Dr. Strangesport (Or "How I learned to stop worrying and love IndyCar")
by, 06-11-2013 at 12:07 PM (13368 Views)
Remember how, a season or two ago, we were going to race in China?
I don't remember the name of the town and don't feel inclined to look it up, but it was all set to go until the government there changed hands and flaked out on us. Suddenly here we were with a huge hole in the schedule, and our CEO at the time floundering about looking for tracks to fill it, getting our hopes up for places like Pocono and Road America only to watch them be shot down by the cruel reality that you just can't make a top-level race track ready for a major event in a month or less, especially if you're unwilling to pay for it.
It's been weird ever since. That CEO's gone, replaced by someone with a much better resume--whom apparently no one thinks can get the job done. The new season has had rousing racing successes, yet fewer people are watching. Our TV ratings can best be described as "craptastic." There were empty seats in the stands at Indianapolis--Indianapolis!!--even after a fair number of seats were removed. Don't even get me started on the mood at TrackForum lately. You should see the fascinating PM's I get from one of its moderators on occasion. They're not hostile, nor derogatory, but also not pretty.
"May you live in interesting times," says the famed Chinese curse. These times are plenty interesting, aren't they? What the hell?
I don't pretend to know anything someone else hasn't posted at TF already, but these three things seem to make the most sense, and may even provide the ticket out of our funk:
* The potential audience has changed, the product has not. Several posters, me included, bring up how our kids just don't seem to give a crap about cars anymore. My stepson was in no major hurry to get his driver's license. My boss's oldest son didn't even want to bother. This is in Kansas City, folks. You know what "mass transit" is in the Kansas City metro? Crappy bus service or a friend's SUV. To get anywhere significant around here you have to drive to it--and even our kids don't want to drive. If they don't want to drive, why should they want to watch other people drive? What's the point? Boring.
* The competition for eyeballs is fierce and does not favor the "old" (unless it's NFL football). You could make a decent argument this is why NASCAR, even though it's not "challenging" the NFL anymore, still gets the lion's share of racing ratings. It's the "newer" sport with the "newer" drivers racing the "newer" cars. Logically, the second two of those can be refuted instantly; the first one is technically true but c'mon, 1910 vs. 1950? But we're not talking logic here. We are not a logical people. We're talking perception, and NASCAR is perceived as "younger" than IndyCar. That said, check out NASCAR's demographics sometime and see how old the majority of its audience is, and understand why all auto racing ratings are basically flat to falling: The "kids" don't care. They have plenty of other things to do they consider better use of their time than watching cars go round and round for hours. Like watch NFL football, the perceived top level of a game they themselves still play for fun (but keep an eye on those demos, too--this is the same generation that grew up with "soccer moms").
* The sport itself has become too manufactured and micromanaged. Recently Mark Miles and Derrick Walker held a press conference announcing their intent to bring back speed records to Indianapolis, in effect laying out a multi-year plan for doing so. Be honest--were you excited? Were you thrilled that the "good ol' days" were coming back at last? Or did you resent the hell out of how they spelled out every step of how this was to be done, wondering whatever happened to good ol' innovation? Mark's resume is top-notch, and Derrick is well known for his willingness to take risks (this is the man who brought Sarah Fisher to the old IRL, after all), but neither of them are God. Neither of them can say "Let there be drama!" and behold, there is; no more than Randy Bernard ever could--and Lord, did he try--or Tony George ever could or even Tony Hulman ever could. For there to be excitement, they have to allow the conditions for others to make it. You can't do that with a whole bunch of rules and regs designed at heart to keep everybody exactly the same. Not with IndyCar-style racing, anyway, built on a legacy of creative thinking and "what happens if we try this?" No. Within reason, within the framework of a basic set of rules focused equally on safety and affordability, you've got to get out of the teams' ways and let them try something different.
So what we need is to create a series that appears new and exciting to younger fans that's affordable to get into yet allows its players to be innovative.
Sounds good to me. When do we get started?