Economics, IndyCar Racing and Life

No matter what way you slice it, professional sports across the globe are inextricably linked with accountants and spreadsheets. At a professional level, the only thing that matters is what the books look like at the close of the fiscal year. No money equals no sport, period. These business decisions are sometimes at odds with the fanbase and may actually interfere with the perceived “well-being” of the entity. Unfortunately, the survival of the business often trumps lip service for the fans. Indycar certainly is not the exception and may be the prime example of these ideas.

Of course, it is always doom and gloom when it comes to indycar racing. The legions Of The Miserable as well as the ultra-positives both lack a publicly discernible perspective in reality. Both sides have their own merits, but they often do not have the meat to back their cases up and lack the answer to the question of “who is going to pay for it?”. They usually revert to “you’re not a real fan if…” when boxed into a corner of logical discussion. So in my always professional and uber-informed opinion, here is some perspective.

The worst aspect of this debate is the continued and relentless empty negativity regarding American open wheel racing. Simply put: this is the loudest voice in the indycar social media world. Am I saying that rainbows and kittens must fly out of your rear at every turn of the season? Of course not, I will be one of the first people to point out the deficiencies of the series and not be coy about it. My concern is the criticism is not constructive. Complaining without a viable answer to the problem being discussed is just whining. Nothing may come of it, but at least the discussion has worth instead of just an exercise in speaking.

We can all come up with an endless list of less than desirable things about the series, but can you create a viable solution to any of these problems? Want more ovals? How do we do that without the answer being “just throw more money at it”? Want a different TV package? Give me solutions based in some sort of actual reality. We (the IRL, ChampCar and INDYCAR) have worn our welcome out at many destination channels and realistically, there are no networks beating down the door to pay more than ABC and NBCSN already do to air our series.

And that is the core of the situation. Money. It always is. Why did INDYCAR re-sign with ABC? Because the series knew they were going to get more money from them during the “exclusive negotiation window” than if they would have opened the TV rights to the highest bidder. A similar story can be found at NBCSN; they were the highest, and possibly only, bidder for a dying series and made a ten year commitment to it.

If anything we should be thanking NBCSN for taking a chance on us and producing some of the best telecasts we have seen in years. Without them, where would we have landed? Most likely somewhere even less desirable for way less money, or somewhere more desirable for no money or for pay to play. Remember: the battle between ChampCar and the IRL was not won, ChampCar just ran out of money first. And after unification, the Hulman-George family severely cut the free funding to the series that for years had propped up marginal teams and failing events. The IRL and now INDYCAR has had to forge its own way without the massive cash infusions seen in years past.

2012 marks the largest field in American open wheel racing since 1997 and 2001 in the CART series; I went back into the early eighties and could not find another comparable field. 25 full time seats with one of them split between two drivers; there wasn’t even this many during reunification in 2008. And we still had at least two team owners wanting to run the 2012 campaign full time yet could not clinch and engine contract. This was even entering a 16 race schedule; the smallest we have seen since 2006 in the IRL and 2007 in the ChampCar World Series. From a car count perspective, the series looks healthier than it has ever been.

We also have the first totally freshly designed chassis since the inception of the IRL and the introduction of the DP-01 into ChampCar in 2007. This is big news, but all we have done is complain about the looks and speed. Would you rather still have the IR03/05/07 or whatever you want to call it? In a perfect dream world we would have used the DP-01 as the 2008 contender; it even had an oval mockup. Said mockup included the loathsome airbox as well; purists and haters heads alike would have exploded the world over, and yet we would still be in this same situation; complaining. Not to mention, the Cosworth engines were taken and locked away Mr. Forsythe so the usage of the then-current Honda lump was compulsory yet incompatible without massive design changes. Who pays for that?

Scheduling idiosyncrasies usually follow any debate about the current incarnation of indycar. How in the world could indycar of 2009/10 vintage put together a superior and more complete schedule than for 2012; the supposed strongest year since the split? Once the IRL free cash crutch was removed, these events were forced to live or die on their own merit. Most suffered a swift, but painful death. Now the series has been compelled to actually find a business model that works in all situations for the first time since its inception. Good will, cheer and history is not enough for an even to stand on; just ask Michael Andretti about his struggles with the revival of Milwaukee. We cannot wish our way into the door.

C’est la vie, it is what it is. Frustrating? Yes, but first as humans and second as indycar fans, we have made a life out of frustration. It’s finding the good in the negative and striving for strong, yet smart next steps continually. Of course it’s not going to be like it once was because nothing is. Even something as simple as Saturday morning cartoons have been spoiled once they entered the modern era of entertainment. It’s frustrating because we want life, Saturday morning cartoons or indycar to transport us to a less complicated time; that’s why we do these things. Unfortunately, that’s not what these are about anymore. Entertainment and the dollar are all that matters in this day and age.

Find a reason to enjoy the things you love. Continue to discuss logical ways to cure deficiencies in the series. If it is not fulfilling you like it once was take a break, no one will blame you but you will be missed dearly. In the words of someone who was sane enough to bow out when the time invested didn’t return accordingly: “Please try to remember this…it’s a sport…an escape. If you aren’t having fun, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!”

Eric Hall

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5 Responses to Economics, IndyCar Racing and Life

  1. JPIndyCar says:

    Not only will things “not be the way they used to be”, but in reality “the way it used to be” never was what we think it is. Memory remembers the extremes. The extreme good, the extreme bad (which fortunately there never really is that much of). The mediocre to generally annoying parts in between wash away as the years pass. in 10 years, 2011 for me will be remembered as the year JR came so close (with all the emotions I felt the last two laps) and then sitting in the hot Vegas sun waiting for the bad news to come. The cluster from Toronto forgotten, follow the leader at Mid Ohio in decrepet “Crap Wagons” never meant for road courses will be forgotton unless thought about deeply or researched.

    I thought 2008 would be the year Indycar was reborn, but in reality, if you look at the on track product, 2012 might finally be that year. It is still a glimmer of hope coming forth from a 20 year era of stupidity, but the racing in 2012 has been good, the events have strengthened. String together another 4 – 5 years of this and the TV # will eventually follow.

    Right now, 2012 for me will be remembered as the Year I Picked RHR to emerge as champion. And was right about it BITCHES!!! :-)

    Sorry, I needed to go off character for the sake of a chuckle..

  2. Awesome post, Eric! And to think I heard about it first on TF:) I’ve been going to IndyCar races for 25 years now and this is year is the best I’ve seen since CART 1994. And, it’s only going to get better.

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