Local TV blackout key to Brickyard 400 survival

July 31, 2013
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The first step to boosting Brickyard 400 attendance is blacking it out on local television. NASCAR and especially its TV partners are not likely to be wild about that idea. And as long as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is getting a sizable chunk of the TV revenue, track officials might not make too big a stink about it, either.

But if IMS honchos wanted to revisit the current policy of airing the race live in the Indianapolis market, you couldn’t blame them. Not pushing for such a move would be nothing less than short-sighted. It’s difficult to ignore that, while attendance at the race is terrible, TV viewership—especially in this market—is not.

Yes, imposing a local blackout of the race here would ruffle some fans’ feathers. But it also would induce locals to get up off their couches, open their wallets, buy tickets, and fill the bare stands at the Speedway. It was fine to air the race live when 250,000 fans attended the event during its first decade. But now that  attendance has declined 70 percent, it's time to change the policy.

It’s time NASCAR honchos take a page from the playbook of NFL officials, who learned a long time ago that a pillar to a strong sports business model is vibrant live attendance. The NFL has one of the strongest local blackout policies in professional sports.

In some ways, the Brickyard 400 and NFL football games are fighting the same challenge. The experience of watching the event on TV might now be better than attending it live. A TV blackout of the race coupled with some of the major improvements planned at the track, including upgraded video screens and other amenities, may be just the thing to drive fans back to the race in droves.

This year, the overnight TV rating for the Indianapolis market was 13.7, the highest rating of any market nationally, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research. This year's Brickyard 400 aired on ESPN.

A 13.7 rating in the Indianapolis market means about 150,000 households tuned in. That’s up from a 10.9 local rating in 2012, and that’s a significant gain. All the while, attendance continues to drop.

Toward the end of this year’s race, the local ratings topped out at 16.66—or about 179,000 households. So while only about 75,000 attended the race, more than 230,000 central Indiana residents tuned in on TV. So is the TV broadcast hurting attendance? Well, it sure isn’t helping. The interest from locals in this race is certainly more intense than anywhere else.

Indianapolis is always a top TV ratings performer when it comes to NASCAR races, but the spread over the other top markets was a bit surprising this year.

Other top markets behind Indianapolis on Sunday were Greensboro, N.C. at 10.1; Greenville, S.C., 9.4; Charlotte, N.C., 9.1; and Norfolk, Va., 8.3.

Nationwide, the 20th running of the Brickyard 400 earned a 3.4 overnight rating (3.75 million households), according to Nielsen. That’s up 13 percent over last year.

It should be noted that last year’s Brickyard ran up against the opening weekend of the London Olympics. It also should be noted that the overnight rating for the 2011 Brickyard was 3.7 and in 2010 it scored a 3.5. So there’s no reason for event promoters and NASCAR officials to do back flips in their exuberance. By comparison, the Indianapolis 500 this year scored a 3.7 Nielsen rating nationally.

But locally, if race fans want to see the Indy 500 live, they have to attend the event. The Indy 500 earned a 9.3 rating locally on ABC, which aired it on tape delay about five hours after the live race.

Since the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 are owned by the same company, it's easier to get a consensus on when the race should air in its home market.

It’s time for IMS officials to lean on NASCAR bosses to change their policy. Either that, or they can both stand by and watch the event go up in smoke.
 

