Growing IndyCar's fanbase is on ice

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 19: Patrick Sharp #10 of the Chicago Blackhawks passes the puck around Roman Polak #46 of the St. Louis Blues to teammate Jonathan Toews #19 at the United Center on February 19, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

I am usually a pessimist. Anyone who knows me knows that. The glass is half empty, the lemons are unsqueezed and the bread always lands peanut butter side down.

You get the idea.

But today I'm a little bit excited about something. I saw - I hope, oh how I hope - a part of IndyCar's (@IndyCar) future with NBC Sports Network (@NBCSN), and I liked it.

I liked it a lot.

Today I watched Hockey Day in America, NBCSN's lead-in to four televised games. At best I can be called a casual fan of hockey. I try to watch the Chicago Blackhawks (Northern Illinois native) and I also tune into the playoffs. I don't play fantasy hockey, read hockey blogs or scan NHL headlines on Yahoo!.

Casual with a lower-case c fan.

I tuned into Hockey Day because my cable guide said the Blackhawks game was one of the four possible broadcasts and if so, I would delay my Sunday "Honey-do" project a few hours to watch.

I normally don't watch pre-game/pre-race shows, because these days they are all the same: a panel of "experts" sits behind a polished glass and steel desk on a whiz-bang set filled with monitors and news tickers, opining about what we're about to watch, with "news breaks" interspersed throughout to give us the latest information from around the league.

The intent of these pre-game shows is, I believe, to draw in casual fans, like me, in an effort to make them "core" fans.

Core with a Capital C Fans.

Core Fans watch a sport, team or event regardless of anything. They play fantasy sports, read blogs and scan the headlines on Yahoo! (or MSN or Google).

Core Fans already know the "news" relayed on these pre-game shows - which player (driver) is having a good or bad season, or signed a new deal/sponsor, or is recovering from an injury, or is feuding with another player (driver).

These types of pre-game shows do not make Core Fans because they do very little to draw the casual fan into the sport.

Hey, I'm a causal with a small c fan: I just want to watch the game, not hear some ex-player or ex-coach yell about how the current group of players or coaches have it harder/easier than they did.

Which leads me back to Hockey Day in America, and why I'm feeling a little optimistic about IndyCar's future with NBCSN.

* * *

Grumbling a bit about being suckered into watching a pre-game show - I never watch pre-game shows; my on-screen cable guide listed games - I sat back in my easy chair and scanned my Twitter feed (@scottwhitmore if you're interested) while waiting to see if the Blackhawks game would be on.

But then Hockey Day in America caught my attention. There was no whiz-bang set; just a host and two ex-coach/ex-players sitting on director's chairs at an outdoor rink. Okay, the on-location thing has been done before, nothing special there.

Then the scene shifted to a segment on "the big game" between two rival high schools in Minnesota, with some player interviews (complete with the bruises and scrapes you'd expect from hockey players) and on-ice action.

Pretty cool, that.

And then there was a piece on a double-amputee kid who loved the sport so much that after his accident he became part of a sled-hockey league in Florida.

Even cooler, that. Amazing what the human spirit can do.

Following that was a segment on a 51-year-old called in as the "last resort" for one game to serve as the back-up goalie for the Minnesota Wild. Probably old news to Core Fans, but to this casual fan it was a fun piece.

In between the host and two ex-coaches/players commented on their experiences as they related to the three segments, they gave us a few thoughts on the upcoming games, and then the host tossed the broadcast to the game announcers.

About halfway through the first period of the game - not the Blackhawks, by the way - I realized what had happened.

The pre-game show drew me in.

Huh.

* * *

When I was covering area racing for the local newspaper, I often went to the track with no idea what I would write about because I knew there would be stories to tell.

The same is true of the Izod IndyCar Series, and I'm hopeful the NBC Sports Network will capitalize on that fact to make some Core Fans of open-wheel racing.

It was already announced during the "State of IndyCar" address that NBCSN will air before each of their races IndyCar 36, a show giving a "behind the scenes" glimpse of one driver or team during a race weekend. I love that concept, and hope we also see NBCSN highlight the type of stories I watched today on Hockey Day in America.

Dig into the Road to Indy - beyond Indy Lights, please - visit some kart tracks and race schools, find those interesting, funny and touching stories that exist everywhere racers race.

Show something to draw in casual fans, NBCSN.

Oh, and re-hire Lindy Thackston (@LindyThackston). IndyCar won't be the same without her.

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