Saturday, July 10, 2010

IndyCar Needs More Dedicated TV Partners

Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy

The 200-plus mile per hour open wheel race cars have been zooming in front of an improved business model. In the past two years, increased field participation, a richer quality lineup of drivers and the IndyCar series title sponsor with high-end apparel company IZOD has shown the the potential of some newfound glory for the American auto racing tour. Acquiring new allies as the sport rebuilds, one aspect which is pivotal to the immediate growth of the IZOD IndyCar series is television broadcast partners committed to the series. In this situation, it's clear the Indy Racing League may not be getting their value from some of the current television package.

Allow me to first exclude the team that puts the IndyCar races together on the American cable channel Versus. While I'm in Canada and forced to settle with what our cable sports channel wants to show, I have been impressed by the play-by-play and the focus directed towards the IZOD IndyCar Series itself. Another network, which I will name later, tends to run IndyCar races in the foreground but covers it as a sideshow to celebrity guests and other shows on the TV station. I wish Versus would be broadcasted directly to Canada since I'll also have a few issues to share with the Canadian sports channel. We know that distribution is an issue with Versus in the United States for Versus as 19.6 million American DirecTV customers missed the Sao Paulo IndyCar opener due to fee disputes. However, the broadcasts are refreshing realizing the IZOD IndyCar Series as a premier racing series.

Witnessing Versus as providing an excellent IndyCar telecast, ABC races for IndyCar stand out as horrendous. I remembered when ABC (or ESPN on ABC) covered the CART/Champ Car series in the early 2000s they pioneered this effort to interview winners while they were on their cool-down lap. ABC were running the races so tight on time they couldn't even broadcast a proper victory lane ceremony.

In the last race broadcast of the Camping World at the Glen, the start caught the ABC team by surprise as they were focused on a pre-race pit report as the green flag dropped. Essentially missing the start of the race, this is certainly a mistake no NASCAR race coverage would dare to make happen.

Backing up claims that the ABC broadcast is working like an advertisement to their other shows, announcers in the race mentioned no fewer than three times of Danica Patrick's NASCAR Nationwide Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire. While it is not unusual to point out other efforts of IndyCar drivers, the talk about Patrick reeked of promoting Patrick in NASCAR rather than her current efforts in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Of course, since the ABC parent company spent considerable monies securing the NASCAR Nationwide Series it seems operative that they plug the stock car racing series.

As bad as ABC can be, imagine worse. In Canada, TSN (The Sports Network) handles the entire coverage scheme of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series doing few favours for the open wheel division. Getting spotty coverage throughout the year, many of the broadcasts were diverted to TSN's digital-only channel TSN2. While live auto racing coverage has become the norm, the June 20th race at Iowa Speedway witnessed the Canadian-based network drag open wheel racing into a wrong direction. Race fans were figurately punted into the wall as the Iowa Corn 250 aired on the digital channel around midnight on early Monday morning. Insulting the racing fateful fans to the IZOD IndyCar, many fans who needed to get up early for work missed Tony Kanaan take victory in one of the most exciting races of the year. Decreasing the effective reach for the series, one full-time Canadian driver Alex Tagliani (two if you include Ryan-Hunter Reay who's mother was Canadian) gets shouldered onto another network as they provide less patriotic sports on the primary channel. Unfortunately, I believe that TSN only picks up sports like the IZOD IndyCar Series in order to insure that a rival network can't. Since several IndyCar races run near the same time as a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, they don't want auto racing competition on the lower-tier cable channels.

In the most recent Watkins Glen race, ABC made one right move by using side-by-side coverage through portions of the race. Meaning that advertisements will be shown on one side of the screen while viewers can still watch the IZOD IndyCar Series race on the other, TSN refused to provide the same experience to Canadian customers. Was the sports channel that desperate to gather every dime of ad revenue?

I criticize only because I want networks to improve on their faults and provide the IZOD IndyCar Series with the respect it has richly earned. For the remaining races of 2010, I'll be watching.

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