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  • Real reason
    Maybe it has nothing to do with the live broadcast or being on Sunday instead of Saturday, or not being under lights, or it being too hot, or it not being in the chase or any of the other reasons people think attendance is down. Maybe .... going out on a limb here...it's just that the Brickyard 400 is the most boring race on a schedule full of boring races.
    • Joe's Right
      NASCAR is boring to watch. Blacking it out will just alienate those few who have the slightest interest.
      • Boring Races
        Joe, go back to baby dolls and stamp collecting, as it sounds like that is exciting to you. Try not to insult hundreds of thousands of people that enjoy auto racing. Your moronic comment will help no one...you should be in politics. At any rate, they need to lower the prices, black it out in Central Indiana, and make it a night race. I know that NASCAR does not want any team to have an advantage over the other teams, but they need to take a lesson from the old days, and actually allow teams to build "Stock cars". NASCAR has become too much like Formula One.
      • Ditto
        It may be boring to you, but it is not boring to everyone. Who do you think you are? There are a lot of people a whole heck of a lot higher on the food chain than you that enjoy the sport. Get over yourself!!! Both of you girls.
      • Indy Attendance
        I believe this works best for Indy 500 since it is "Memorial Day" but I would offer the military no charge attendance to fill the stands especially in turn 4. This is not only great PR but will create drag as other paying family members or friends would attend & concessions will increase. TV coverage is much improved with the stands full. Afterall this is the "Indianapolis Motor Speedway"
      • TV is Irrelevant
        In my opinion, the blackout has nothing to do with the attendance. True race fans will attend if it is a good product. The last one I attended there were tons of fans from outside the state. Now IMS has the reputation that it isn't a good race due to the lack of passing. That may not be correctable. The attendance may just be a sign of the times: families short on cash, numerous other outlets for entertainment. I do believe that blackouts hurt more than they help. In the NFL, you put a winning team on the field and people attend. You have a losing team and you black the game out, all that does is lessen the exposure and lessen the interest of the casual fan. What they should do is have the 500 and the 400 on live and then show them again at night.
      • why go???
        Here's the deal: It's not that fun anymore. I can't afford tickets for the family--especially the special tickets that allow for increased access, parking at the track on race day is expensive and inconvenient,it's hard to have contact with drivers--unless you get up at o dark hundred and wait in line to get a wristband and hang out for hours. Food is expensive and entertainment is B-rate. IMS needs to check out what Humpy Wheeler did to make Charlotte Motor Speedway great. The greatest drawback at IMS is the fact that, unlike other superspeedways, YOU CAN'T SEE!!! At IMS, you have to watch the jumbo tron. TV provides a better view and a better story with their features/background and commentary that you don't get at the race. If the race is boring, I can watch "at it" on TV while doing other things rather than being stuck at the track and stuck in race traffic. I'll save up to go to Michigan, Kentucky, even Bristol and make it a vacation rather than pay to go a race at IMS.
      • Or maybe.....
        If you blacked it out I wouldn't go. So the only thing that would be lost is my TV in the viewer ratings count resulting in a potential hit to your advertising revenue. Maybe IMS should flatten everything in the infield so you can see the entire track like you can in Daytona. I haven't been to many tracks, but from what I have seen, IMS is by far the worst place to watch a race. Maybe that is why attendance is falling..... Just a thought!
      • Too Late
        The Brickyard 400 is simply being rejected by the masses, most of which have moved on from NASCAR. The 75,000 or so attending the race Sunday were solid fans who would watch any NASCAR race, any time, anywhere, with maybe a few thousand locals who turn out because it is an "Indy" event. Truth is, the numbers will most likely decline further in teh next few years no matter what "fixes" are attempted. There is just not that much interest in NASCAR anymore. People are moving on to other things. A night race or some other change in format may cause a two or three-year "stir" and some attention in the media, but honestly, do you think the Speedway installing lights and running that race at night, which would be twi-light and dusk for a good portion, at leats the first third to half, not total darkness, is going to add 165,00o mroe fans? Really? Even 100,000 fans? Honestly? Even 75,000? Is it worth the estimaetd $20 million investment and all the other costs associated with running a race in Speedway at night time worth an additional say, 30,000 fans in attendance? Knowing full well, that of those maybe 30,000 additonals who will come out to watch, will likely dwindle down another 15,000 or so after the "uniqueness" wears off AND facing the fact the sport is in decline in the first place. The IMS should do this: 1) Make the necessary corrections in their financial house that will make them non-dependent on NASCAR (both attendance and TV) to strenghten their bottom-line. 2) End this event and say goodbye to NASCAR so the akward, uneasy relationship can conclude. 