Wednesday, March 28, 2012

St. Pete TV Coverage And Crazy Expectations

By now you have been hearing several discussions and/or complaints about how the TV coverage made St. Pete look "boring" despite accounts from people who were there that said it was much better than the TV product made it out to be. Others have said that, TV or not, the race just plain sucked.

When it comes to the actual broadcast, all I'm going to say is, they could have done better.

Outside of the ABC snoozefest, as I was thinking of a response to this quandary, it brought me back to a high school football game I was covering back in the fall. I was in Plano, a small town in my area which like many small towns is in love with its football team. Back-to-back state titles a few years ago helped.

Anyway, I was standing next to an assistant when the team took the field to AC/DC playing over the loudspeaker, teenagers dressed for battle in their purple and black uniforms running through smoke created by fire extinguishers, with all of that topped off with fireworks. As this spectacle was going on the coach leaned towards me and said:

"Remember when we just lined up and played the game?"

When I think about the reaction to St. Pete, that comment popped back into my head. For many, Sunday's race just didn't live up to expectations. For me it did, I thought it was a good, clean race with some decent passing and strategies -- some which worked and some didn't -- and eventually the best car and driver combination on that day won.

Problem is, that just isn't good enough for people any more. Expectations have changed. If you go back a generation (no, I'm not going to yearn for the CART good old days, it's just an example) this would have been a pretty darn good race. Seven different leaders, nine lead changes and 13 cars on the lead lap at the finish. Six different teams (seven if you count Charlie Kimball as separate from Target Chip Ganassi) in the top 10 representing a 6-4 split between Chevy and Honda engines, respectively.

Not to mention a lap chart  that showed some really decent battles. On paper it was a pretty good event.

Still, people weren't impressed, because it isn't just about the race anymore, it is the show that goes along with it. We need three-wide racing, a festival of carbon fiber, and maybe even a fight or confrontation (although I thought Ryan Hunter-Reay's strategist giving him the business to conserve fuel was pretty cool). We need flyovers and fireworks and cross-promotion and drama.

What people think they "need" is a NASCAR-inspired race. We have this idea that every race, every single weekend, has to nail us to the wall and at the end make us feel as exhausted as the drivers. And when it doesn't, because it always can't, we are left disappointed.

Now, I'm not dogging on NASCAR, far from it. As I have mentioned before, while I wouldn't consider myself a "fan" I have some favorite drivers and appreciate the sport. Although I will say this: take Martinsville off the schedule! What fun is 42 cars on a 1/2-mile track going 80 mph and creating 15 cautions in a 250-mile race? Really! And they go there twice a year?

Seriously, that's boring. Maybe it is the "roots" of the sport, but the drivers in the country's top stock car series should be past that.

But you know what? That is what the "fans" want. Follow Twitter or the message boards Sunday, and they will show you the way. The wrecks and bleeped-out cuss words and crunching sheet metal will be like a Sunday afternoon religious experience. Because fans of Driver A just know that he can whip Driver B's ass, despite the fact neither has been in a real, actual fight since grade school. And whatever happened here will be settled somewhere down the road when A puts B in the fence.

Please. I like the scoreboard approach...just beat the guy. You can talk the game, but can you play the game?

It isn't just about the race, it is the drama and the show and the theater. Nothing wrong with that, and I don't mind taking part in it sometimes, but in the end it just isn't for me in large doses. LAGSYE (Ladies and gentlemen start your engines) and let's go.

I'm in the minority, though, because we don't do anything small any more. Everything has a huge pre-game lead-in, and every sporting event now has festivities that before were reserved for special games, like the Super Bowl or World Series.

It's how NASCAR got so big, and how the NFL did as well. Problem is, now we expect everything to be that way. And according to that "new" paradigm, St. Pete was a run-of-the-mill race. Hell, people even complained about the Cup race at California, which I actually enjoyed watching because of Tony Stewart's brilliant driving, the strategies involved in trying to predict when the rain would come, and especially the long, green racing that made those strategies so important.

I will say this, I hate yellows, and I especially hate crashes. The first crash I ever witnessed was Randy Lewis sticking a car into the first turn wall at Indy on Pole Day in 1983 (or '84) and because I was a middle schooler at the time, I thought it was cool as hell. Now I just think they are a waste of time and money. A perfect day for me would be a race going green for the entire scheduled distance. Love that stuff.

Then again, I'm not a member of the demographic they are looking to get. I'm not between the ages of 18-35 and despite having ADD (as if you hadn't figured that out by my writing style) I still have a longer attention span than those in said demographic.

It's crazy how we worry about a race like St. Pete "turning off" casual fans. That would be like me watching the Cubs get one hit and get beat 10-0 and thinking "that sucks, I'm not going to watch that any more". (Yeah, that will probably happen a couple of times this year. Ugh, it will be a long summer)

As far as that goes, I will say this. If you are worried about the impressions of the casual fan, a nice early-season oval race, such as Phoenix, would fit nicely here.

In the end, I think this is a big battle that IndyCar will always struggle with. The expectation of what entertains us is so high, and for the most part I wonder if people will ever be satisfied, because I don't think on a weekly basis IndyCar can put on a show like that, unless they raced at places like Indy, Michigan and Chicagoland every weekend.

One thing I posted on Twitter the other day rings true: A race is an athletic competition, and not a reality show. Some races are great, others so-so, but that's sports anyway.

Unfortunately, NASCAR has given us a reality show, and that's what we expect. As Helio stretched out his lead the other day, someone tweeted that we should have a yellow to set up a more exciting finish.

To me it doesn't work that way. Once the green flag drops, what happens, happens. But many fans won't hear of that. If the lead gets too big, throw a yellow. If a guy falls a lap down, give him a chance to get that back -- and in giving him that back throw in a plug for a sponsor. And if the yellow is out at the end of the scheduled distance, give us a do-over or a mulligan to make it "exciting", thereby manipulating the outcome of what is supposed to be a sports competition.

Again, not bashing here, just stating facts. Lots of people complain about IndyCar being "boring" at times, but will die with a gun in their cold, lifeless hand before taking on any of NASCAR's "gimmicks". Well folks, it's the gimmicks that get the eyeballs.

Because if you take out the gimmicks, the fanfare and the screaming, most weeks on the NASCAR circuit you have an average, run-of-the-mill race, like California was, as was Bristol and Las Vegas. And if you take out the Towering Inferno, Daytona was too.

So in the end, what do we want? Do we want IndyCar racing, or NASCAR version 2.0? Because if you want thrills a minute every weekend, that is what it is gonna take.

1 comment:

  1. Well said... I could not agree more. To the critics of IndyCar who were cart fans that are still mad that IndyCars are not old champ cars. The new cars are built with safety and relevance not just an old design idea. If the fans hate it so bad then go watch wrestling/nascrap.