IndyCar, Indy 500 still have a long way to go

June 1, 2011
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I guess it's a matter of the glass being half full or half empty. I'm not here to argue about that. But the way some local news outlets wrote up this year's Indianapolis 500, you'd think the cup runneth over for the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That's simply not the case.

Several things are worth pointing out. Yes, TV ratings were up from last year, by about 7 percent nationally. But last year's 4.0 was near the worst ever in the televised history of the race.

And yes, the Indy 500 national overnight ratings topped NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 held later the same day. But IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard rightly pointed out the Indy 500 is the open-wheel Super Bowl. NASCAR's Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, last year notched a 7.7 national TV rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. And remember, NASCAR ratings are sliding, so it's no great victory to claim triumph over a wobbling giant.

Another important thing to remember is that we're comparing an overnight rating of 4.3 for this year's Indianapolis 500 to last year's final rating number. The final (more detailed) number for this year's race won't be out until Thursday or Friday. It's not uncommon for the final rating to be a bit lower than the overnight rating.

While Americans JR Hildebrand, Graham Rahal and Danica Patrick provided nice story lines, that doesn't cover up the fact that last year a record low nine Americans raced in the Indy 500, and this year that number was only up by two.

I'm certainly not saying the cup is empty either. I've already reported that according to Speedway boss Jeff Belskus, 2011 attendance was at a five-year high. Corporate hospitality also was up, along with merchandise sales and just about every other revenue stream in May. All my spotters at the track backed up Belskus' claims about increased attendance for this year's Indy 500.

And overall, there was a bit more buzz. Hildebrand's bad fortune turned out to be good business for the Speedway. The race was the focus of prime-time shows on ESPN, CNN and CNBC on Monday and into Tuesday.

Progress yes. Out of neutral, most certainly. But is the IndyCar Series in high gear? Without a doubt, the answer is not yet.

  • Thanks
    Here we go again...

    What part of "the world's largest single-day sporting event" is hard for you to grasp? Over 250,000 people in one place to watch the race, and you are telling me that the glass is half-empty?

    You are usually reaching, but come on man...
    no nascar race even come close to indy in fans at track pls its not even close only the brickyard compares

    you nay sayers keep yappin about the death of indy EVEN if the series died indy will ALWAYS ALWAYS draw bigger crowds its just a plain fact no matter how you sin it

    2cnd the fastest lap ever turned at indy by nascar 2004 Casey Mears – 186.293 would not even make the field 20 YRS AGO

    and rating please you count only tv IN market that blacksout the rate for the state its in and its till up there and we are not even talking worldwide raido network but they dont count would wide racing network cause it not fair they say.
    the comparison is idiotic nascar is ok i like it when richard petty and mario was in it BUT INDY IS INDY
  • Good Points...but...
    Anthony, you make some excellent points in this article. However, I think it is worth noting that progress is progress, and IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 have finally gotten the big picture and started looking towards the future. With the upward swing over the past year (and with a tv package that actually is beneficial to IndyCar), I do no think it is too far fetched to say that IndyCar within 5 years will rival Nascar for dominance in the US Market. Nascar is on the decline, I dont think anyone disputes this, while IndyCar continues to gain momentum. I believe interest for next years Indy 500 will be as high or higher than this year, due to new cars and the likely hood of faster speeds.

    True, IndyCar has a long way to go, but look how far it has come in the past two years...
  • Continue the progress
    Anthony, Jeremiah makes a good point - progress is still progress, regardless of your cup half full/empty analogy. If anything, this year's Indy 500 delivered on the 100th Anniversary hype with an exciting race full of lead changes and of course the "you gotta be kidding" finish.

    The real challenge is whether the "buzz" from this year's 500 will increase track attendance, TV viewership and sports media publicity for the rest of the IndyCar series races in 2011.

    The first thing IndyCar should do is figure out a way to get the 2011 Indy 500 winner into a competitive car for the rest of the 2011 season with a name sponsor. Having Dan Wheldon running in every race is critical.

    The IndyCar corporate PR team needs to work hard now with local promoters/track owners to kick-start sales & promotion of all remaining races, instead of leaving it to the locals to promote their races.

    And if it's really Danica's last year for IndyCar, consider a farewell tour for her the rest of the season. Increase her public appearance schedule and create local promotions that wring out every drop of celebrity she has with her racing fans to boost attendance and viewership.
  • This is not a CUP Race
    I don't recall anyone saying this year's 500 was no match with races, let's say, 15 years ago. The sports world has exploded since 1990, let alone the world of automobile racing. The distractions and multitude of interests people have today make any comparison to yesteryear foolish. More importantly this is not a competition of "the cup" being half full or empty. The Indy 500 is and should be analyzed for what it produced this past Sunday: 300,000 fans watching an incredible spectacle that competes just fine, thank you, with the myriad of other events going on around the world.

