Monday, August 23, 2010

Racing Weekend Hangover... after a word from our sponsors

So this past weekend’s IndyCar race had a lot of people internet-angry, which is kind of like actually being angry except most of it is just a lot of text without follow-up. The thing that had a lot of people talking was not Will Power’s unfair advantage due to having superhuman abilities giving him a 1 second lead PER LAP over the rest of the field, nor was it about KV Racing continuing their destruction derby in the middle of an IndyCar Race; no it was the fact that VERSUS went to commercial break with 5 laps remaining and by the time they returned and finished showing a Will Power montage, viewers got the final one and a half lap.

As a result of my field trip to Making Up the Numbers, I’ve now got a taste of some factual analysis on commercial time during American motorsports broadcasting. The initial results turned up interesting in that the amount of commercials increases depending on the TV station and series while ESPN showed little regard for capturing important on-track action.

As this weekend started I couldn’t help but to continue the practice, so I queued up my spreadsheet and calculator and tracked this past weekend’s American LeMans race at Road America covered on SPEED and the IndyCar race at Sonoma covered on Versus and there is a mighty interesting conclusion to be found…. After this word from our sponsors…

Oh, so while we were away for that commercial Will Power just won another race. But what you didn’t miss are the neato charts and results of time tracking the TV broadcasts from racing. As per usual, race time is judged from the moment someone says “Drivers Start your engines” to the time the final car crosses the checkered flag.  For a reference point, go here to see NASCAR at Watkins Glen and IndyCar at Mid-Ohio.

Click to see full size

The initial thing that pointed out to me for ALMS was totally unrelated to the TV broadcast but instead that there were three different yellow flag caution periods that were longer than fifteen minutes! I mean ALMS has longer races in general plus more cars with numerous classes, but fifteen minute caution periods? It definitely turned me off as a viewer, but theres is great racing so I pushed through for it. There were also a large number of long commercials, some stints as short as 2 minutes but three different stints of 4-minutes of straight commercials.

Even amongst all that, ALMS on SPEED still only came out to 46 minutes of commercials, or 27% of the broadcast. 7% less than NASCAR on ESPN whose race was only 6 minutes shorter in length. The one benefit that ALMS and Grand-Am have on TV is that the broadcaster knows exactly when the race will end regardless of how many caution periods happen because they are timed events. As a result SPEED was able to time the commercials so that the final 13 minutes of the race were broadcast without interruption. 

What is interesting to note however, is that ESPN managed the final 15 minutes in Watkins Glen for NASCAR? How did they do it, well by doing commercial double ups during yellow periods seemed to be their key. And that’s where we can turn our attention to IndyCar on VERSUS.

Click to see full size

If you saw last week’s chart, you’ll note that Sonoma had exactly the same amount of commercials in time than Mid-Ohio, roughly 26 minutes, but because the race was shorter it upped the percentage to 23% (vs. 21% at Mid-Ohio). So clearly it wasn’t a matter of VERSUS trying to get as many commercials as possible into the broadcast yesterday, more likely it seems to me that VERSUS has a minimum 13 commercial breaks for a road course.

Now that is an educated guess on my part, but I’d bet you two jars of Boudreaux’s Butt Paste that all the road courses this season had at least 13 commercial breaks for at least 26 minutes. The problem at Sonoma is that with 10 laps to go they only had 12 breaks, meaning they likely scrambled to get that last one in. The choice: break TV commercial contracts or suffer the wrath of angry fans on the internet because you went side-by-side while Scott Dixon was all over Will Power’s ass with 5 laps to go.

We don’t know the answer to what happens behind the scenes or what would happen if they didn’t hit a contracted minimum, but at least maybe now we know why. And if that’s the reason, then all we can ask for is that VERSUS try doing more commercial double stints during yellow flag periods like they did through laps 38-40. The final 7-minute yellow period at Sonoma-Infineon would have been a perfect spot, or the yellow in the middle of the race that was commercial-less, and then we could have gone green to finish without interruption, and the internet would rejoice... that is, assuming it is as easy to do as it was for me to write that.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

IZOD Continuing to Create an Aura for IndyCar

I intend to do a piece on the growth and promotion and decline of racing series against each other, namely NASCAR vs. IndyCar. but before then here is an early example of why IZOD is the PERFECT partner for IndyCar. Not only are the Race to the Party promotions (and parties) introducing it the series to new people and as a fun event you want to be at, but its putting it in a higher social class. Say what you will about Playboy, but it is a common known worldwide brand now which includes recognized social status through TV shows, magazines and simply its logo, which is why this photoshoot of IZOD's trophy girl and another model in IndyCar apparel and on Firestone Firehaek tires is a perfect way to get the series more notice to the exact demographic the series could use as new fans.

While it is Playboy, no worries this video has no nudity, though it may not be safe to play if your wife or girlfriend is sitting next to you. Just say you wanted to see them Firestone Firehawks up close.

Again debate on what you think about Playboy, but there is no debating that the front page of hits a few million eyeballs.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Blog Swap Shop: Haven't We Been Here Before?

As part of VivaF1’s awesome Blog Swap Shop idea, Joe Ryland visits GBS from ‘across the pond’ at An F1 Blog for a guest post today:

Formula 1 will be returning to America in 2012, with a custom built track designed by Hermann Tilke. The last time F1 was in America was in 2007 at Indy, but after just a short 7 years Formula One had seemingly had enough of America. With the controversy of the 2005 Grand Prix and the tyre ‘farce’ the race felt tainted. But almost as soon as it was gone the F1 hierarchy wanted an American Grand Prix again.

Bernie Ecclestone being his usual self dithered on all sorts of plans for a US GP. After leaving Indianapolis Bernie said F1 would never return there. But just two years later, there was thought to be a chance of a Grand Prix going back to the circuit. That didn’t happen though, so Bernie needed something new to talk about. His new topic was putting on a street race in New York, and then he said a race at Indy may not be out of the question. Then, plans came out for a race in Jersey City, but almost inevitably the plans were abandoned. Shortly after, Monticello Motor Club announced they had submitted a bid for the Grand prix. That’s a lot of possibilities over a short period of time isn't it?

So after all the deviations, it was confirmed on the 25th of May that the US Grand Prix would be revived near Austin, Texas. There’s still the chance it will all go wrong like what happened to Donnington but it seems pretty certain that the F1 circus will be travelling to America in 2012. So, here’s my question, if F1 left America 3 years ago, should we all be looking forward to the return?

The sport has certainly had a love/hate relationship with the US. The first ever Formula One race at Sebring in 1959 was seen as a failure by the organisers, and when it was moved to Riverside in California it was seen the same and became another one-off. However when it was moved to Watkins Glen, it was a great success, and the Grand Prix remained there for 20 years. After dotting around to numerous venues, a very unsuccessful race was held at Phoenix for a couple years which ended in 1991. America would have to wait 9 years to get its next Formula One race. In 2000, F1 returned to America at the legendary Indianapolis Speedway. The first race drew a record crowd of 200,000 giving a clear sign of the American people’s love of Motorsport. Then in 2007, both sides couldn’t come to an agreement so yet again the United States Grand Prix would be taking a break.

So, should we be looking forward to the return of the United States Grand Prix? In my view, it’s all in the balance. If Hermann Tilke can design a worthy track and the organisers can do a good job, Formula One will certainly benefit from the American audience. But with all the big motorsports in the US like Indy, NASCAR and others, F1 will have to put on a hell of a show to win over fans and make F1 a success in America. We have seen before that huge crowds are drawn in to watch the Grand Prix and if similar numbers come in 2012 F1 should do well. By looking at the history of the US Grand Prix we can see that if the race is put on at a good track and with good coverage, the fans will follow. However, if the track is a typical Tilke-drome with little overtaking, the race may be a flop and the fans won’t go to see it when they have their much loved American motorsports. America really needs a success in F1, the failure of the USF1 team left a scar on the sport in the states and that needs to be fixed by getting a good reputation for a good race. All in all, if the race is put on well, the American revival will definitely give F1 a decent return, and besides, it’s about time F1 was in the US for the long run.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Great Blog Swap Shop

As part of the Blog Swap Shop, a great idea started by Saltire at Viva F1, I was picked to write a guest post for the great statistical analysis blog: Making Up the Numbers. At first it seemed overwhelming being given such a in-depth analytical blog to guest on, but I tried to step up to the challenege with a little of North American flair.

So head on over to Gavin's amazing blog and not only check out my guest post, but continue to go back again and again for his great analysis of Formula One racing!

Thanks again Gavin for the opportunity, it pushed me to a new level that I hope to continue on GBS!

(I'm thinking we can replicate this idea in good ole North America)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How to Correctly Get a Sports Background Without Actually Playing Sports

By now many of you may have heard about Maryland House of Delegates representative Michael Vaughn and his infamous playing career for the Dallas Cowboys. If you haven’t, here it is in short: Vaughn boasts both on his own website and resume about the experience of playing three years on the Dallas Cowboys.

Oh what times he must have had back in the glory days of the Cowboys… only he didn’t play for three years. In fact, he didn’t start a single game for the Cowboys… even more so; the Dallas Cowboys have no record of Vaughn ever being signed not to mention ever being at a tryout.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen someone get caught splurging on their resume, after emailing with Ron Furious about it, he told me this hilarious story:
“In 2001 Al Martin, who was playing for the Seattle Mariners had a collision with a teammate and said it reminded him of being hit by Leroy Hoard during a Michigan/USC football game in 1986.  The Mariners' media guide even said he played for USC.  Turns out, he never even went to USC! And USC didn't even play Michigan until 1989.”

