Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thoughts On The New INDYCAR/ABC TV Deal

It’s been an exceedingly busy week for IndyCar news: Tomas Scheckter replaces Justin Wilson for New Hampshire, Pippa Mann and Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing signed additional sponsorship with National Tire and Battery, and yesterday, word surfaced of a new multi-year television deal with ABC.

So, what do we know? For starters, it’s through 2018, the same as the Versus deal. ABC will still broadcast the Indy 500 and four additional races. From what we hear, there was a nice bump in the price from ABC/ESPN as well.

Of course, you have to acknowledge the fact that although it’s nice to get paid and have a network partner, ABC and ESPN have a lot of work to do if they want coverage you’d consider “good”. There’s a reason there’s some fan discontent with this deal. Right now, there isn’t enough depth to their coverage. (What we wouldn’t give for a Paul Page or a Jack Arute on that team!) The ABC broadcast team also seems to lack the animation and passion of their VERSUS counterparts.

True, VERSUS broadcasts aren’t always the most polished of affairs, but by gum do they have the passion for IndyCar down. You get the feeling that whole broadcast team is really into what’s going on. It was also a brilliant idea to bring Dan Wheldon into the booth, as he gave us some of the best driver analysis we’ve seen in ages. They also give us a pre-race with plenty of explanation, interviews, and examination of more than just the same handful of drivers.

All too often, ABC races (and IndyCar races in general) get next to no coverage on ABC’s broadcast partner ESPN. The IICS has close races, fight, crashes, and controversies galore. It would be great to see them really play them up, use them, and push to drive ratings.

One way or the other, we’ll see what ABC/ESPN does when they no longer have Danica Patrick to discuss after she jumps ship for NASCAR next year. Hopefully, the discussion isn’t all about “where’s Danica?” and focuses on the on-track action and new car. I want the Worldwide Leader to be an active, promoting, enthusiastic partner.

Present the sport with enthusiasm. Give it some depth. Identify and follow more than a single storyline. Be cognizant of the battles through the field. Credit your audience members as intelligent, interested parties. ABC/ESPN has the potential to do all these things; they just need to actually start doing them. Fan want to like your coverage; listen to that feedback and make it happen.

I’m happy ABC and ESPN decided the IZOD IndyCar Series is a worthy investment. But you wouldn’t buy a house and then fail to make the improvements needed to make living their bearable. Let’s hope that ABC decides that IndyCar is worth investing in, by means of a passionate, talented broadcast team, quality analysis, and a concerted publicity effort. New cars are coming, just as a new wave of drivers cement their places in the series to compete with the veterans. It’d be great to see a new page turned in the coverage to support that.


  1. Zac forget about added enthusiasm, depth or storylines ABC has locked up IndyCar's main events for 1% of what they pay NASCAR each year. Bernard fell for a pitch which was less about IndyCars success and all about protecting ABCs investment in NASCAR.

    New cars may be coming but the team owners ability to pay for them just got exponentially more difficult. Three or four teams won't make a series!!

    Heads should roll for this atrocious tv deal and what its going to do to the IndyCar Series.

  2. Hi Phil,

    I haven't seen a price point yet for the deal (I doubt we will), but my understanding is it was an increase. How much, I don't know.

    One thing's for sure--if this deal's going to bear any fruit, the activation and coverage need a lot of work. Let's hope it happens.

    Thanks for the comment!