    So why was it necessary to draft a headline stating the "....500 still have a long way to go? Was not the event, the people, the spectacle, the racing, the dramatic finish, etc. not enough to warrant a headline worthy of a positive statement. Oh, and did I forget to mention the purse of over $13.5 million dollars?

    And you wonder why people are so cynicle.
  • @Steve
    Steve, I have a remedy for the "danica" situation. GET SHANNON MCINTOSH INTO INDYCAR! The woman has great talent, is drop dead gorgeous, and I believe she can and will win more than one race!

    Also, it is imperative like you said for IndyCar to get Dan into a good ride for the rest of the season. Obviously, Brian Herta has a strong car for him, and with the 2.5 million and a decent sponsor, Brian should be able to field a car for Dan for the rest of the year.
  • balance
    Some value here, I think, in balancing out some of the understandable euphoria over the event. Many positives, which are mentioned, but still many challenges. The LAST thing IndyCar needs is people telling them that everything is SUPER DUPER AWESOME!!! A realistic look at what was good and what needs work is the way to continue upward momentum in the event.
  • Nothing's what it used to be.
    Some people can't take a little good news, and those slipping NASCAR ratings are for races chocked full of Amerians so what does that mean?
  • US Driver Number Correction
    The following are the U.S. Driver numbers I have, at 10, vs your estimate of 9. This is an Int'l Race, and so with 13 countries represented, this is really a Global event, and while one can argue over the mix, it's certainly much better with lots of countries represented, and of course, the 2nd largest country, England, had 4 less than the U.S.

    I agree that we are not there yet, but our U.S. Open Wheel trend is besting that of NASCAR, and over time, I suspect that they will represent vastly different markets, with very different following.

    Townsend Bell
    Buddy Rice
    Ed Carpenter
    JR Hildebrand
    Davey Hamilton
    John Andretti
    Danica Patrick
    Marco Andretti
    Graham Rahal
    Ryan Hunter-Reay
    • Here we go again
      Once again Anthony delivers his analysis in a "cup half empty approach". The title alone backs up prior pieces he has written. Ratings, spectators, merchandise, hospitality are all up.... You can dwell(as you do so well) on negatives or comparing to what it was but that is old news and not really the point. Good year for the 500 and for the fans. Clearly there is work to be done but your article and it's title reflect your negative approach - past articles on Randy Bernard a prime example to back up my thoughts.
    • Anthony Can't Deal With Success
      Why in the world must folks always try to find a dark cloud? What is up with that? The Indianapolis 500 is 100 years old. How many other sports or entertainment entities can claim such longevity or record of success. 300,000+ fans show up EVERY year, television ratings for open wheel are at the high water mark for this race every year, sponsorship is up again and money is being made.

      The situation is better today than it has been in years. Oh, and Tony George conclusively shot down the cockamamie estimates 'insiders' provided about how much money was supposedly spent to fund the IRL.

      Show a little respect for the institution that put Indianapolis on the map.
    • Nascar > Indy Car For a long time to come
      To Mike / Jermiah (anybody else),

      Even if the final numbers hold with the Indy 500 being greater than the Coca Cola 600. I say it will take a long time before IndyCar overtakes Nascar. For instance, Nascar got a 4.4 Rating with 7.4 Million Viewers for a random May 15 Dover Race. Wow that's greater than IndyCar's Super Bowl.

      Other 2011 redneck races that drew higher than the Indy 500 includes Talladega, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Bristol, etc.

      I like IndyCar and it looks like its getting better, especially since the merger, but for anybody to say Open Wheel is besting or is on track to best Nascar is ridiculous.

      When was the last time an Indy Night Race beat the primetime network lineups against CBS, ABC, and NBC. Like the Coca-Cola 600.
    • To Jason
      Jason - I don't recall even comparing the Indy 500 or INDYCAR to Nascar. Please read thru my comment and let me know when Nascar was even brought up? I said the Indy 500 had a good year and never compared it to Nascar. Globally the 500 is by far the biggest race and I am commenting on a positive year for the race here locally - can I not say that without you bringing Nascar into it? Read again and you'll see you are wrong to bring my name into it.
      Nascar is more popular than Indy because it has better exposure. Its hard to follow Indy because the races are not consistantly broadcast nationally. They change that, and America will have 2 kick ass motor sports to scream over!
    • jr goat
      jr hildebrand win would have been a better story it was like 2006 500 american do not like loser
    • Place Fans
      This years Indy 500 was for sure up from last year but still there is no reason to celebrate just yet. One race does not make a series. Defender and the rest of the "place fans" will never understand just how bad the Reversus contract really is for the IICS. The good rating is only because it's Indy and nothing else. Ratings obscurity is set to begin again. The 5 million dollar gimmick had better be on ABC if they have any chance of succeeding.
    • Sorry Mike
      Mike, you are right, I should have read your comment thoroughly, I apologize.

