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The Score - Anthony Schoettle

Welcome to The Score, your place for hard-hitting sports business news, fast-breaking updates and fuel-injected debate.  Buckle up.  I'm your host, Anthony Schoettle, IBJ sports reporter.

Sports Business

New Nielsen policy cloaks IndyCar Series in secrecy

March 5, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

Wow, what a morning!

The Colts signed Gary Brackett to a five-year deal, there’s a fake Milka Duno in Twitter-land burning bridges like nobody’s business, and I just got word from the Butler University athletics department that attendance at men’s basketball games is way up this year (more on that next week at The Score).

But there’s one thing I can’t tell you about that I intended to. I can’t tell you about the TV ratings for the Feb. 27 NASCAR Nationwide Series race featuring Danica Patrick. It was her third NASCAR race in February and is a critical measurement of the movement of her popularity in general and in fender-land in particular.

I also was going to tell you about TV ratings for the Feb. 28 Purdue vs. Michigan State nationally televised game on CBS. I was going to write about Purdue’s chance to steal market share from IU at a critical time for both teams. I’ll get back to that too, and tell you why I think former IU hoops coach Bob Knight played a big role in the skyrocketing fortunes of Purdue. But that too will have to wait for another day.

Why?

This is why. After two years of asking for television viewer numbers from New York-based Nielsen Media Research, I’ve been cut off. Apparently the number of requests is suddenly so intense, Nielsen can’t accommodate my requests for individual events any more.

This is the response to my request this morning from Nielsen’s Communications Director Aaron Lewis:
“Due to a remarkable increase in press requests recently, we’ve had to look at ways to scale back on what we can and cannot provide. Unfortunately, one of the first types of requests we’ve had to eliminate are those for local ratings of individual events. So with apologies, the communications office can no longer provide these requests, especially on a weekly basis. Some options you might consider are calling the local affiliates and getting the information from them.”

This response is troubling for a number of reasons. First, I’ve been getting TV ratings from Nielsen on a regular basis for Indy Racing League races for two plus years. And the ratings stories I’ve posted on this site have been hugely popular.

There’s a simple reason why. TV ratings are one of the only independent, reliable measurements of growth and/or contraction of the Indy Racing League previously available.

I’m not sure how getting TV ratings for IRL races is an option. Those races (and a lot of other sporting events) air on cable TV. So there’s no local affiliate to approach.

Not only that, I need an independent source for these numbers. Nielsen is the only one. Believe it or not, broadcasters, sports properties and advertisers, well they don’t always tell the entire truth. As difficult is that is for me to admit, it’s a hard truth I’ve learned after 21 years as a news reporter. People with a dog in the fight round up, exaggerate or just plain don’t tell the real story about the numbers.

And since the Indy Racing League doesn’t release attendance numbers—or any other revenue number that would give you the vaguest idea how the series is doing, Nielsen’s new policy drops a cloak over one of the last measuring stick the media, fans and other interested parties have to gauge the series’ success or failure.

It should be pointed out that Nielsen is a private company. They provide these TV ratings reports for paying customers. They owe me nothing. But such a sharp break with a long-standing policy always leaves me wondering why.

But I’m not asking Nielsen to give away the store front. The miniscule amount of information IBJ (or any media outlet) publishes isn’t going to cannibalize their business in a significant way. Paying customers seek the massive detail that a complete Nielsen report provides.

As far as time, it couldn’t take more than three minutes to process the numbers on a single sporting event.

The press gets a story. Fans and others get a glimpse at how sports properties are doing. Nielsen gets free publicity in front of countless prospective clients.
I thought everybody came out a winner.

The new Nielsen policy makes us all a little less informed. That, to me, is always a losing proposition.
 

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