In international relations terms, a “rapprochement” (it’s from the French, so give it that “ra-ˌprōsh-ˈmah” schwerve) is “the development of friendlier relations between countries or groups of people who have been enemies.”
Me and TV ratings, we’ve had a long running “discord.” For at least five years, I’ve thought TV ratings were a Sign of the Apocalypse for IndyCar. When 300,000 people in the whole country watch your program, that’s like having the tumor pathology report come back “CANCER.”
Or so I thought. I’m changing my view. It’s possible IndyCar is the cactus of sports.
Stay with me: IndyCar’s TV ratings have been so low for so long — 0.3, 0.4, 0.5 — that maybe they really don’t matter, or at least they're not crappy vital sign I've taken them to be for so long. I know! I’m doing a 180-here on TV ratings. Well, let’s take a look at what we know:
Ratings for IndyCar races on both network (ABC, ESPN) and cable channels (Versus, NBC Sports Network) have been putrid for years. We can bust out the calculators and run the algorithms and parse the ratings down to markets and time in a Festival of Uncontrolled Anality, but the upshot for me is this: TV ratings for IndyCar — including the Indy 500 — have been flatlined for years.
Yeah, you get an uptick on some races in some years, but then along comes the next year and it’s a downtick. For a long time I couldn’t see the desert for the cactus. But just this morning it hit me:
If ratings are some sign of cancer in the IndyCar body … why is it still alive? I was like an oncologist looking at a report (TV numbers) every year for five years and scratching his head saying: “this guy should have been dead years ago.”
It’s possible IndyCar is a mutant … or a cactus. Consider the cacti: they are super-adapted to conserve water and therefore can live in the most arid conditions. They’re also super-adapted to absorb water like a sponge when it does come along. Per Wikipedia (so it must be true), some cacti can absorb as much as 200 gallons of water during a rainstorm. In the plant world, nobody DRINKs, ye BASTARDS like the cacti.
Based mainly on its refusal to die, I now think IndyCar is the cactus of American sports. How else can you explain its survival on droplets of TV viewers for all but a few network-televised races? How else can you explain how they can make a TV rating for the Indy 500 (3.7 last year) that’s averageish for NASCAR (Martinsville a week ago earned a 3.8) and use that to keep themselves alive for an entire year?
Like the cati, IndyCar seems to soak up maximum benefit from the rains that do come (Indy 500 TV ratings) and minimize damage from the ratings drought that plagues 95% of the rest of their lives.
So maybe IndyCar can get along just fine with the zero-point-something ratings. You can (and will) argue that it can't go on forever, but it's already gone on for five years (or more. I'm too lazy to research it). So how much longer? Five more? Ten? Forever? I have NO idea how IndyCar attracts so few eyeballs and yet manages to attract enough sponsors to keep going, but they do.
Maybe someday someone will write a Wikipedia-worthy explanation of IndyCar’s cactus-like ability to conserve the benefit or ratings. Something about having spines instead of leaves and enlarged stems and the ability to sense and inhale any water that does come along. The truth is, I now wonder how low IndyCar can go and still survive. It's like watching a marathon runner who seemlingly defies the rules of exhaustion and death. If the Indy 500 got a 2.5 and the rest of the season averaged 0.3, would THAT kill IndyCar? I've come to doubt it.
So my rapprochement is this: rather than expecting IndyCar to eventually, some year, starve to death from lack of TV ratings, I’m now fascinated by its plucky survival skills. You go, little spiny IndyCar! Zero-point-five and still alive!