3) Refocus and energize efforts to make IMS and the Indianapolis 500 properties the compelling, unique, and treasured things that they are. 4) Establish a ssmall, Indy car Series of four to five oval track races and maybe one twisty ALL in support of the Indy 500. The Series will not survive on the current structure as the product has been rejected. Indy Car racing is ovals. And there is not enough interest for more than a handful beside Indy. 5) Let NASCAR do what NASCAR is doing, slowly but surely returning to its former third-tier status as a semi-regional curiosity sport. It won't go away. But its glory days are fading fast, just like the Brickyard 400.
      • My 2 cents
        I've been a Nascar fan for over 30 years, some years more of a die-hard fan, some years a more casual fan, and some years I didn't watch a race. Nascar has hurt itself over that time by adding so many more races, taking out the personalities and softening thing for the sponsors, and making it darn near a spec series. They trucked along until the economy bit them in the butt so to speak and took away paying fans and sponsors. In my opinion, there are too many races for the casual fans (same with MLB and NBA). The races are too long for busy families to watch on TV. It used to be that we would watch the start, nap during the middle, and then wake up to watch the ending. No time for that now. On top of that, and not to beat a dead horse, but the last Brickyard 400 I went to was too hot (94 degrees that day) and there was no passing. I turned down free tickets the following year. They need to get creative with the aero package/tires (one driver suggested changing the front splitter and greatly reducing the rear spoiler) to see if they can get the cars to handle differently and actually pass and run two lines. Yes, the lights at night might help with the heat, but unless the racing gets better, it will be a 1-2 year gimmick. The low temps didn't help the race crowd this year. To quote the many people that discussed the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler, "It's all about the product. Put out a good product, and people will buy it."
      • my 8 tickets to the Brickyard
        I had 8 tickets near with exit to the pits on rows UU and TT. I had those tickets for years. I forgot to order by the deadline one year and I didn't place an order for fear I wouldn't get good seats again. I can't remember any one making any effort to get me to buy tickets again.
      • Brickyawn
        Good points, Burl. I agree that running at night or blacking out the local broadcast won't push the audience back to the 150,000 the race once enjoyed. The uniqueness of racing at the IMS is gone. While I'm not (and won't ever be) a NASCAR fan, I attended one Brickyard and left after 100 laps. Nothing but a yawning conga line of cars running 20-30MPH slower than IndyCar racers. Note: even the Rolex GP racers were running 200MPH+ on the straights last Friday - much more exciting racing, too. With their identical set-up taxi cab race cars, the NASCAR circus no longer appears well suited for the flat corners and long straights of the IMS track.
      • But, it's Indy
        It's great to see IMS wringing out the last drops of prestige the speedway once had. Now, it's just a 4 cornered road course. You BLEW IT Hulman-GoRGes. The praise for the race is because of it's heritage, not because of the racing. You did this to yourselves. I also noted the empty, missing grandstands where concrete slabs now reside. Looks like an old abandoned industrial park, almost Fundidora Park-ish complete with rust. Brickyard 400 TV rating almost to Indy 500 levels (3.4 vs 3.7), only with better looking cars than the ugly DW12. Make ya wonder what them geniuses at the helm of 16th and Jonestown are gonna wreck themselves upon now...no business sense since 1994. I'm celebrating!!!! WooOt! Bwahahhahaha!
        • Improve the Product
          Spice it up by making it a unique event again. With the road circuit there make the last 100mi on the road course. There'd be a ton of logistical & rules challenges but all can be figured out by smart people. The only combo speedway/road race would be quite a draw.
        • tickets
