IndyCar has been on a tear lately. An influx of young winners paired with competitive races has inspired more and more viewers to tune in than ever before. There’s just one problem: IndyCar’s schedule.
Let me offer a little background. Last weekend’s race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course garnered 1.303 million viewers, an NBC press release announced. Excluding the Indy 500, that makes it the most-watched IndyCar race the channel has ever aired, as well as the most-watched Mid-Ohio race since 2008. NBC is also touting the fact that this is IndyCar’s most-watched start to a season. The release offers the figure of viewership increasing 30 percent from 2020, which is a little misleading, considering the delay to the uncertain season as a result of COVID-19. But the fact that the start to this season has been more popular on television than ever before is a good thing.
How is IndyCar keeping the momentum going? It’s taking a month-long break between races. We won’t see these cars back on track until August, when the series makes its debut on the streets of Nashville. An exciting event, sure — but how many fans are going to stick around during the break?
Sure, Formula One has a month-long break in the middle of the summer — but Formula One is also a popular sport on an international stage. Taking a break isn’t going to cause its fans to lose interest, since most of its fans have been there for a while. The series has the benefit of a solid, reliable fanbase as a result of its decades-long consistency.
IndyCar doesn’t have that. The sport hemorrhaged fans as a result of its eternal, decades-long in-fighting. And taking a massive break right now could completely undo so much of the success the series has found.
I don’t want it to sound like I’m just shitting on IndyCar for the sake of it, because, full disclosure: I love this series more than any other. I’m absolutely biased here. And that’s what makes these issues twice as frustrating.
IndyCar’s schedule has long been a point of contention for new and old fans alike. Whether it’s the shrinking number of ovals, the early end to the season, or the massive gaps between races, there are ways to improve that would benefit the series and the fans who watch it.
If IndyCar wants to keep capitalizing on its growing popularity, it’s going to need to take a good, hard look at the schedule to make sure it isn’t sabotaging itself.