• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, April 13, 2009

NO SURPRISE

The embarrassing, abysmal audience for the IRL's debut on Versus was no more surprising than another gushy Danica Patrick feature in Sports Illustrated. As usual, there's a backstory to how something like this happens, other than the economy and devastatingly diminished level of interest in Indy-type racing -- a direct result of the very creation of the IRL itself.

Versus took its own green flag in a big hole -- 20-plus million fewer households than ESPN. (Whose own Big Foot impact on an event was felt yet again last week as it presented the opening two rounds of the Masters for the first time.) As I told League PR officials in the months before St. Pete, no amount of network promotion was going to change that. And they couldn't print enough press releases or buy enough advertising to alter that cold, hard, honest fact.

What WAS needed, as I have written in this spec of cyberspace, was to create a water-cooler-talk sort of TV show. To repeat: Bob Jenkins has been a friend of mine for almost 30 years and I'm personally happy he was hired to call these races. But the absolute imperative for BUZZ turned out to be more like ZZZZ. I specifically offered suggestions in this blog, which I was told were "good ideas," that were no where to be found on a by-rote, uninspiring effort out of the production truck. Which, again, was no surprise to me.

Extra logos on the announcers' shirts and then-and-now photos of Jack Arute aren't going to cut it.

Meanwhile, the Vs. outreach effort somehow included a contact to me by the network's hired (and self-proclaimed) "organic" marketing firm. Oh-so-typical, the guy hadn't done his homework, had no idea of my own background in the sport and industry, and wasted my time and his client's money. Maybe, next time, this agency will get its head out of the cucumber plants to plant the seed of a legitimate idea.

And maybe -- I can at least dream here -- the small media corps that travels the circuit might engage in some candid journalism about what is REALLY going on. (Is Tony George as disengaged from his League's operations as it appears? Perception = reality.) One of these journos recently fawned over Danica by writing she had "reached her potential" by winning in Japan. That, the record shows, was a fuel economy run (fair enough) backed-up by her not getting anywhere close to the front the remainder of the season. If THAT is "reaching her potential," quit and become a full-time model.

I said in years past I blame the collapse of CART/Champ Car, in part, on reporters who allowed their anti-TG bias to block them from the necessary examination of management's arrogance and misguided business "plan." Yes, I know, no one wants to hear this -- but a journalistically sound airing of the IRL's true situation would be healthy for the sport.

Too much cotton-candy is no good for you, guys.

Now, I see Brian Barnhart quoted in the Indianapolis Star as expecting Indy 500 entries will "end up about in the 35 to 36 category. And that will make for a pretty good field." Even the chatroom cheerleaders should find that a pathetic statement.

Just one year after the much ballyhooed reunification of American open-wheel racing, we're being told 35 or 36 cars make for a "pretty good field" for what, supposedly, is the most prestigious race in the world.

I'll tell you what we ARE looking at -- with the month-of-May preliminaries on Versus instead of ABC/ESPN -- is a potential new track record. As in low race-day TV ratings. Reminder: History shows I was right when I predicted Annika Sorenstam playing in a men's golf tournament Indy week would knock-down the 500's numbers in 2003.
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Just how low have the standards in the Mainstream Media gone? Look no further than last week's "exclusive" two-part CBS morning show interview with the ex-boyfriend of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter. It's one thing for Oprah-wannabe Tyra Banks to put this white trash jerk on, but CBS' Maggie Rodriguez proved herself to be a classic journalism bottom-feeder.

The agenda here, of course (if one cares to look beyond ratings), is this: Liberal establishment media types know Gov. Palin has "it" and is a legitimate national political figure. They would like nothing more than to knock Palin off the 2012 presidential stage as soon as possible.

Over at CBS Sports, all the microphone-holders participated in their annual credibility sell-out at Augusta National. Their words and tone were so reverential I thought they were reading from the Bible. (The TV tower was the real "Amen" Corner.) I've been to the Masters, and it IS a GREAT event, but not everything the Green Jackets do is perfect . . . despite what one would think listening to the CBS altar boys.

Are you proud, Katie Couric?
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Here's a link to my Arizona Republic story last Sunday on driver-owner Tony Stewart.
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2009/04/11/20090411stewart0412.html

I'll join Mark Armijo and Jim Gintonio in coverage all this week of NASCAR in Phoenix. Please check us out at http://azcentral.com/ . I'll have a story on what the NASCAR industry is doing to help fans in this economy on Wednesday, notebooks Thursday-Sunday, and a Q&A with Jeff Gordon on Saturday.

And here's a link to my April "All Business" column in Drag Racing Online. It features Gatornationals Funny Car winner Bob Tasca III.
http://www.dragracingonline.com/columns/knight/xi_4-1.html

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]