LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 17: Dario Franchitti, driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda, drives during the IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17, 2011 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
The Nielson ratings are out for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and if the numbers are to be believed, more people watched their lawns growing - real-time - than watched what is supposed to be one of INDYCAR's "crown jewel" events.
Predictably, that news has people headed for the local bridges, noose manufacturers, and anywhere that still has gas ovens to go all Sylvia Plath on everyone.
I'm having a hard time joining in on the wrist-slitting, though. It's a Saturday on a holiday weekend, so I'm not going to do anything like, you know, researching anything or providing countering data that adds important context to a set of daunting statistics. Sorry, but I'm too lazy today to do that.
I am going to provide a disjointed and easily disprovable list of why I'm surprisingly upbeat after this news, though. So if you can muster the energy, hit the jump and find out.
- I don't trust the Nielson ratings. I'm sorry, folks, but I have deep-seated mistrust of extrapolated conclusions based on "representative samplings." Maybe it's because of my bad math grades or because of the position that Two and a Half Men occupies at the top of Nielson's charts, but I don't believe that the Nielson ratings are a totally accurate barometer of actual interest in televised entertainment. The methods for paying attention to live events these days are far too fractured and varied to place absolute faith in a measuring system that relies on how many people sit down in front of a TV and watch a program uninterrupted and as-it-happens.
VERSUS' current market penetration (or lack thereof) is the X factor. How many TVs in the United States have VERSUS in their channel lineup? What percentage of those TVs are actually counted by the Nielson system? That's the number that counts, not the total TVs in America. That number is going to rise here very soon thanks to the NBC/Comcast merger, and when it does the ratings for VERSUS broadcasts of INDYCAR events are going to go up simply because the channel will be easier to find in standard or extended basic cable lineups instead of in premium channel packages. If you want a better idea of how INDYCAR is doing, look at what the numbers are for the series on ABC this season (hint: they're up over last season so far).
- It's 2011, not 2012. The past two seasons have been "buildup years" to a new era in INDYCAR, and we've been warned repeatedly that it may get worse before it gets better. We may have been fooled a bit by the higher car counts this season and the yeoman's work that INDYCAR management did on expanding the field, but this is a lame duck year, first of all, and second of all there are pieces on the chess board still being moved into place. Randy Bernard would naturally pooh-pooh this sentiment and say, "I don't make excuses," but to me these factors are unavoidable - so much of new investment and pitch packages are targeted towards 2012 that in many cases the best that could be hoped for this season is stasis.
- I don't feel like being a Chicken Little anymore. I have mentioned many times before that in this generation of INDYCAR fans, a touch of "DOOOOOM!!!!" is part of our basic makeup. Because of the history of nearly two decades of absolute futility, we tend to expect the worst as a way to avoid the soul-crushing disappointment that bad results and foreboding futures can cause to those who dare to hope. Personally, I'm trying to get away from that. I'm tired of it. I'd rather hope and be excited for future possibilities and risk being let down than wallow sullenly in a pool of "I toldja so" cynicism. So if Long Beach's returns are bad now, I fully expect them to get better.
All of this adds up to one very simple thing - I don't think the series is dying because of a bad set of numbers from Long Beach. Sure, it's disappointing for those who buy into the Nielson ju-ju and for those who consider the Joyce Julius numbers a type of scripture for consumer market worshippers. But it's time to move on. We have the bulk of the season still to go - including Indianapolis - so dwelling on it is useless.
So go out and eat a Cadbury egg or a Peep or something and cheer up.