Sturbin: It’s Viewers Versus TV In IndyCar
Normally, I don’t have anything to say about coverage of the IZOD IndyCar Series on VERSUS. That’s because Charter Communications, my cable provider in Fort Worth, Texas, does not include VERSUS in either the basic or premium sports package to which I currently subscribe.
Used to get VERSUS for free, back when it was the Outdoor Network and its big-ticket item was coverage of the Tour de France during the heyday of Lance Armstrong. Alas, along about the time that the network changed names – twice, if memory serves, within a matter of months – and purchased rights to the majority of regular-season National Hockey League games, VERSUS became a premium channel for Charter Communications customers in Cowtown.
Given my “downsized” economic position, I can’t justify adding VERSUS to my cable bill…not even to watch the dozen IndyCar races carried by the network this season.
And so it was with a sense of anticipation that I discovered VERSUS among the cable lineup offered by Time Warner Communications at the home of my Mom in Rome, N.Y., last week. I tuned into the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway thinking this could be the race that truly separates points leader Will Power, who is seeking his first IndyCar title, from two-time/reigning champion Dario Franchitti.
Fast forward to Lap 173 of the scheduled 200 around the 1.5-mile oval, and a final round of pit stops under caution. Power, of Team Penske, had the lead heading into the pits but Franchitti’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing crew opted for a fuel-only stop – gambling that Dario’s Firestone Firehawk tires safely would complete a double stint covering 62 laps.
That decision helped Franchitti gain eight spots and the lead over a pack of challengers including Power, Dan Wheldon and Marco Andretti. But just about the time that the race dramatically went green…lead announcer Bob Jenkins informed the TV audience we’ll all be getting back to the exciting action following a commercial break.
Nothing personal, Bob, but I took your name in vain.
Just to make sure you get the picture – we’ve got Dario Franchitti at the head of a pack of drivers ready to pounce on him for 16 laps at 200-plus mph…and we’re going to commercial. You know the format – it’s that side-by-side setup where the advertisement dominates the screen and a second, smaller bubble follows what’s happening on-track. It was “pioneered” by ABC/ESPN and copied by VERSUS…and I find it annoying.
I also contend that shoving another round of commercials that have been airing the entire race down the viewer’s throat is insulting. Don’t try selling me anything with the laps winding down. Considering that a racing lap around Chicagoland Speedway takes approximately 24 seconds…the final segment was going to take less than eight minutes to complete under green flag conditions.
Still, that wasn’t enough of a legitimate reason to preclude the airing of that Danica Patrick advertisement for antifreeze and Helio Castroneves’ ad touting the wonders of Brazilian coffee.
Did they squeeze in a third ad for IZOD sportswear? Or Firestone tires? Not sure because when Helio’s ad appeared – the one in which he admittedly sings badly about coffee – I clicked over to the closing minutes of a sloppy NFL preseason game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens. And then I flipped over to check out the slugfest between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox.
And then I went back to catch the finish of a race that changed the status of the 2010 championship. Franchitti’s victory allowed him to lop 36 points off Power’s lead, which now stands at 23 points. Recall that a refueling problem during that final pit sequence forced Power to make an extra stop with five laps remaining en route to a season-worst 16th place finish.
With three races to go – all on 1.5-mile ovals – this suddenly has become Power’s championship to lose.
This Saturday night’s Kentucky Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway and the remaining events at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on Sept. 19 and Homestead-Miami Speedway on Oct. 2 all will be carried by VERSUS. And any fan looking for future relief in the form of a greater broadcast presence by ABC/ESPN will be disappointed.
“Well, we have five races on ABC and we have 12 on VERSUS,” Indy Racing League CEO Randy Bernard said during a recent interview in Dallas. “We have an eight-year deal left with VERSUS. We believe VERSUS is a great partner and it’s going to get better. We also believe that the one thing we have to do is (create) ideas to give us different formats to allow fans reasons to want to watch a race in particular. And that’s something I think is very important for us to do. You’re going to see us try to create more story lines as we go on.
“I think that you’ll see next year the oval championships become a bigger deal and the non-oval championships becoming a bigger deal and then wrapping it up with the IZOD IndyCar championship. So it gives us three different story lines there, and I think that’s very important that we create these types of plans and events to give us those new and hopefully great, compelling story lines.”
Well, Mr. Bernard, those separate oval and road racing championships are, bottom line, gimmicks. A great, compelling story line was in the process of unfolding in Joliet, Ill., Saturday night when VERSUS went to commercial, side-by-side. When IndyCar management allows advertisers to interrupt and dominate the on-air product like it did at Chicagoland, they demonstrate where their allegiance lies. And it’s not with the TV viewing audience.
VERSUS management needs to be reminded that the TV viewer, armed with a remote, always has options. And when some director or producer cuts into race coverage to shove another ad or three down my throat during the deciding moments of a great race – perhaps Saturday night’s race from Sparta, Ken. – then this viewer is going to tune you out.
Because I can always catch the race results and highlights on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments