Got a few things I want to discuss with my homeys. Let's talk about a few things, including: TV Ratings, An Opportunity, The Penalties and more. This'll be quick, because I got a day job to get to.
TV Ratings ... anyone who visits my site with frequency knows I'm all fixated on TV ratings, as flawed as they are. Why?
First, I like the (relatively) scientific means of audience measurements. Yeah, yeah, the number is an approximation and "scientific" is a stretch, but the truth is it's the most scientific number we have. Everything else is "my cousin said she heard lots of people were watching."
Second, they drive discussion, and discussion and buzz (except caused by injury or death) is almost always a good thing, especially when you're in the highly ignored by the vast majority of the public state IndyCar is in.
Third, they tend to weed out the bullshit sunshine, as in "WE GOT INCREDIBLE MOMENTUM!" I'm not a fan of bullshit sunshine. That's not to say I don't like sunshine. I like it a lot. But I like real sunshine (things are legitimately great and improving) not bullshit sunshine (we're telling you things are improving so you'll continue to spend your money with us). Not saying that's what IndyCar does, but I am saying some actual numbers discourages the bullshit.
Fourth, I think ratings numbers known publicly actually give IndyCar leaders some cover for proposing changes, etc. Randy Bernard and his posse have all kinds of internal constituencies -- the Hulman family, teams, and drivers to name the big three -- and to make changes they gotta convince those constituencies that changes are needed and good.
Shitty ratings that are out in public give them air cover. Bernard can say "our ratings are crap, see this story from the AP? See what fans are saying about it? See how we're being ridiculed by NASCAR?" That helps justify changes that the status quo and those paralysed by tradition resist mightily. And public numbers let Bernard pop off a little bit to put pressure on NBC Sports Net to step up the promo and even get Roger Penske saying "television ratings are linked to IndyCar's ability to grow the fan base." Story here.
Which is my answer when people say "Why do you fixate on ratings? Why not just enjoy the races?" I say why not do booth? Fixating on ratings does not prevent me from enjoying the current racing at the same time. But if I want to continue to enjoy the racing in, say, three years, ratings need to come up. So I'm enjoying the present while being concerned with the future AT THE SAME TIME. I have that kind of high-capacity brain.
Anyway, all last year getting ratings out of Versus was like getting Barack Obama's personal cell phone number. They were always NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS unless they were great and mainstream reporters for some reason resisted using their legit power (which us bloggers don't have) to get them. This year so far, Jenna Fryer of the AP has brought her firepower to bear and gotten the Nielsen number from whoever. Because how IndyCar is doing on TV is news.
The numbers for Long Beach were very good by IndyCar standards, up 45% per Jenna's story HERE. Nobody should be doing cartwheels for the rating, 0.32, which is up from 0.22. NASCAR Nationwide got a 1.2 TV rating, just for reference. But 45% is 45% and I know NASCAR is paying attention to IndyCar's ratings increase. NASCAR is nothing if not a fierce competitor, so don't suppose they aren't keeping track of the funny-looking cars on twisty tracks.
An Opportunity ... Speaking of NASCAR. I see an opportunity. It's a bit of a long shot, but still. Seems to me, when I watch a NASCAR Cup race, we have one of two things going on, based on what I see on my Twitter feed. Either a lot of people like the bash tracks like Martinsville or lament that Bristol is not the Festival of Flying Sheet Metal it used to be, or they pray for yellows to bust up what they see as monotony of a big oval. Texas Motor Speedway Cup race last weekend was a perfect example of that. If 40 laps pass without much excitement, the "GOD SEND US A YELLOW" tweets start.
I am not criticising, just observing. Indeed, late yellows in the Nationwide race made it quite exciting. But here's the opportunity ...
I would think there are current or future race fans out there that want more than what an oval offers. Keep in mind I'm an oval guy, but I'm also a marketing guy. I've opined at length that I think IndyCar should accept economic reality and move away from big ovals, conceding that market to NASCAR (most recently here). But I think there's a market for racing that doesn't require phantom yellows to restart the action. How big of a market that is is the $45.2 million dollar question. But it becomes clearer that IndyCar needs to bring in new fans, not cannibalize NASCAR for fans, because that just ain't going to happen. You may get some cross over fans who watch BOTH (like me), but the numbers aren't there. We need to convert non-racing fans to IndyCar fans. Don't fool yourself, NASCAR is saying the same thing right now as well, so nothing is ever easy.
