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Indycar: 2012 Schedule…Business Realities

After months of speculation, Indycar finally released the series schedule for 2012.  Currently, the schedule contains 15 events with the 16th event, the season finale, TBA and the possibility of a 17th event still present according to Indycar CEO Randy Bernard.   Despite the fact that Indycar hadn’t released an official schedule, all but one event had been confirmed beforehand as individual tracks had released their schedules.  The race at Texas Motor Speedway had been in question following the event in Las Vegas, but the series will return to Texas on June 9th for the typical 550K Saturday night race.

The main point of criticism of the current 15 race schedule is that only 4 races are on ovals.  In scanning the comments from Facebook users on the Indycar.com schedule release, the vast majority of fans are foaming at the mouth for more ovals.  If I had a dollar for every time the “oval(s)” is mentioned in the comments I would probably have enough money to give Paul Tracy the rest of the money he needs for a full-time ride next year.  However, where are all of these people on race day?

Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, Indycar is a business.   The series itself must function with a balanced budget just like any other company would.  Randy Bernard was tasked with making the series profitable because for years the series bled millions of dollars.  Sure, the schedule was full of ovals, but they were obviously not bringing in the money needed for the series to survive.  Indycar couldn’t, and can’t, continue to show up at places like Kentucky and Milwaukee for only 15,000 fans to show up.  The tracks lose money, the race promoters lose money, and the series loses money.  Continuing down that path would certainly lead to a quick death of the series.

Credit IZOD Indycar Media Site

Let’s take for instance the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix.  Although the promoter is currently having financial issues, the event was a huge success with sold-out stands, crowds of people atop downtown buildings, and a great buzz around it.  Many drivers, team owners, and series critics were calling the Baltimore event the “Long Beach of the East Coast”.  More importantly, the fan feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  However, contrast that with the return of the Milwaukee Mile.  The famed track had dismal attendance of only around 15,000 people.  Sure, the weather wasn’t ideal and the Fathers Day weekend date was surely not the best, but for a track with so much history it was a sad return and embarrassing flop of an event.  Even the series promoted finale in Las Vegas had disappointing attendance despite a huge promotional effort that included Indycar parade laps down The Strip, a party at Wet Republic, a celebrity poker tournament, and Fan Village located at the MGM Grand all weekend.  Indycar, sponsors, and drivers gave out massive amounts of free tickets and people still didn’t show up.

Despite the initial disappointment with the 2012 schedule, the lack of ovals may turn out for the best.  Currently the DW12 is quite the pig on ovals according to those that have tested it at Indianapolis, California, and Homestead, but the car is essentially good-to-go for road and street courses.   The series is also on the verge of breaking even and 2012 could be the year it happens.  Establishing a profitable and stable foundation to grow from will allow the series to “invest” in future races at ovals that may not be initially profitable.  Couple that with the rebranding of Versus as NBC Sports starting January 2nd, a year of development of the DW12, alternative aero kits in 2013, an as yet to-be-determined new Director in Race Control, and the now obvious emphasis on ovals and more thorough scheduling of events, 2012 could prove to the be the perfect bridge season leading into a closer to “perfect” season schedule in 2013.  Keep in mind tracks like Watkins Glen, Road America, and Phoenix have all expressed interest in working with the series to establish race dates for 2013.

Indycar fans have become jaded and fickle from years of disappointment, spec racing, poor decisions, “The Split”, low car counts, low attendance, and low TV ratings.  It is easy to get mired in the negatives and forget about the positives.  Indycar recently reported that attendance in 2011 was up 22% and TV ratings were up 28%.  There will be 2 new engine manufacturers, Chevy and Lotus, joining Honda in 2012.  As it stands, there could be 30 full-time teams on the grid next year and interest from sponsors, drivers, and teams is the highest it has been in many years despite the still sluggish economy.  Indycar has positive momentum and huge potential to grow in the coming years.  Don’t be a Debbie Downer!  Support the sport you love!  Show up to the nearest event if you can, or tune in on race day if you can’t.  Support your favorite driver and their sponsor by buying merchandise and the sponsors products whenever possible (it’s understandable if you don’t have diabetes and have no need for a Novo Nordisk Levemir Flexpen, or can’t speak Spanish and don’t watch Telemundo…just buy t-shirts instead).  I’m not going to let a schedule full of road and street courses next year get me down because it may turn out to be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Ross (@therossbynum)

The Official Indycar schedule can be found here.

Category: Indy Car - IRL