By most independent, albeit subjective, accounts, the IZOD IndyCar Series is currently producing some of, if not, THE best racing on the planet. Stray clunkers, ala Texas, will still happen (sadly, it was on network TV), but the current DW-12 chassis even managed to make Belle Isle interesting. And if the biggest complaint about Indianapolis was too much passing, well, the on-track product must be good.
Alas, no one seems to care. The ratings and attendance are both struggling, and diehards are still wondering what should be done about it. This assumes that something can be done.
On the other hand, what if nothing can be done? “Defeatist,” you say? No, it just seems realistic.
On a broader level, motorsports in America seems to be in the midst of a minor retreat. NASCAR Sprint Cup ratings are flat or slightly dropping, attendance is not what it was (though still solid) and tracks are rushing to reduce capacity. Of course, NASCAR is still in good shape even with this readjustment. IndyCar can’t afford too much more drop off.
Still, it suggests that, after squandering public good will 20 years ago, the sport’s prospects for short-term growth may largely be out of its hands.
Yes, the schedule could (should) be improved, innovation ought to be allowed to creep back in and the television contract must be improved. That’s all well and good, but if the compelling racing won’t immediately draw people in, everything else is merely working on the edges. Above all else, gimmicks should be avoided like the plague. Some would argue that the sport had a gimmick from 2005-11, and the long-term viability was not changed one iota.
At any rate, it doesn’t really matter. As long as those running the sport feel that it remains viable or refuse to let it die, then isn’t the fact that IndyCar has rarely been this competitive the thing that really counts? While many still refuse to hear this, the near-certain fact is that the popularity of the early 90’s is simply unreachable. Trying to achieve the impossible overlooks more realistic goals and real challenges facing the sport.
Cost reduction/keeping costs consistent and reasonable should be Derrick Walker’s priority. The point isn’t to boost popularity (though slashing costs could bring in a few more American drivers) but to maintain or increase participation. Sponsors are hard to come by in this sport, so keeping costs in check could keep more teams on the track. Those of us who do appreciate this sport should be very happy with continued solid race grids.
In the long run, perhaps drivers like James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and even Marco Andretti will, slowly, bring more eyeballs to the sport. More creative and aggressive marketing would certainly help in this regard. But the truth is that it will take a good deal of luck to make it work. Mark Miles seems like a solid CEO with some interesting ideas, but trying to “force it” won’t do much good. For a variety of reasons, the public has tuned out IndyCar. Perhaps, on their own timetable, they will come to realize what they’ve been missing