Thursday, October 30, 2014

Annnndddd...We Have A Schedule!

Like many, I have been waiting on pins and needles waiting for the release of the 2015 IndyCar schedule. My days and nights have been filled with anxiety as I've dreaded over how Mark Miles and Company was going to screw things up.


Not really. My life has gone on since the season finale over Labor Day weekend, and I'm actually having a lot of fun. Marriage is great, my son Matt is having a great freshman XC season at Benedictine University and my other son Kevin has recovered nicely from his surgery in August.

So while I was patiently waiting for a schedule, there was absolutely no angst. Why? Because how the schedule is laid out, and where the races are held, has no bearing on my life. I didn't expect Miles to contact me and ask me about the schedule (seriously, I think some people believe they should be in on this kind of stuff), because in the end -- it is what it is. I'm going to go to 2-3 of them and do what I always do, watch the others on TV and blog about them.

I get the uncertainty from the people whose livelihoods depend on the series, but for me, it's just another reason to get excited about 2015.

So anyway, I'm glad the schedule is out and overall I'm pretty happy with it. I'll get to my one issue later, but for now, I think they did a nice job of working around some issues next year and getting everyone slotted into some good places, like moving Fontana to June and putting Milwaukee and Iowa on back-to-back weekends, because with short tracks two weekends in a row means we might see a couple of guys play the feud!

I like the balance between roads/streets and ovals, and am very happy to see a race back in Brazil. Besides sending us some of the best drivers the series has ever seen, Brazil has a great fan base and has sponsors that have been great partners with IndyCar.

I'm also happy to see that the month of May is full up with action. While four races -- especially the pressure cooker of the two weeks at Indy -- will be tough on the teams, it's going to be great for the fans. With double points for everything at Indy, what happens in May will go a long way to determining the season points title.

What I also like is the fact that outside of the three week break between Brazil and St. Pete is that the series never goes more than two weeks without a race. It's good for the fans because we always have something to look forward to, and I believe that one of the advantages NASCAR has is that there is always a race the next week...meaning storylines and trends carry over from one week to the next. 

So here are my issues (and they are small). Number one, there are only 17 races, which is disappointing because I'd like the feeling that the series is expanding its race base as opposed to going the other direction. I hope -- hope -- that many of the discussions that are going on now with some of our favorite tracks will come to fruition in the next couple of years.

Like many, I want to see the series back at places like Michigan, Phoenix, Road America and Chicagoland (especially Chicagoland, because despite living here I never have seen an IndyCar race there), but I also understand the business side of it. IndyCar doesn't make a lot of tracks money, and when you look at the bank that the tracks listed above get from NASCAR thanks to their television contracts, I understand the feeling that there is little or no benefit to having an IndyCar race at those venues.

While I was not super happy with Brandon Igdalsky's attitude over the summer, I'm glad that Pocono decided to stick with it for one more year. Hopefully the date change will be helpful for them.

My other issue is ending the season at Sonoma. I don't hang on to a lot of old school open wheel traditions, meaning I don't worship at the Church of Robin Miller, but I do believe that the series should be decided at an oval track. There are just more variables on an oval that make it more exciting. Sonoma was exciting this year because of the chaos of some wrecks and different fuel strategies, but that won't happen every year, just like Milwaukee won't always stay green for 240-plus laps.

Finally, I'm going to address the Labor Day thing. You know, Miles' idea of always wrapping up the season by Labor Day so as not to take on the NFL and the Chase. Like many people I'd like to see the series race into October, or even November, but it's just not right for the series at this time. He's right, taking on the NFL would be stupid. Robin Miller likes to trump how CART stood up well against the league back in the day, but the NFL is a worldwide behemoth right now. We just finished up one of the best and most competitive World Series in years, and guess what? The NFL stomped them.

NASCAR is losing 300-500K viewers each week, which I know is partly due to the fact the Chase is terrible and confusing, so why do we think IndyCar would buck that trend? Sure, I see lots of sentiment on Twitter that lots of us would watch come hell or high water, but our little community represents, what, a couple of thousand people? It's great to be able to count on your die hards, but the ratings and money and advertising comes from attracting a broad audience to your broadcast. IndyCar wouldn't do that up against the NFL. Sorry.

Because here is the thing, I think for the most part the Boston Consulting Group is a bunch of clowns who know nothing about racing. But at the same time, they were correct in their Labor Day assessment. You have to remember, that suggestion was made with some pretty good statistical analysis to back it up. And if you don't believe the BCG, then believe the website, who in a post a year ago proved the same theory, that races that go against the NFL take the biggest rating hit compared to other factors, including head-to-head with NASCAR.

The series is moving forward, and that has to be in continuous, incremental steps. Making a rash decision now would be the worse thing they could do. Ratings are up, attendance is (mostly) up and the series made money. So let me ask you this...if you were the boss of a business that was on an upward track, would you take huge risks or keep doing what you are doing? Just a thought.

Anyway, I can't wait until March 8. It seems a long way off, but it will be here before we know it!