL game or an NFL pre-game show, as I’m certain is the case for a small fraction of that big number), and as you point out, the IndyCar ratings on ABC also supports that number, but a bunch of those folks can’t or won’t watch on NBCSN, especially when the NFL is on (remember, those hoped-for “new fans” likely already have a slavish allegiance to watching NFL games, statistically speaking). For better or worse (we can basically agree that it’s the latter), that’s the reality of the situation, and unless IndyCar can gain a few fans off of NBCSN’s coverage of NASCAR, or unless IndyCar can luck into another “Danica Effect”, the current situation is going to continue. The good news: this current situation isn’t new, so apparently the advertisers who are with IndyCar now are fully aware of where things stand. I’d guess that most aren’t real likely to leave if things continue to plateau/trend gently upward, so IndyCar has some time to continue to tinker with the formula/schedule/etc. from year to year until they hopefully hit gold. Good luck to them.

    From a more personal standpoint, I love going to events when I can as well. I’ve missed but one Indy 500 since 1996 (unless you also count 1997, when I missed the bulk of the race on the Tuesday due to final exams after waiting out the rain on both Sunday and Monday) and I’ve also been to Barber two of the last three years (only missing 2013, when my wife was 35 weeks pregnant and bound to the house). You may have seen a guy there last year walking around all three days with one of those “two beer cans hooked up with a straw” helmets, but that had been modified to accept two water cooler size containers of Barber Motorsports Park Kool-Aid. That was me. I love that place, and I am not bashful about telling every person I meet that they should go there. Anyway, my family has an event that weekend in 2015 that’ll preclude my being there for Friday/Saturday, but I’m hoping to be able to buzz down and back for Race Day on Sunday. I’d love to come meet you in Turn 2 (that’s where I stood for most of the 2012 race, and for the first 10 laps of the 2014 race until I had to head back to Tennessee to watch the kids while my wife took off on a work trip), or anywhere else you might be hanging out (I sat low down on the backstretch hill for a good chunk of the Sunday Pirelli World Challenge race this year and found that you can see a bit of about 5 different parts of the track, for what it’s worth). We’ll be in touch. In the meantime, keep up the great work on the show. It’s nice to have a few passionate fans out there who are willing to take their time to put out a show for the rest of us to enjoy for free. Thanks for all you guys do.

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