      I agree with Phil that IndyCar needs a better TV contract. Many people forget about Versus in their TV Sports watching.
    • American Drivers
      Perhaps another consideration should be made. That is where do the drivers live? Dario, for example, lives in Nashville, TN. In this melting pot of America, why is he different than Mario? Mario was born in Italy and then became an American citizen. Still has an Italian birthrite. Granted, Dario loves his homeland as I'm sure Mario does. Nonetheless, they are both Americans from the standpoint of where they live and work, are they not?

      How many more both have residences and work in America?
    • sitting in line
      Sundays race had to be one of the most attended of all time. I sat in for 2.5 hrs and moved on;y 1 mile. Usually in my seat by 8:00 at the latest. I finally gave up and went to the airport and took the bus down. Got in my seat at 11:10. My daughter walked around people were sitting under the stands and the stands were filled. only a few open. Infield filled. A mound by the meuseum was filled. Usally nobody sits there. Can't see much of the track. So I feel the attendance this year was way up. Hope this is a trend. See you at next years race. Been going since 1963.
      THE "Most Important Race in HISTORY" netted a 4.0 FINAL TV rating.

      Tied for 2nd worst rating since 1972. Only outdone by 2010 for worst TV ratings ever.

      So, quit slapping yourselves on the back, back to work drumming up more NO advertising and bad gimmicks.

      IRL DEATHBLOW 2011 CONTINUES~!!! Bweahahhahhahhaa!
    • Chief, glad you could finally find something negative to write about, we were missing you.

      If the 500 is a deathblow, keep it up. Didn't you say that the family was going to announce the sale of the track after the race? We are still waiting. What I have heard is the next generation is stepping up to run the track and Mari saying she is not selling.

      Still the most attended one day sporting event, sounds like a death blow to me.

      One of the most exciting races from top to bottom. Still not sure I like the double file restarts, but it made it exciting. Unlike other series, some of the top contenders were small teams several, including the winner with one off drivers. Very happy for Herta, not a huge Wheldon fan, saddened for JR and the NG team, but second for a rookie not so bad. Definitely a finish that will be remembered for years. Not quite a spin to win, but oh so close. What a visual it would have been to have the crashed car on the victory podium.

      Not as happy with the cheesy Hot Wheels show, but the jump was cool, the fans loved it and it got publicity around the country.

      great ads leading up to the race. ABC was showing ads on all of its top shows and other networks had supplier ads across the board.

      Now it is time to take the momentum forward. next year, new engines with two new suppliers, and some form of new aero packages. The 100th running coming up a couple of years after that, there are a lot of positives to pull out of this.

      All in all, another wonderful month of May.
    • They'll screw it up
      They always do. Just like the caution flag.

      The Speedway spent NOTHING on advertising...because they DIDN'T advertise. And that's why they got NOTHING.

      The old Indy is's dead. IMan has said he's in favor of doing whatever it takes to put butts in the seats. Like changing qualification rules, Carb Day, start times, and selective enforcement of caution light rules.

      All in the name of entertainment. All under the Hulman George watch. When you look back, just don't blame it on anything else but the Speedway's own stupidity.
    • Oh I forgot
      The MONTH OF MAY was neither a month as it was only 6.5 days of MAY...

      AND, it wasn't the "MOST IMPORTANT RACE in HISTORY"...not that day or any other day for that matter. TV ratings show that.
    • chief why do you lie?
    • We dont attack or tear down
      IRlcar does all the work for us

      All Future Airings of IndyCar Open Wheel Weekly

      Thats right fans, the season is over
    • Taxpayer Funded Faux Racing
      Firestone Twin 275s Indy Racing League Race Weekend (2011) Fort Worth - Local Share $90,551 - State Share $565,942 - Total Fleecing Amount $656,493

      Jim wilke and John Howard Approved (This Time)
    • Just the facts Jack
      Lying? The IRL is over for 2011, it got it's payday. That sound you hear is crickets from the fans. Or are they buzzards circling?
    • You lied about what I said. Not an unusual thing for you, but why? To draw away from what I say?

