Let’s play a game. I am going to type out a number for your reading pleasure, and then you are going to decide in your head what that number means to you. Ready? OK, here we go.
Got that? Does that number look familiar to you? My guess is that it does. As any astute hardcore INDYCAR fan knows, that aforementioned number is the television rating that ABC earned for its coverage of last week’s INDYCAR season opener in the streets of St. Petersburg.
To answer your next question: no, that number is not good. Not by a long shot. Just to give you some perspective, FOX’s coverage of the NASCAR rain delay in Texas on Sunday earned a 2.2. If those numbers still aren’t making sense to you, these will: the St. Pete INDYCAR race averaged around ~866,000 viewers, while the NASCARrain delay on Sunday took in somewhere in the ballpark of ~3.6 million viewers. That means a rain delay garnered four times the viewership of an actual race with realaction occurring.
I don’t think I have to explain to you all as to why this comparison is troubling.
In fact, check that, I definitely don’t have to explain such things, because the INDYCAR internet community has been buzzing with doom and gloom ever since the numbers for the St. Pete race came out. And to tell you the truth, I certainly would have been included in that group. Heck, I wrote about TV ratings in this past week’s edition of Pace Laps, and I didn’t exactly approach the topic in a cheerfully blithe manner. For better or worse (mostly worse), ratings are an unfortunately important topic of discussion in today’s INDYCAR, and as long as the ratings continue to tank, they will forever be a topic of conversation.
Yet, as I sit here writing this article, I can’t help but wonder if the topic is really as worthy of discussion as everyone has made it out to be. INDYCAR’s popularity issue is not a new topic in any way, shape or form. Non-Indy 500 ratings have been a problem for the series since it began in 1996. At what point does harping on ratings simply become a matter of beating a dead horse?
Here’s what really matters: Sunday’s race proved once again that the actual on-track racing product is still top-notch, perhaps even better than ever. INDYCAR has cornered the market on solid, clean competition that features ample passing and lots of action. St. Petersburg was no different.
I have simply come to the conclusion that this whole fiasco over television ratings is much ado about nothing at this point. Despite ratings that have been pathetically low since the start, INDYCAR has still managed to cobble together television deals that put the series’ races on decently well-exposed networks. I am very confident that for as long as INDYCAR is a series, it will still be featured on television. With how desperate the big-time sports networks are for live content, they’ll take almost anything at this point as long as it can pull in a few hundred thousand viewers.INDYCAR, for as low as its ratings are, still is far more than capable of accomplishing just that. Ratings literally have to fall to near-zero for the sport to completely fall off the television map, and that is simply not going to happen.
And of course, let’s not forget that INDYCAR has the historic Indianapolis 500 in its back pocket. For as much as that race has fallen in terms of mainstream popularity, it still pulls in 5 million plus viewers each and every year, which makes it an incredibly valuable property to have. Thus, no matter how far the non-Indy 500 races tank, the series will still be able to use the “big race” as a leveraging tool in negotiations.
By backing off the criticism, don’t take that to mean INDYCAR should simply accept its status as a niche sport and rest on its laurels. Declining ratings are a problem, a serious one and they should still be addressed accordingly by those on the inside of the sport. But for the fans at home watching? It’s time to quit obsessing over ratings. That goes for us media types as well. It has become a fruitless discussion that is far too difficult to solve from an outsider’s perspective, and it only serves to devalue what has become an utterly fantastic product on the racetrack.
INDYCAR, no matter what the ratings say, is headed in the right direction. Financial issues are being resolved, the on-track product is better than ever, and leadership is strong for the first time in seemingly forever. If INDYCAR can stay on that course, it will be OK, and the ratings problems will likely solve themselves.
Until that time, let’s just focus on the good for once. Deal?