We're a little early this week, but a column by my friend, Woman of pressdog®, and The Associated Racing Writer Jenna Fryer got me thinking ...
Is IndyCar's niche the No Bullshit League?
The thesis of Jenna's OPINION column today, "Caution-free races aren't thrilling the fans," is that the majority of NASCAR fans do not like "clean" racing. "Clean" as in pure, free from crashing and fake yellows, chips-fall-as-they-may on the track type stuff.
I see evidence of this constantly. As Jenna points out, whenever there is 100 laps of green in NASCAR, more and more people fill my Twitter time line with "GOD WE NEED A CAUTION, PLEEEASEEE." Yellows bunch the field up for a restart which increases the drama and action of a race. Read more from Jenna on what fans say here.
Clinging to my place of honor in the 5% minority, I hate yellows, as a rule. I love all-green races. I REALLY love all-green road and street races. A full-course yellow is very rare in Formula 1, and IndyCar's Beaux Barfield shows every intention of disliking the FCY in IndyCar as well. And I routinely make fun of what I call "phantom yellows" that are allegedly for "debris." First, I think half these "debris yellows" are open fabrications. Second, as the green flag laps click by in a NASCAR race, any random hot dog wrapper gets MORE AND MORE MENACING. So the definition of "debris" in NASCAR, I believe, gets wider and wider the more green flag laps that click by.
I also completely dislike hockey fights and think if you fight you should be gone for the game (as in Olympic hockey and EVERY other sport you can think of), just to give you an idea of what kind of extreme minority I am.
Anyway, two assumptions ..
1) Not ALL NASCAR fans love yellows and wrecks.
2) The number of those fans is worth chasing.
Enter a chance to differentiate. Recall I already predicted IndyCar would walk away from 1.5-mile ovals for various reasons, including the fact that "pack racing" (even for four laps) is untenable in the post Wheldon reality. Driver's won't do it and there aren't enough big oval fans like me left in IndyCar to bring any market pressure to bear to save them. On top of that, those big ovals just aren't selling. Few people attend OR watch on TV. Still don't buy the "just need more marketing!" argument. Five years of putrid attendance at 1.5-mile tracks is pretty much hard to argue against.
So, writing on the wall -- walk away from big ovals except Indy, of course.
The most obvious way IndyCar is different than NASCAR is the road-and-street ("twisties" for shorthand) race predominance.
Stark reality: if you don't like twisties, time to move on from IndyCar (if you haven't already, and I know a few who already have). NASCAR is the place for you. Let's just rip that band-aid off, OK? Time to embrace reality. Oval = NASCAR, Road and Street = IndyCar. You can't be all things to all people, and if you try to be you'll end up being nothing to everybody.
More ominous than that is that IndyCar is only some putrid attendance at Iowa, Texas and California from being fresh out of non-Indy roundy-roundies. Then we'll have a twisty-focused series whose life depends on the biggest oval of them all. Irony -- savored.
But that may or may not happen. For now, it's predominantly twisties for IndyCar ... so how about a side order of purism? How about positioning IndyCar as racing league where there are NEVER phantom yellows, where we let it play out on the track, and where we don't use Lucky Dog's, Drag Reduction System (DRS) rear wings or Bernie Ecclestone's famous water sprinkler cannons to artificially flavor the race outcome.
IndyCar could be racing's version of sustainable food with no artificial preservatives.
Zillion-dollar question: are there enough fans out there now -- and can there be enough fans made from non-fans -- to support this pure, twisty-dominated model? Don't know. Discuss.
I tend to think if you embrace this niche, you're going to have to figure out a competitors' cost structure that works on 0.7 TV ratings on NBC Sports Net (that assumes 100% raitings growth) and 0.9 on ABC outside of Indy. Which I believe means dramatically cutting the cost to compete for teams, which means they need less money from sponsors, which means there is less pressure on TV ratings etc. to deliver R.O.I.
Can it work? Not sure. But it may have better odds than just trying to be the mostly twisty/some oval NASCAR-without-fenders league that slowly bleeds to death.