      The season rolls on with the added momentum from a successful month of May. Add in the new engines, new sponsors, the new cars, new aero packages and the future looks good.

      But of course that really screws up your prediction of the end of Indycar, and I really think you may have to survive without getting your apology.
      • Get a Load of F-1
        "Firestone Twin 275s Indy Racing League Race Weekend (2011) Fort Worth - Local Share $90,551 - State Share $565,942 - Total Fleecing Amount $656,493"

        This one is a bit of a stretch, even for the Indy Car-obsessed Chief.

        I believe taxpayer funding of racing (or any other sporting event of any kind) is unwise. It's a good thing the Indy Car Series shares the philosophy the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who has never accepted even one penny of public financing. So shame on Texas Motor Speedway even though that 650 large will directly generate about roughly $4 million in economic impact. That small expenditure pales in comparison, however, to the F-1 boondoggle set to go down in Austin. $25 million per year for ten years. This at a time when teachers are being laid off. $25 million per year for ten years could pay 500 teachers $48,000 per year for ten years. Which is more important? A pointless Euro twisty race no one can have access to without connections or the education of children? You tell me li'l Mr. High and Mighty.
      • Typical Lemmings
        2nd lowest 500 rating since 1972,500 rating still below the average NASCAR race, owners reject aero kits, down to 7 ovals, Indy 500* champ rideless and several more years of the REverus tv package. But nothing to see here, all is well, key metrics are up. Iman and Hooter/Howard/Dipsicle are like the Kevin Bacon character in Animal House who is squashed into the pavement while yelling "all is well".
      • Grounded in Actual Reality
        ...and you kids are a lot like the psychotic young lady I dumped in college because she was nuttier than a Payday candy bar. She obsessed over and chased me for FIFTEEN years after the breakup. Said everything about me was bad, and yet watched as my income climbed well into six figures as I traveled from country to country, and she ended up broke in the nut hut. The reality did not match her sordid, vulgar perception. There are a lot of parallels between her and the Can't Accept Reality Teens, including cutesy name calling.
        My advice: Grow up and enjoy it.
      • Taxpayer $$$
        If the Austin GP comes to fruition, I think that it will end up costing the taxpayers of TX a hell of alot more than just the 250 mil over 10 years. The State funded colleges are throwing $$$ in for some supposed research center, there'll be infrastructure upgrades and such, plus I wouldn't doubt that eventually, there will be some new tax assessed to subsidize the track that can't turn a profit. Yes, I love F1, but I think taxpayer funding for BILLIONAIRES in any sport is lame as all hell. Unlike tiny d though, I say it about the series I follow.

        The H/G clan are taking taxpayer $$$ for their clown car league. Remember that they needed to hose the Wisconsin taxpayer in order to get the Milwaukee race. Baltimore is gonna take a bath hosting the .1rl and so is any other city naive to think they could turn a profit hosting an Indiana Razing League race. Edmonton said forget you, so the .1rl reduced their sanctioning fee. Throw in Indiana funding tubs for teams and the supposed dallara factory and the H/G clan are awash in taxpayer $$$.

        But isn't it funny that when the .1rl is the "Top Tier" in AOWR, F1 finds >$250,000,000 to fund their expansion into the US market, but the .1rl can't catch a break. I seem to recall that CART pretty much made F1 a non-player in the US market, and was threatening them in popularity overseas.
        But then someone went and "fixed" AOWR with the .1rl, and NASCAR and F1's dominance is the result of that fixing. Thanks FTG, for destroying a sport, all so IMS could keep its month of may, and keep all those terrible foreigners and street/road courses out of AOWR.
        All Americans and all ovals, All The Time in the .1rl.
        Oh, wait...
      • And So Eloquently Stated...
        Your presentation is so....credible. LOL. When you combine bitterness, ignorance and immaturity, posts like the one above are what usually results.
      • Todays IRl, Everything Turn13 hoped for
        and mower: mower road courses; mower strret courses; mower foreigners; mower engine leeses; mower tax dollar funded events; mower bannings of cognizant posters; mower deleting of non-party following threads and posts
      • angstadt sucks
        irl need to get back to the ovals fast they did not have a good season since 2007 that a long time to keep fans waiting and fix ugly f1 car next year and help dallara out
      • Economic development
        $150K per new car is being doled out by the government via stimulus. Texas is getting money to have that Texas race. Speedway taxpayers footing bill/bonds to have Dallara build a factory. IMS and IRL owned by Hulman-George's.