IndyCar is the only racing series with lots of road and street races (twisties for shorthand). Twisties have a lot going for them that can appeal to the more cerebral sports fan who is into strategy and process in sports (soccer, I argue, is a cerebral fan sport). There's a ton of strategy involved in road and street racing. I think there are fans out there who want more than 293 passes in a pack race. There are a TON of fans who do want 293 passes in a pack race, don't get me wrong. So I am NOT saying that kind of racing sucks. I am saying IndyCar needs to find an unserved market, and I think (hope) that exists.
Which is why I and others continue to bawl and implore IndyCar to work harder in the Road to Indy leagues to build fan bases that will bring new eyeballs to IndyCar one day. Use the Road to Indy to develop new drivers AND NEW FANS.
So rather than view road/street races as a place holder until IndyCar can return to its glory days of ovals (you know who you are), it's time to embrace the twisties with some ovals sprinkled in. Mourn if you must. (Honestly, I have mourned already. Chicagoland. Say no more). Market the advantages of twisties to non-racing fans and build fan bases in the twisty-heavy minors.
The Penalties ... Welcome to IndyCar Beaux Barfield! IndyCar drivers got their bash on at Long Beach and the new head referee Beaux had to get his whistle out and blow it. I thought Barfield did a good job calling the fouls at Long Beach. I personally think Dario speared Josef Newgarden into the tires to reward him for his brazen overtaking attempt, but I agree there wasn't enough clear evidence during the race for Barfield to make that call. I would have gone no-call in his shoes as well. It wasn't like the no-brainer call on Ryan Hunter-Reay's punt of Takuma Sato. Yellow card. Newgarden did all the right things post-crash, taking responsibility for his decisions, not calling out Dario or Barfield. He's the real deal, IMO, and will be passing for the lead again. Rookie lesson learned there.
I also thought Barfield got it right after the fact with putting Graham Rahal on probation for throwing a block party for Marco Andretti. If it please the court, there is no contention that Rahal swerved right as Andretti approached at high speed. Both parties have stipulated. What is at issue was WHY Rahal swerved right. Rahal testifies that Andretti's impact caused said swervature. Andretti testifies "he chopped me" indicating Rahal swerved pre-contact pursuant to an effort to prevent him from overtaking. After dawning the powdered wig and reviewing the video evidence, Barfield ruled for the plaintiff (Andretti) and said Rahal chopped, causing said plaintiff and his car to leave the surface of the earth briefly and crash hitherforth into the tire area. It is so ruled.
Most exciting of all was the openness of Barfield in this whole deal. He gave his reasons for no call on Dario via Twitter. He also interacted with fans via Twitter after the race. And probably had to block some crazies who insist Dario didn't get called because they think he's His Royal Worship Dario Franchitti and drives for Untouchable Chippy Ganassi. I'm not willing to indict Barfield of favoritism based on one super-close call.
Barfield did tweet this to me on Monday: "Some haters would prefer I be silent. Two of them will probably win out over the other 3,400 of you. #twittersilence" which is kind of ominous. I am not sure what this really means, frankly, but I HOPE it doesn't mean that two people with power over Barfield will deter him from speaking directly with fans via Twitter or other means.
Even the Rahal probation was announced promptly Tusday with a news release which was made available to fans via about a zillion Web sites. Fan communication seriously excites me. Get it out there, tell everyone why you did what you did ... fans respect that even if they disagree. It's the Festival of Noncommunication that makes fans truly enraged AND feel taken for granted. When you don't tell us what the hell is going on and why, the message is "just shut up and continue to mail in your checks to IndyCar."
On top of everything else, the grid penalties and the in-race penalties Sunday help keep the conversation going. As does the brief Twitter spat that broke out between Mario Andretti and Graham Rahal Tuesday. Of course they rushed to kiss and make up, (sadly for publicity purposes) but still there was a bit of spark there.
Stuff to talk about is awesome. Good, bad, ugly (excluding injury and death, of course). As long as nobody gets physically hurt, we want things to talk about on Monday.
Hey, thanks for stopping by. Feel free to comment on my comments below. 900+ unique visitors and nearly 2000 page views here on Monday to view race notes, etc. I super duper appreciate the traffic which generated ... get ready for it ... FORTY CENTS in ad revenue! BAM. Quitting my day job soon. Blogging is easy money. 10 more 40-cent days and I can get a (fairly cheap) pint of beer at the pub.
See ya around ...