Monday, March 14, 2011

26 – The Number that Makes Qualifying Must See TV

So there was a triumvirate of angst inducing news out of IndyCar in the past couple weeks.  No more streaming practice or races, something called a Lucky Dog and then the capping of fields at 26.  All these got the faithful roused up and the number of blog postings up heading into the first test at Barber today.  I don’t feel like I know enough about the dollars and cents for the first to comment, though I feel for some of our friends in distant places who may go raceless now.  I have already commented on the second.  But as for the last one on the list, and the one that happened chronologically first, I didn’t really think much about until today.
Despite a howl from many that capping the fields at 26 is “bad for a league seeking sponsors” I really can’t share that opinion.  My first thought hearing the news was “There’s part two of the Milka go home strategy”.  I mean how can you claim to have the “Fastest Drivers in the World” if anyone who can buy a seat gets to play?  Jack Welch, the CEO who ran GE for many years was known for policies such as whacking the bottom 10% of the sales force even in good years.  It keeps everyone hungry and on their toes.  If you recall the comments Randy Bernard had concerning races and promoters from a year ago, it is clear he buys into that philosophy.  So why should it be different for drivers?  If you want to make sure that Paul Tracy gets a ride over Francesco Dracone, this is a means to that end.
But I didn’t feel compelled to comment about this until today when I realized just how brilliant, above the philosophical considerations, of an idea it really is.  I had the epiphany during my 90 minute wait at the doctor’s office today while following twitter.  Will @isitmayyet pondered the question of how will they decide who is bounced for road courses.  Since times are dependent on session, someone who runs in a damp session would be at a disadvantage to someone posting a time before the drops started to fall.  Simultaneously will and I pondered “What if in addition to the fast six, there was a slow six as well?” It struck me at how dramatic the event could be to see guys busting out hot ones just to MAKE the field for the race.
For a road course after the initial two sessions, the top six from each of two sessions advance into a round of twelve from which six emerge to run for the poll.  Until now those left behind from the initial sessions were slotted by time and went home for the day.  BUT what if all those cars were grouped into a large group, ran again with the top six qualifying in slots 13 – 18.  Then whomever was left went out one last time to fill the remaining 8 slots?  Suppose there were 10 drivers…as time ticks away on the clock for that final session …Pretty compelling TV, no??
That’s the point here.  Make qualifying in and of itself a must see event for the fans.  Those who argue that sending people home means sending sponsors home might think about it this way.  For cars 27 and 28, really at a road course, just how much exposure were those cars and their sponsors going to get in the race?  Short of putting the car into the wall with cameras focusing on the carnage, not much.  But with additional sessions to place and qualify the remainder of the field, and particularly for the 3 – 4 cars at the bottom, air time for the sponsor increases exponentially. 
SO I suppose the question becomes from the sponsor’s perspective, is no exposure on a relatively more watched broadcast better than a large dose of exposure on a less watched broadcast?  And who’s to say that the change which would create REAL UNMANUFACTURED  DRAMA doesn’t actually take ratings for qualifying shows to new levels?
So that would be how it works on road courses but what about ovals?  Right now it can’t get much more boring than each car going out, giving BB two good ones and then everyone going back to the busses to order pizza and play spin the bottle with Milka. 
Well one of the most compelling days in the month of May is Bump day, when the final field of 33 is set and the rest go home.  I don’t see anyone whining about how the field being limited to 33 is detrimental to the sport (somewhere off in the distance Meesbeer tingles with angst).  What if there were bumping for the regular ovals as well?  Here’s how it might work.  Every car gets up to three qualifying attempts, but they can only be used if the car is NOT currently in the field.  You rule out the silliness of pulling a qualified car from the field, so if you are #10, you stay #10.  But if #26 becomes #27, he can go back out to reclaim his spot in the field.  If that car gets back in then the new #27, can do the same…until everyone on the outside looking in has burned up their three attempts and then the field is set.
You wind up giving everyone a little taste for the bump day drama at indy.  Each time one of these slower cars goes back out to try to get back into the show…More airtime for the sponsor.
IMO, this GREATLY improves the product for the qualification broadcasts and has the potential to increase Saturday crowds at the venues.  It has a formula for growth built into the TV event.  If on one Sunday, someone tunes in and their favorite driver is not in the show, you bet the next Saturday that fan is tuning into quals to hopefully see that it does not happen again.  A race weekend should now have three pretty good made for TV gigs for the league to promote and for fans to watch:  IndyCar Quals, IndyLights race and the IndyCar race itself.  And the more fans watching any of these events will draw more sponsors to the sport.

1 comment:

  1. I think qualifying this year is going to great fun. Yes, luck pays a part of it, but what is it about fortune favoring the brave (just don't ask PT or Howard about it).


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