One of the greatest advancements in televised sports in recent years is cable broadcasters falling in love with European sports. All year, a fan of live sports can crawl out of bed, pour a cup of coffee, and without putting on pants, watch F1 racing, Wimbledon tennis, British Open golf, Tour de France cycling, and English Premiere League soccer. Truly, my sports cup runneth over.
The Premiere League is particularly interesting since competition is vital at both the top and bottom of the standings, or table, as they say on the broadcasts. Suddenly, there it was. The Premiere League soccer season is almost identical to the new Indianapolis 500 qualifying format. Let me explain.
To rebuild the waning interest in the month of May at Indy, the Speedway in recent years changed from a two weekend window for qualifying to a one weekend format. Great choice. The only problem was the car count was so small that the idea of Bump Day and its inherent drama of dreams granted or crushed was really not worth following on national television. Audiences need action and drama, and hopefully, the new format supplies both.
In the Premiere League, there is no tourney. Teams play all year to determine a pecking order for entry into other tourneys such as the Champions League and the Europa League. At the bottom of the table, the three worst teams in the league are relegated, or bumped, into a a lower league while the champions of lower leagues are moved up. It is just like the new format for the Indy 500. Once you become acquainted with its esoteric nature (and qualifying at Indy has always been esoteric) you discover why it will work so well.
All day on the Saturday of qualification, the drivers will try to put themselves into the Fast Nine Shootout. Just like the top teams in the Premiere League, you guarantee yourself a spot in those three rows. And just like soccer teams playing games all season to put themselves into the Champions League tourney the next year, the drivers have multiple attempts to qualify to put themselves in those top nine spots. In other words, the teams have great reasons to attempt multiple qualifying runs. Good for fans in attendance and on TV.
One of the reasons the bottom of the Premiere League table is compelling is because teams are guaranteed a huge payday if they stay in the league. The final games played by those teams determine if they stay in the league. The pressure is huge. Likewise, the bottom three of the Saturday qualifiers at Indy are not assured a spot in the show. They have to come back on Sunday and go through possible bumping. With 34 cars this year, that ramps up the pressure.
For the teams in the middle, the real urgency is Saturday, as they try to stay away from the bottom three or get into the top nine. After that, the pressure on Sunday is not to make a mistake and take a position in row four or five and parlay it into a position in row nine or ten. It is much easier to pass cars in qualifying at Indy instead of passing them in the race. Again, Sunday is also a compelling day. Add to all of this the ability to make multiple attempts without withdrawing your time, and you have the recipe for some sweet qualifying activity.
Still confused? Check out this infographic courtesy of IMS that explains the whole process. My only disappointment is that I can no longer compare the old Snake Pit denizens to the crazy fans in the Premiere League. I miss those Indy hooligans.