Four things to ponder ...
TV ratings -- Seriously, I think it's easier to get Barack Obama's personal cell phone number than the ratings for IndyCar on ComVersBC (the merged Comcast/Versus/NBC). ESPN PR just emails me and others their IndyCar and Nationwide race ratings. No big thang. Good, bad, ugly. I've requested the same for ComVersBC (not recently, though) and ratings are NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
I think ComVersBC and IndyCar should just release them. Get "out in front of it" as they say. Put out the number, and your comments thereon, and your spin thereof, and get ahead of it. Then you could talk about more esoteric things like audience size during segments of the program. I hear the audience at the end of the race was much larger (maybe 500,000) than the average audience of 323,000. If so -- and nobody is saying if that is true or not, so it could be bullshit -- then that's a positive sign. Maybe those 500,000 saw Mike Conway inhale a few people and win and will come back for Brazil.
But that's all NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
It's Hockey time on ComVersBC! Every since we heard that Comcast, parent of Versus, was buying Universal, parent of NBC, creating ComUniVersBC, the hard-core IndyCar fan (estimated number: 109) have been wondering WHAT that will mean for IndyCar.
Audience, we hope. The big knock on Versus isn't the quality of the broadcast or the quantity (hours), but the lack of penetration (take it easy!). Versus is in about 75 million homes (give or take) while ESPN is in about 100 million homes (give or take). There are about 115 million TV equipped homes (give or take). SO, it right off the bat, the potential audience for IndyCar on ABC is the greatest, then ESPN, then Versus. Most races are on Versus.
So when the best you can do is 75 million (-ish) households, that caps your ratings potential audience right off the bat. Big knock against Versus is the lack of penetration and the difficulty to find it on the dial.
The big hope is that with the mergification, ComVersBC will be on more cable tiers and therefore get more penetration. ESPN is a ficture on the very basic cable/satellite tier. I had to pay for three tiers of programming to get Versus on my Dish Network package. Having the tier that include Versus costs me $120 extra a year.
Which brings us to Hockey. ComVersBC just bought the rights to exclusively broadcast NHL hockey for the next 10 years for $2 BILLION, American.
That means a few things to IndyCar fans.
• Merry Christmas Canadian fans, first of all. With ALL NHL hockey being on ComVersBC, one would think Canadian TV will be making ComVersBC available to Canadian viewers like never before or face the polite-yet-stern wrath of Canadian viewers. IF IndyCar stay son the same ComVersBC station that carries hockey, bazinga, increased racing availability to IndyCar's 915 Canadian fans. (Update: Never mind. See comments below. ComVersBC bought AMERICAN broadcast rights. Canadian aren't in the deal. Sorry Canuck friends.)
• ComVersBC may be serious as a heart attack about promoting it's sports channels. This article proposes that networks are going to get more into sports to try and stop the erosion of their audience to Internet-based media like Hulu, etc. The theory is that people watch sports live because they want to know the outcome immediately, and that nobody watches sports replayed on internet-based sites because they generally know who won, etc.
It's a REALLY smart move on television's part, I think. And it might help explain why ComVersBC put the kibosh on streaming video on IndyCar.com this year. This is WAR (with the Internet) mister, and ComVersBC is dragging out the tactical nuclear weapons.
Plus, you don't spend $200 million a year on NHL and then leave it on a channel that reaches 65% to 75% (depending on what numbers you go with) percent of households (Versus). You move that to a channel with bigger penetration, OR you get Versus into the bottom tier of cable/sattelite. Maybe IndyCar goes with hockey to that wonderful destination.
If they are serious about beefing up their sports offerings, ComVersBC may pour more cash into building audience for IndyCar. Hurray for us.
• ComVersBC may pour IndyCar cash into hockey. Flip side of the above coin is that ComVersBC says "damn, we just spent $2 billion for hockey, we better put every bit of A-level talent, time, money into making it generate a return" sucking the air out of the room and leaving IndyCar as the second-fiddle that gets only token attention. I doubt this will be the scenario, but it's possible.
