OURSLER: The Rambling Road


CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Mid-summer is approaching and with comes the heart of season for the American Le Mans Series and its Rolex backed Grand-Am counterpart.

The strains of today’s lackluster economic times are showing in terms of stagnant fields and crowds. Things could be worse, much worse in fact.

For all its woes, the sports-car scene has at least, in overall terms, maintained a sustainable interest among its fans. That is not so true for the IZOD IndyCar Series, where the television ratings are almost too small to measure.

In case no one has noticed, or has perhaps been in a cave for the past several decades, television is the key to any sport’s ultimate success in the modern world.

Looming on the horizon to darken TV’s future is the internet, but perhaps not quite as we might imagine it. What we’re talking about here is the ever increasing technical sophistication of streaming video, already part of the ALMS’s world in the form of its ESPN3 telecasts.

When ALMS chief Scott Atherton put in to place the combination of ESPN’s internet telecasts and the more traditional ones found on the cable or broadcast networks, there were many who thought Atherton’s plans risky at best. In truth, the melding of the two has had more than its share of problems.

However, most experts believe that sooner rather than later technology will allow ALMS and others to air their steaming video programming on their own websites.

Thus, if one wanted to watch a particular race, say the ALMS Mosport event this coming weekend, all one would have to do is go the series website and hit the appropriate button.

Although the networks might not like the idea, it has tremendous advantages in that it frees organizations from the current restraints and burdens imposed on them by the television industry.

No longer would events be time constrained as they are now. Moreover, audience sizes would increase because potential viewers could go to the website and watch at their convenience.

Put another way, Atherton’s decision may not be so risky or crazy after all. Rather, taken to its logical and technically possible conclusion, could be one of the more foresighted ideas for the future of motorsport. Even so, there are those pesky issues of quality that must be considered, which brings us back to the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Argue all you might want, the quality of the once popular single seat pillar of American racing’s present telecasts is awful at time when they need to be the instrument through which the open-wheel set can pull itself out of the gutter, where it has landed after years of misjudgments and event neglect.

Harsh though this may be, and most likely disputed by hardcore Indy fans, the fact is that the numbers watching would be disappointing for even a small market “Six and Eleven” newscast.

In order for the ALMS and Rolex camps to get their numbers up, no matter what delivery system they use, they too most likely will have to review how they present themselves to their home audiences.

Right now what those folks see is less than it could be. This doesn’t mean more shouting, or more how many insider meals one’s had with the participants, but rather more insight using less words and remembering that one is working in a visual medium, not radio or track announcing.

Improve accessibility and its quality and the future could be bright. Don’t and who knows.