        Who payed for the B2 bomber fly-overs?

        Full-time Speedway APologists tell LIES all the time. Sure, we believe you.....bwahahhahha!
      • Two weeks later....
        How you gonna gain momentum from Indy 500 if your series doesn't have it's winner in the race, and its two weeks later?

        FAIL. 4.0 FINALS, tied for 2nd all time LOWEST TV rating. Now Kyle Busch get beat up by 65 year old Richard CHildress....AND feel-good story of year ALEX TAGLIANI is being sent to GLUE FACTORY.

        Yep, how you gonna promote drivers who are only there for 6.5 days in May? FAILURE becomes you IRL'ers
      • Heartfelt Advice From An Adult
        That's right, kid. Failure. For 100 years now. LOL. Do you have any idea how desperately challenged the handful of you making fools of yourself in this comment space appear? Your obsession with all things Indy Racing appears to require treatment. I can recommend competent professionals. Think about it. What you are doing is potentially unhealthy, and you sociopathic tendencies are not endearing you to those who are normal.
      • kool aid hour
        irl think is good idea to go to a ugly car next year so irl not scared even robin miller is drinking the kool aid allways goes off how ugly irl cars are and the new car probly uglyest open wheel car ever and he love it
      • Constants
        -Low TV ratings

        What's causing them, Disciple?
      • Childlike Thought Patterns
        What is your measurement of 'low?' Simplistic 12+ summaries from zap2it that no one in the industry actually uses to buy or sell spots? That type of commerce occurs using demographic specific numbers, and those are up, and have been trending that way for the past two years, which is the standard amount of time such trends are evaluated.

        Additionally, attendance is way up again this year, as is sponsorship and merchandising. Don't get me wrong...your continuing denial and simplistic expression is certainly quaint, but has no merit.
      • Show me the data
        Otherwise, national media outlets using simplistic +12 summaries are rule of thumb when determining the general health of series, TV wise.

        You recall, starting in 1996 and trending downward over the past 15 years, the IRL/Indycrz tv ratings are at lowest levels ever. Your numbers and paid speedway propaganda does not compute.

        It is laughable that you could take a turd (such as 2011 500 TV ratings) and polish it into a sucksess story. This sport is OFF the radar since May 31, 2011 and will continue so for foreseeable future.

        No one knows when Milwaukee or Texas wonderful is that? INVISIBLE.
        • And Now, An Elevation of the Conversation
          "Otherwise, national media outlets using simplistic +12 summaries are rule of thumb when determining the general health of series, TV wise."

          Are you unable to comprehend the written word? The ONLY value (and that is a stretch) for simplistic 12+ summaries are pointless saber rattling like this. NO ONE in the industry uses them when considering ad sales buy/sell transactions. They have little to no value in judging the health of programming.

          "You recall, starting in 1996 and trending downward over the past 15 years, the IRL/Indycrz tv ratings are at lowest levels ever. Your numbers and paid speedway propaganda does not compute."

          Let us evaluate the television landscape in 1996, shall we? Nine of the top ten shows no longer exist. E.R., Seinfeld, Suddenly Susan, Friends, Naked Truth, Fired Up, Single Guy, Home Improvement and Touched By An Angel are GONE. Only Monday Night Football survives, and it has been relegated to ESPN. Its ratings have decreased proportionately as well. Also in 1996 there was no widely available high speed Internet in almost every home or public place. Widespread mobile communication had not yet taken off. Those of you who arrogantly equate some self-perceived decline in Indy Car with the most ill-advised boycott in sports history are doing yourselves and the very concept of common sense a huge disservice.

          "It is laughable that you could take a turd (such as 2011 500 TV ratings) and polish it into a sucksess story. This sport is OFF the radar since May 31, 2011 and will continue so for foreseeable future."

          Would it be possible for your kind to elevate your dialog to a more adult level? This would include cessation of using juvenile words such as 'turd' and 'sucksess.' Points can be made without acting like four year olds.

          "No one knows when Milwaukee or Texas wonderful is that? INVISIBLE."

          Hmmmm. That's odd. Both certainly have a lot of media coverage, and your kind is certainly aware of them. I am certain you will all be watching.
        • real date of decline
          If people were to honestly review the numbers they will admit the rating began falling in the late 70s not the mid 90s. The 500 lost 10 million house holds between 1977 and 1995. Also AOW racing outside of the 500 has NEVER had the type of rating NASCAR is getting even with NASCAR's declining numbers. Outside of Indy historically AOW in it's prime only got high 2s and low 3s with an occasional 4 for Long Beach.

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