          Rather than lowering prices, spending $20mil on lights, why not allow everyone who renews tickets to get twice as many for the same price? For example, if I ordered four $85 tickets last year, I can re-order those same four tickets and request upto four more at no charge. I would not be allowed to reduce my order to two and get two free. As long as I order my original number, I can get upto a like quantity for no additional charge. The 'free' tickets would be as close as possible to my original seats. I can use, toss, or sell my free tickets. If I invite 4 others and sell them the tix for $40 each, that's $160 back in my pocket, thus effectively giving me a price cut. Maybe I request four extra tickets and bring along the kids, which I wouldn't do at $85 a piece. So the scalplers get honked, who cares. The speedway gets the same ticket money as this year and maybe an additional 75,000 attendees who buy more programs, shirts, drinks and hotdogs. The speedway is giving away excess capacity that costs them nothing. Maybe some of those 75,000 new attendees buy their tickets next year and start the process all over.
        • blackout policy?
          So, if blackouts are healthy for the Brickyard the same should be said for other sports (NFL, etc.).
        • Tony George'd down the drain
          Cheif has got it right on! The moment the underacheiving George kid took over at IMS the spiral down began. At that time the two toughest tickets in sport were the Indy 500 and The Masters. Now Indy tix go unused while the scalpers' market at The Masters is still going strong. The difference.....Masters knew how to protect their brand, Tony George immediately began to dilute his. Indy lost the incalucable mystique and appeal when he reworked the facility for "Taxi-car" and the humiliating $$ shakedown by the snobby F-1 crowd which dumped him after a few years. This would be like The Masters adding, oh, say, a junior tournament, a dot.com tourney and an LPGA event each year; however, they have not and instead kept it a special "ONE TIME A YEAR EVENT" and in doing so have kept their product strong. The IMS should open ONCE AND ONLY ONCE per year for the Indianapolis 500 International Sweepstakes and shutter it the rest of the year. That will restore the prestige and importance of the IMS, if its not too late. Maybe can't put the genie back in the bottle.
        • Against blackout
          While I am not a diehard NASCAR fan, I do watch most of the races. Blackout the Brickyard, and my interest drops to zero. I rarely even LISTEN to the 500 anymore, whereas if it was televised, I would show more interest. As far as this year's race goes, how many sporting events each year draw 80,000 fans?
        • Go ahead and blackout locally
          You know... if you want to go ahead and blackout the local broadcast region, that is fine. I will just travel far enough away to be able to watch it live. I can't stand the heat of the (typical) July sun and won't sit out on those hot stands to watch a boring race. One other thought to make the race more interesting... use the moto GP course. Showing the race on Saturday, under the lights, or any of the other gimmicks will not get butts in the seats.
        • Local TV blackout key to Brickyard 400 survival
          I agree with you that the race needs to be blacked out locally. But both the 500 and 400 need to be available locally on pay per view for those physically not able to attend the events.
        • Lets seem what is different now then it was in the 90's and early 2000's? Well NASCAR wasn't on every weekend. There are now over 40 races in a year counting non points races. Not to mention the trucks and Nationwide. The sport is over exposed. The France's are killing the golden goose. Bristol, Talladega, Daytona all used to sell out months before the race. Now they are pulling seats out and still not selling out. Add to it, in the early days of the Brickyard the closest NASCAR race to us was Michigan. Now you add Chicago and Kentucky and it cuts deeply into your bottom line. Each race is canibalizing the others. Why do I want to drive to Indy when I can see a race at a closer track? cut the series back to no more than 28 points races. No double races, and cut back the small tracks. The issue with passing is the tires. Indycar proves you can pass at Indy. Goodyear needs to deliver a tire that can handle the track. The race has not been the same since the tire debacle. Take care of those issues, and you will see fans come back.
        • Another Thought or two
          There are a number of factors affecting the attendance and most have been mentioned (economy, other events, lack of passing, etc.)...I have been to most of the 400's and have been to 40+ straight 500's and have seen good and bad racing at both races...I am one that believes an evening 400 would be of benefit, but also need to improve competition either by change of design or other means...one thought I have is to incorporate the old Nascar all-star race ideas...Give a bonus prize ($100,000?)to the leader at half-way, take a 10-15 minute break to work on cars and then send them out for the remainder of the 200 miles in inverted order and see if the Johnson type drivers can return to the front for the finish...could be interesting...also, perhaps using the road course could add some extra fun to the race...what do you think?
