Friday, December 7, 2012

Playoffs? You're Talking about Playoffs???

SO earlier today, Mark Miles decided it would be a good idea to float the tired, previously debated and much maligned Idea of a nascar style “Chase for the Cup” to throne the IndyCar champion.  Yep.  That met with approval all around, pitchforks were rounded up out of sheds everywhere and the pointy parts were sharpened up for use. 
Now before I just assume someone, like Miles in this instance, is a complete imbecile, I usually try to cover my bases.  Make sure he wasn’t misquoted, make sure I didn’t misunderstand something, you know, get the facts straight on the message. After whining of Twitter first of course. 
We all assume, that a “playoff format” necessarily means importing the Chase format as is from nascar.  But what if that is not what’s being thought about here…What if it was some other concept that brought attention to the league in different ways than the Chase does nascar?  IMO, the chase for nascar has been at best a wash for nascar’s fortunes, and any effect it has after Daytona is run only serves to focus attention on the back third of the season where it is promptly slaughtered by football.
Jenna Fryer tweeted:  “Dear Mark Miles: Go get some more TV programming. Beef up the schedule. Promote the drivers and the racing. Don't worry about the format” 
But here’s my question…
What if you could devise a “playoff” format that did all of that endogenously?

One problem people have with IndyCar right now is that it is the Indy 500 plus other stuff series.  There’s no focus nationally or even within the TV package on any other race being more than the current edition of “other stuff”.  There are no other crescendos to the season.  Unlike nascar that is Long and monotonous, the IndyCar season is short and monotonous.
The I’ve pondered this question for a while now, is how do you increase interest in at least a handful of other events on the schedule so that not only do they grow but other events in proximity to them grow as well.  One of my first pondering is here: Skip to the paragraph that starts “We all understand the importance of the 500,but there should be other races of “elevated” importance on the schedule…”.
One of the things I talked about in that post (as other people have as well) was the need for discipline awards for Ovals and Twisties.  They currently exist.  But here’s the problem…they are given out at the end of the season and are overshadowed by the championship race.  They are afterthoughts.  Perhaps IndyCar should defy the convention that all the hardware gets handed out at the end.  There are four significant pieces of hardware to hand out each year, spread them out and make a big fuss about each award, elevating the awarding event and the awarding broadcast.
SO what if a season was structured like this…
  • First six to eight aces of the year:  All twisty, either road course or temporary street circuits.  This entire stretch on NBCSN.  Finish this stretch of the season at Long Beach, perhaps as a double header, perhaps with the first race under lights, in prime time, on Friday night.  Then after Sunday’s race (highlight feeder series on Saturday, on TV), hand out the Mario Andretti Trophy, have a party, get drunk, get jiggy with a B level sex pot actress. But first…take detailed notes on who finished in positions 1 – 5 in the points standings. 
  • NBCSN can build a weekend of programming around the event.  It moves Long Beach back to a place of prestige where it belongs.  I don’t really care what Eddie Gossage thinks here, but Long Beach is this series’ second biggest event, it is time to treat it like it is.  It has been relegated to the realm of “other anonymous event” status since reunification and that is killing interest in IndyCar in the second largest TV market in the country.
  • Next up.  May.  Enough said – ABC hands out the Borg Warner and the second part of the season is under way.
  • The second part of the season is all Oval, all ABC and on Saturday night Primetime TV under the lights as much as you can make it.  Indy, Texas, Mke, Iowa, (Memphis/Chicago/Gateway/the new Canadian Speedway) and then BAM hand out the AJ Foyt Trophy at Pocono.  This kicks off the ABC portion of the schedule with all your most competitive races on the television partner with the widest reach.  ABC will start their run with something of importance and end it with something of importance as well.  Hopefully the ratings rise at every point along the way.  Pocono gets two “extras” (Foyt/triple crown) to raise its importance and supporting its marketing efforts.  After handing out the AJ Foyt Trophy (and a hammer) you know the rest… Get drunk, get Jiggy with a cute little Amish girl on rumspringe.  But first…take detailed notes on who finished in positions 1 – 5 in the points standings for this stretch of the season. 
  • NOW remember those notes on who finished 1 – 5 in each of the first two sections of the season?  The names on those two lists qualify for the final portion of the season to determine who wins the Astor Cup.  You could have anywhere from 5 to 10 finalists still in play for the championship.  Pay seeding points for the championship run like there were two races with 5 participants each, first in Twisty standings gets 50, first in oval standing gets 50, second in twisty gets 40, second in oval gets 40 and so forth.
  • Then finish the season kicking it off at an event (like say Toronto) that you would like to elevate in importance with a double header (your Canadian TV partner would be MOST happy), or perhaps double dip Texas with the kick off race, but anyway then continue on for 6 to 8 races total, mixing ovals and twisties, on NBCSN and hand out the Astor cup at the 500 Miler in Fontana, In Prime time.
  • Stage and Pace the season so that there are flourishes to the season that your broadcast partners and promoters can promote and capitalize on, you eliminate the issue of the discipline trophies being after thoughts lost in the headlines of the overall championship.  You might even be able to find sponsors for each of the three portions of the season.
Are there issues?  Yeah:
  • To make the start work, you need to find a couple extra twisty races early in the season.  Perhaps, NOLA, another south American race, Circuit of the Americas for example.  Then you also are going to need to switch dates for Long Beach and Sao Paolo.
  • To make the middle Oval portion work, you need to move out Detroit and Toronto to a different portion of the schedule and add another Oval or two.
  • To make the end of the season work, you will need to add a couple more ovals, Kentucky, perhaps.
Lots of details to work out?  Yeah, but this kind of plan builds drama and importance into the schedule at earlier points where there are fewer competing sports entertainment properties to tussle with than at the end with football.  It give yours TV partners the chance to ramp up broadcast emphasis for the subseason kick offs and finales.  Each of the two qualifying sub seasons is likely to focus on a somewhat different set of drivers and teams to highlight.  Thinks about it...sort of hits on the three buttons that Jenna mentioned.
Will something like this ever happen…well, it is IndyCar, and well, there are a variety of vested interests in play. 
BUT...If this were the kind of “Playoff” Mark Miles meant, Would you be on board? 
I might be.

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