Made-for-TV Drama: IndyCar and the NBC Sports Network
The recent announcement that the NBC Sports Network won the rights to the second half of the NASCAR season from ESPN starting in 2015 has set IndyCar fans all aquiver with either angst or ecstasy about what it means to the future of the IZOD IndyCar Series. It certainly means something. The meaning of that something is open to debate/argument/conjecture/fabrication, and at least one of those is right in my wheelhouse. Since my ability as a seer is somewhat limited, I’ll just offer the possible yin and the yang of the deal as it relates to IndyCar.
On the dark side, the fear exists that the NASCAR deal will marginalize a series that is already marginalized. NBCSN is in the business of selling advertising to generate profit for its shareholders. That’s it. After committing BILLIONS of dollars to NASCAR, the network has effectively mortgaged its future with the France family holding the paper. You had better believe the bean counters and programmers will show NASCAR drivers sleeping in their motorhomes if the ratings are high enough.
Any way you look at it, NASCAR is the king of the new television home of racing. IndyCar, F1, and any other series will need to be quite flexible if they want a place at the broadcast table. If not, they can fight over the scraps thrown by the masters of the house. And the fact is F1, with its early broadcast times, is in the best position not to be threatened by NASCAR. Keeping in mind that 13 of the 20 NASCAR races in the portfolio will broadcast on NBCSN, it’s easy to see why IndyCar and its race promoters will need to be flexible on both broadcast times and dates.
The idea of an earlier start and end to the IndyCar schedule is certainly going to be a topic of discussion. If IndyCar can make NBCSN money, it will be promoted. If it can’t, it will be tucked away with Aussie rules football and the other filler programming until a suitable replacement can be found.
In Taoist philosophy, the yin must have a yang, and there is certainly light to be seen in this new TV deal. Since NBCSN has committed to auto racing, it would make sense that they develop all their racing properties. They own rights to IndyCar through 2018, so cross-promoting IndyCar and F1 to NASCAR fans makes sense. Race fans are race fans.
Getting viewers predisposed to like racing to tune in to another series is easier fruit to pick than creating new race fans. Making IndyCar a viewer destination makes sense from a bean counting and programming perspective, too. One of the problems with the all-your-eggs-in-one-basket NASCAR marketing strategy is that it limits your demographic. No matter the ratings, NASCAR is a particular, though lucrative, demographic. Fans of both IndyCar and F1 are likely a more diverse, educated, and wealthy slice of viewers. It would pay for NBCSN to cultivate and grow the viewers of these series since it would diversify its demographic portfolio for potential advertisers. If the fans of each of the series migrate to the other series, then everybody wins. Ratings will go up and everyone pockets more cash.
The fact is, everything about how the new NASCAR deal with NBC/NBCSN will affect the IZOD IndyCar Series is wild conjecture. And as always, wild conjecture is part and parcel of everything written here. Make no mistake, the deal WILL affect the series in profound ways. And in the true schizophrenic nature of the IndyCar fan, the sky will either be falling or raining baby Borg-Warner trophies. As they say on television, stay tuned.