On Sunday night, the New York Jets faced off against the Atlanta Falcons in front of a roaring, full-capacity crowd. That already sounds like a strange situation due to the prevalence of crowd restrictions because of Covid-19, but it sounds even stranger when you find out that the game took place in the United Kingdom.
The National Football League has played games in London since 2007, with this year’s match taking place at the Tottenham Hotspurs ground in the north of the city. As well as the London events, the series also hosts overseas games in Mexico and has ambitions to host similar events in Germany or Canada.
These international games have helped fuel the rising popularity of the NFL around the world. In the UK alone, viewing figures have risen since the games started taking place there, and now more than 20 million unique viewers tune in to watch matches during the course of an NFL season.
But you don’t care about football. You like cars, so what does all this have to do with racing?
Well, following a triumphant IndyCar season that saw a tightly-packed field undertake some of the closest racing you can find in top-tier motorsport, I think more global motorsport fans should have a chance to watch this sporting spectacle in the flesh.
For some reason, the series can sometimes be looked down upon by uninformed viewers, who just assume it involves racing on ovals for hour on end. But the sport’s global viewers will still defend its pride, despite potentially never having a chance to watch a race in person.
But globally, IndyCar lags behind upstart series Formula E, which drew in 316 million viewers during its 2021 season. While still competitive, the opportunity to watch electric racers battle it out for 45 minutes surely isn’t the only reason for this gulf in viewership.
Formula E is a tangible event for many global motorsport fans as it sets itself up in the heart of international cities. The sport disrupts traffic for a few days, offers nearby fans a glimpse at the future of racing, and then jets off somewhere else to do it all over again.
Now, I’m not saying that IndyCar should do the same thing. Its heart, soul and identity is here in the US. But where F1 has been forced to add new tracks to its calendar this year, isn’t there also an opportunity for IndyCar to do the same?
Once a year, pile all the teams onto a container ship and take them to a European circuit. Or stay closer to home and hop across to South America, a region well known for its passionate motorsport fans.
This wouldn’t be a new idea for the sport. IndyCar previously raced in São Paulo until 2014, travelled to Motegi in Japan between 2003 and 2011, and headed to Australia’s Gold Coast in 2008.
Meanwhile, American open-wheel racing stablemates the Champ Car World Series also travelled overseas to host races in places like Heusden-Zolder in Belgium, Klettwitz in Germany, and Monterrey in Mexico.
Despite the popularity of these overseas events, races began to fall from the calendar as IndyCar’s organizers sought to rebuild its home viewers. At this time, IndyCar was still reeling following the split and later reunification of the series with Champ Car racing.
Now, as IndyCar seeks to reignite the following it had during its 1980s and 90s heyday, oversees races could once again provide a great opportunity to showcase the sport to new viewers.
Couple this with the fact that Andretti driver Alexander Rossi has said he “would love IndyCar to go back to Montreal” and Pato O’Ward said it was “a big dream” to race in his home country, momentum could be building for flyaway races in the future.
Imagine Romain Grosjean getting another chance to race on home soil with a trip to Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours in France, or picture the scene as O’Ward crosses the line at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico.
I’m sure that would win the sport a few extra fans around the world.