Does this mean ComVersBC wants the Indy 500. ABC's contract to rights to the Indy 500 ends after the 2012 race. If ComVersBC is going after hockey hard, will they go after IndyCar hard to get the Indy 500? Indy fans hope so, because competition is a good thing. And IndyCar may become an all-or-nothing deal, not just a piece on ABC/ESPN and a piece on ComVersBC.
If it's winner take all, first we hope it's a bidding war. Second, if it's all back on ABC/ESPN, a segment of the fandom will be happy. If it's all on the new ComVersBC, a segment of the fan base will be happy. If races start ripping down 2.0 ratings, everyone will be happy.
Speaking of ratings, it's all about ratings. End of the day, net net, long story short, ratings rule on TV because ratings = cash. If ComVersBC wants to have a prayer at getting the 500, and we hope they do, they are motivated to get ratings up now.
Drivers ignored the league and Iron Hand of Justice at Long Beach -- It seemed pretty clear to many of us that IndyCar drivers basically flipped Randy Bernard and Brian Barhart, the Iron Hand of Justice, the bird at Long Beach, re: starts and restarts. The whole two-wide thing, which looked so picturesque at St. Petersburg and Barber, didn't happen at Long Beach. Not even close.
Curt Cavin on Trackside Tuesday said he figured the drivers just said basically you're not the boss of us and started fugly. The first two cars were side-by-side, but the rest were straggling and single file. Al Unser Jr. agreed that the drivers did what they wanted in Curt's Pit Pass today.
It will be interesting to see what IndyCar does about this insurrection. Certainly, the flag guy (who takes his instructions from the IHJ) can wave off any start. He can wave off 19 starts in a row, theoretically, but will he? Stay tuned. Maybe the 0.28 TV ratings (best case!) will get through to the drivers that they gotta do something to attract attention. Seriously. Hard to race single-file, double-file, three-wide when IndyCar is tits up (bankrupt and out of business). Give that some thought.
Finally, grand mal froth over officiating -- We had a bit of a tizzy on the internets this week about this question: Does the league show favoritism in its refereeing? Discuss. At issue, is the calling of penalties in IndyCar is inconsistent? Specifically, did Helio Castroneves get a pass for infractions at Long Beach while Paul Tracy was penalized for the same thing?
Insert parsing and ranting here (very little of which I have read, honestly). My position: no obvious favoritism. Refereeing is a tough thing and it always comes down to judgement. Once Al Unser Jr. finally got the rationale behind the calls out there, I was fine with it.
IndyCar did screw themselves again by not explaining their decisions right after the race to head off a lot of frothing created by the vacuum of information, specifically what the calls were and why. If you want to dive into the controversy, go here or here.
The method in which penalties are communicated to the IndyCar audience is piss poor as it is now. Often penalties aren't communicated at all. Again, just get out in front of it. Develop a system to let viewers know what is up as soon as possible, and have the IHJ or whoever explain what the calls were and why. Bam. Done.
It's hard for me to see favoritism toward Helio given a referee's call cost him a win at Edmonton last year and at Detroit a few years earlier. Both of those calls I agreed with, BTW. Most people I heard from thought Helio got screwed at Edmonton. Tracy and his fans think he got SCREWED on a call at the 2002 Indy 500 that meant Helio won the race. It's possible he got screwed. It's also possible some cling to it. It was nine years ago. Tracy for sure clings to it. I can understand why.
End of the day, zillion-time Long Beach winner Al Unser Jr. and Tony Cottman huddled up in race control at Long Beach, took a look at the replays, discussed, and made the penalty calls. Video of the crashes is unavailable (or NONE OF OUR BUSINESS). So, absent that, I'm going to go with with the well-qualified refs decided.
End of the day, net net, long story short: very few care. Of the 323,000 who watched the race at Long Beach, 322.725 (or more) probably are unaware of the penalties, don't even know there's a "race control" or simply don't care.