With the wide-circulating rumors of a NASCAR sale, the shock displayed by many shouldn’t be a huge surprise if one were to examine the realities of the current climate of the sport.
There’s plenty of articles and reports, including on this site, of the challenges that NASCAR has faced in recent years. Declining television ratings, an unwillingness by title sponsors to pay the requested rate, and so on.
Here’s the challenge. The organization is built to run as it does now. All evidence would point to the idea that the market is changing drastically… and NASCAR is not keeping up. The evidence is in the constantly growing list of changes to the sport, all in the name of bringing in new fans, yet the numbers continue to dwindle. Stage racing, new car templates, continually revised “Playoff” format, etc. It’s becoming a proverbial “kitchen sink” scenario, and it doesn’t seem to have much effect.
In 2019, a 33-year broadcasting history between ABC and the Indianapolis 500 will come to an end, which will signal a new era for IndyCar racing in what is widely considered a modern resurgence for the series.
While the draw between ABC vs. the NBC network for the famed month of May is pretty much equal, they shared an equivalent household reach, the real story lies in the alignment between NBC’s cable network, NBCSN, for the balance of the year.
Ever since the Versus network was re-branded NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) as part of a Comcast purchase in to NBC Universal in 2012, IndyCar has held a unique balance over the course of their season, with NBCSN covering the majority of the races, however ABC and its affiliated ESPN would cover select high profile events, most notably the Indianapolis 500.
When Formula 1 announced the move away from FOX Sports, which had taken over from long-time rights-holder SPEED, in 2013 in favor of NBC Sports, a great amount of skepticism was met by fans and media alike. Over the next five years, however, the burgeoning sports network won their fanbase over, thanks in large part to an extremely knowledgable, enthusiastic, and entertaining series of hosts, behind-the-scenes production staff, and compounded with NBC Sports’ willingness to create additional content. This included ample pre-race and post-race programming, extensive promotion, and generally a commitment to making the most of the F1 opportunity.
The result? The audience grew. From 187,000 in 2013, to 440,000 by the end of 2017.
The actual result? Losing the contract to ESPN for 2018 and beyond, a move that was confusing to many fans, but the speculative business reasons behind it are the most curious.
When Liberty Media acquired Formula One from 2017 and beyond, the directive was clear… modernize the sport. To their credit, we’ve seen a number of improvements. Extensive YouTube content, more interactive elements, and a general relaxing of some of the “no access” dogma the sport has become accustomed to.
Where it hits a head is when it comes to broadcasting. While Netflix and Hulu have undeniably blown up the reality of streaming content as a viable means of living room entertainment, to this point there has been one hold out: live sports.
We’ll answer this question at the beginning. We don’t know. But it’s going to be a big question of 2018 and 2019.
Open wheel racing, whether internationally in Formula One, or domestic with IndyCar, is facing an uphill battle in the fight for relevancy. With a youth culture continually moving away from a love of high powered automobiles, and major automotive manufacturers moving marketing and development resources toward movements like autonomous driving and eco-friendly, it’s an interesting period in automotive history.
If you want to keep funding in motorsport, go where the manufacturers want to be. It’s simple logic.
The challenge is, that movement is in many ways counter-intuitive to what motorsport fans enjoy.
Danger, on the limit, a driver risking-it-all is what the audience traditionally craves. The problem is, that’s a dwindling audience.
Enter “roborace,” and the evolution of “devbot.” A prototype car, built like a traditional race car, but driven by AI system. So far, the tech is far from perfect. It’s slow, it crashes, etc.
But it’s also the fastest way to develop the technology.
Watch this here:
Is it sexy? No. Is it death defying? It’s the opposite. But it’s also what a growing audience is interested in, and automotive manufacturers crave.
Time will tell.
Within the racing world, another article written about two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso racing at the Indianapolis 500 is a little overdone.
At present, it is easily biggest story of the year within the sport. A decision by the McLaren-Honda F1 team to withdraw its star driver from the series’ crown-jewel Monaco Grand Prix in favor of another open wheel series is something definitely to take note of.
Within IndyCar racing, not a day of practice went by without continuous updates from the media on the Spaniard’s progress. During the race itself, his driving merited the headlines, leading much of the race until his engine expired just 20 laps from the end.