        • T-Bone got it right...
          ...the Indianapolis 500 in particular, IMS in general, lost much of its uniqueness and prestige right out of the gate when TG decided to climb into bed with NA$CAR. It only got worse with the additional events, and yes, that includes you, rediculous and irrelvant "Freedom 100". Worst of all was the young boy motorcycle racer who died on the track. All of it made IMS a little more like "just another race track." The water tower may say "Racing Capitol of The World", but only because of one thing: The legendary Indianapolis 500. TG really messed this up bad. He's messed a lot of things up bad, real bad, but the loss of prestige is the worst of all. NA$CAR has Daytona and Talladega for big, fast tracks. Their two and half, three hour annual waste of fuel every summer in Indy needs to go. Tme Brickyard 400 smells worse than an infield men's room after the 500.
        • Burl, While I agreed with part of what you posted earlier, I disagree with most of this post. NASCAR coming to Indy did not hurt IMS. It showed and the importance of the race still shows the prestige of Indy. IMS still holds the all time record NASCAR attendance and 75k to 100k (the range put out there for this event) still rates it high among NASCAR tracks. In an era where Bristol is half full and Daytona and Talladega are not even close to sell outs, low attendance is a NASCAR wide and really racing wide issue. The MotoGP death did not hurt IMS, just like the death of Earnhardt did not hurt Daytona. Get Goodyear to provide tires that work at Indy, and you will see better racing. Better yet, invite Hoosier back in and you will see better racing. Competition is good for clearing out the complacency.
        • IndyMan partially right, imo..
          ...but I will submit the income from the non-Indy 500 races was the best thing to happen to IMS and Indy Car Seris if is is true the Brickyard 400 earnings helped support the IRL. Business-wise, some of this was a good move. The intangible loss was the perception with casuals the Brickyard 400 and perhaps even F1 races were "bigger" than the Indianapolis 500. I know that perception was out there awhile. No mas. Indy is on the upswing and the Brickyard 400 speaks for itself. F1 turned out to be a diaster and MotoGP and the sports car races are nice but barely on the radar screen. I do not disagree with the fact NASCAR coming to IMS showed the magnitude and importance of the Speedway as an instituion not just in racing but in sports in general and American culture as well. And yes, Indyman is correct. A 75,000 to 80,000 person crowd is significant these days in NA$CAR. Daytona is no longer selling out and Talladega is stuggling to fill seats. Bristol's ship has apparently sailed and there are more people standing in line at In and Out Burger in Fontana than attending the NASCAR race. Kentucky sports a lot of plastic these days too. So in that perspective, yes, NA$CAR gets a solid crowd at IMS. But I do no think spending excessive amounts of capitol, and the cost of lights appears to be just that, is a smart business decision over there at W. 16th St. and Georgetown Rd. I will submit the IMS should give the Brickyard another couple of years to see if the trend is reversible, at best, but the reality is this: If it don't fit, don't force it.
        • Indyman lies, again
          In 1994 NASCAR had 33 races....2012 NASCAR had 36. Oooh weee, they are clogging the weekend schedules again. I suggest you sir are full of bovine excrement. As usual. And no, fans are DONE with the Brickyard. Face it, hot summer combined with dull racing on a 4 corner flat track who's mystique has evaporated and has had 3 or 4 hoosiers win the dang thing....it's over. Let's invite ARCA and the NASCAR mods too. Remember, some the cool interest back then was watching the grand national/nationwide cars race at Indianapolis Raceway Park. The Brickyard pretty much killed that experience. Kissing the bricks, climbing the fence, for the love of pete....PAUL MENARD won it. Seriously, why bother anymore? Tony George is responsible for all of the failures. All of them. I can't even get a room at the speedway motel anymore...pfffft. Turn out the lights, I dare you.
        • Hoosier 400
          It is very interesting that all the Hoosier bois win the race isn't it? Hhhhmmmmmm.... ....just sayin'
        • 20 degree banking and Tri-oval
          will soon fix all these issues
        • And I just heard
          Chief is at the top of the list of people who get to drive the Caterpillar thru the pagoda
        • Live TV's the culprit.
          I'll admit it I don't go to the Brickyard 400 anymore because it's on live TV. Many of my coworkers are the same way. We already go to the 500 because we have to (it's a tradition - born and raised in Indy so the 500 is required attendance), so we just don't want to fight the traffic and weather again to attend the 400. It's so much easier to watch it on TV.

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