Blaming Indy Car’s television package for lackluster ratings is like blaming an engine for running out of gas. Indy Car’s malaise in television ratings is squarely centered on its disappointing ability to attract new fans and even retain the older ones. The series lost a multitude of fans during the split and many apparently haven’t come back. There are other reasons too, including a particularly worrisome issue of young people not really being car fanatics. Add in spec cars, changing schedules, multitude of motorsport viewing options and the recipe for poor ratings is abundant. The various (and disturbingly growing) viewer groups don’t watch on television because fundamentally they don’t care to. It’s really that simple.
Yes, I agree, if Indy Car were to be broadcast on a commercial television network, the number of viewers would increase, but marginally so. It would still suffer from lackluster rating numbers compared to “other” programming. Broadcasting the signal on a larger network of viewers will not be sufficient to cure what is wrong with Indy Car. For Indy Car to succeed, they must focus their energies on attracting more fans. More fans will translate to more viewers. As I have said many times, events beget fans, television reinforces them. If you are a fan of Indy Car, you’ll watch on television. If not, you are far less likely to. Indy Car has indeed initiated efforts to regain lost ground, but must develop even more modern, exciting and interactive revamps of the race fan experience at events to find pathways to new, renewed and enthusiastic fans.
And one final element: Racing is renowned for its ability to translate sponsorship support into sponsor sales. That happens when race fans choose to support a racing sponsor’s involvement with their favorite past time. It’s how NASCAR has been so incredibly successful. The fans buy sponsor products! Casual fans that happen to watch a race on television are far less likely to make that same connection. And that connection is what makes all the engines sing in motorsports. To rely on “casual” and passively obtained “tv” fans is relying on weakened and likely diluted fan response. Sponsors must clearly identify a positive response from race fans that translates into more sales. Sponsors are always interested in reaching greater numbers of consumers. But the real test is how many of those consumers will respond to the commercial message. That is why a sponsor must activate a sponsorship campaign rather than relying predominately on the “exposure” generated by a racing sponsorship. Television coverage alone is insufficient to generate the kind of response needed for today’s marketing objectives. For the campaign to succeed, the final determining factor is always the bottom line.
Ratings are to television what fans are to motorsports. Get more fans and more viewers will follow, no matter where it’s broadcast. I believe that Indy Car is getting the message. I see new initiatives that are good attempts to make progress. When and if the rating numbers increase sufficiently to justify commercial network broadcasts, I predict you’ll see the networks clamoring to get a piece of the action. NBC Sports Channel is not the noose around Indy Car’s neck as it has been described. Rather, it is upon Indy Car to make the changes needed that can loosen the knot. Their efforts to make gains should be applauded and amplified. Because NBC Sports is merely the reflection of where the sport is today, not the reason it got there.