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It's the TV Ratings stupid!

Alonso running the Indy 500 teaches IndyCar a valuable lesson
Thursday, April 13, 2017

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If only Ecclestone would take over IndyCar for a few year
If only Ecclestone would take over IndyCar for a few year

Bernie Ecclestone knew the secret to making F1 a true global sport - proper TV deals in almost every country.  Painstaking work to negotiate those deals, country-by-country, year-in and year-out. But it worked, the number of eyeballs watching every F1 race around the globe is estimated to be over 50 million.

IndyCar on the other hand does not think global. It's almost total focus is the Indy 500, the bread and butter for the Hulman George family. The rest of the races on the schedule are there only to ensure there is a series and at least 33 cars each year for the 500. Only the Indy 500 gets proper global TV focus - the rest of the races on the schedule are relegated to invisible status on NBCSN.

Just how invisible IndyCar and its drivers are on the world stage, because of the focus on only the 500, was magnified this week when it was announced that two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso, his McLaren F1 team and its engine partner Honda will race in the 2017 Indy 500 in conjunction with Andretti Autosport. That announcement got more media attention globally than IndyCar will get for the entire season.

With nothing to lose because his McLaren Honda F1 car is so slow, Alonso traded the Monaco GP for the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing." One man, one F1 star, dwarfs the entire IndyCar series. We saw this when Nigel Mansell came to race in CART IndyCar in 1993 and 1994.

IndyCar brass should go to church this weekend and thank god Alonso decided to do the Indy 500 - his fan base is huge - and he will bring the Indy 500 into focus with the rabid interest of the F1 world. We now predict another sellout for the Indy 500.

It underscores how small inward thinking, with no global initiative, makes one small and inconsequential. Think small, and you will be small.

The 0.21 final TV rating on NBCSN for the 2nd biggest race on the IndyCar calendar - the Long Beach GP - with only 83,000 18-49 year olds watching - highlights just how much the IndyCar fanbase has shrunk because of the years of focus on one race only - the Indy 500 - and the disservice management has done to the rest of the races, its drivers, its sponsors, and its teams with races broadcast on a network very few watch.

The teams, the sponsors, and the drivers deserve so much more. The racing is great, the costs have been kept in check and the drivers are some of the best in the world.

But for Mark Miles and IndyCar -- if they are capable of learning anything from this -- it should teach them that a star athlete with a global following (because of F1's global TV reach) can ignite new flames of interest on a scale that surpasses anything IndyCar's full-time drivers offer. Drivers made invisible by a TV contract that a 5th grader could negotiate better.

If Miles and IndyCar don't put a bigger emphasis on structuring a solid global TV deal for IndyCar when the current contract ends in 2018, they would do everyone involved in the series that stake their livelihoods on it a favor by selling it to someone who can.

Bernie Ecclestone, are you up for a new challenge? Mark C. reporting for AR1.com

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