And who could forget George O’Leary’s five day long career at Notre Dame due to lying about having a master’s degree at NYU and playing football for three years at UNH, neither of which as you can guess were accurate.

So what was the problem for all of these guys? They shot too high. They all went with football; big mistake because Americans LOVE football, and in most cases it’s easy to research, especially the Dallas Cowboys. That is why after discussing the matter with all three other members at Grab Bag Sports; we are happy to present to you:

Ten Sports Things You Can Add to Your Resume That Are Unlikely to Get Caught or Contested

10 - World Series of Poker Bracelet Winner
Each year there are over 50 WSOP events in Vegas, that’s 50 bracelet winners each year in Vegas, plus there is now a WSOP Europe and other WSOP tagged events over the country. The Vegas events alone have over 700 bracelet winners. Winning 1 bracelet can be done with no skill which is why anyone can win 1. The online records are incomplete because they mostly just track Vegas and even then they use nicknames and never have pictures… so chalk up a nice bracelet for that Deuce to 7 Lowball or Razz tournament you won; just make sure you have some kind of bracelet or story about getting robbed when people ask to see it.

9 – Played in Slamball League
Does everyone remember the ill-conceived Slamball league? Of course we do ever so faintly, guys with questionable basketball skill jumping on trampolines just so every score could be a dunk. Even the Wikipedia page is sketchy at best as far as recordkeeping, why just look at this shot of their first combine… Slamball has aged so well that in 8 years photos remembering it are already black and white!

8 – Member of USA baseball team

Ok obviously this one will be easier for someone to research… but why would they want to… honestly how many of you just learned that there was a national baseball team? Well there is, the USA baseball team is comprised mostly of college kids because the Olympics don’t allow pros?

7 - World Record Holder for Eating
Have you ever watched the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest? Every single contestant has a record for something, spaghetti, French toast, eggs, meatballs, oysters, and really who out there is keeping these all straight? Just pick a slightly obscure food for an eating contest and make that world record your own. If anyone ever wants to contest it, chances are no one’s tried so Guinness will just recognize your world record title for most alligator eaten in 15 minutes.

6 - IndyCar Driver
Because apparently just about anyone could and did drive and IndyCar in the 90s and early 2000s so it’s not like anyone would doubt your credibility. And if all else fails just say you were a test driver for “pick country here” team in the now-defunct A1GP series. No one really keeps records of any of that stuff anyway because so many teams/cars have a revolving door on their driver’s seat. Dale Coyne probably can’t list all the drivers who raced for Dale Coyne Racing over the last 10 years, so why can’t you be one of them?
And if worse comes to worst, and you get called on it, it’ll only cost you a few bucks to drive a race for Dale and then you have a feel good story about making amends.

For Photographic help, just spend a couple hundred to do the Indy Racing Experience because they have to put you in a full racing suit and helmet, and suddenly you have evidence.

5 – Beat Shaquille O’Neal in a Free Throw Contest
True story, when Ron Furious was in high school he beat Orlando Magic guard, Chris Duhon, in a free throw tournament. Granted Ron was 18 and Duhon was maybe 13-14 at the time, but it’s totally true. Ron’s brother played against Eli Manning (in basketball), my brother played against Eli in football, Deuce’s cousin not only played against Leroy Hoard in high school (the same Leroy Hoard that supposedly ran over Al Martin) but Deuce’s cousin started a bench clearing brawl with him. Those are all true, and so why can’t your story? Just pick an athlete that was around the area you grew up in, make sure you say something that can’t really be tracked like a public youth league or a specific play like “Intercepted a pass from Jamarcus Russel.” and you’re golden.

Just maybe don’t go with the whole beating Shaq in a free throws idea, that’d probably hurt your resume more than anything.

4 – The Google Approach
It’s easy, type your name into Google and then start trying a random assortment of phrases like “career stats” or “records,” “field” and you’re bound to find that there is someone with the same name who played D-League basketball, Canadian League Football or is a sportswriter for the University of Washington. Just make sure you were alive when that minor league career for the Daytona Beach Islanders was played

3 – You Are The Stig
If you have no idea what we’re talking about, two words: Top Gear; Netflix it, find out how to get it on your TV, or move to Europe to watch it. If you know what we’re talking about then you’ll know that there’s no way ever that anyone could prove otherwise.

2 - High School Record Holder
For Deuce, Ron and I, this actually proves even easier than for most. See we all went to the same high school just outside of New Orleans. This school was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, they’ve since built a new school with the same name, but records of everything before this new version are gone forever; suddenly no one can tell me I’m not the Javelin record holder for Hannan high, or that Ryan holds the record for most strikeouts in a game. If there’s a natural disaster that took your school out, or it closed down, it’s pretty easy, and even if your school wasn’t so unfortunate, just make a school up, it doesn’t even have to be the one you attended. High schools are so horrible at keeping records, and that’s just the ones that are trying.

The only problems this method gets you in trouble with is when you try to step on someone else’s records or if you stay close to your actual high school or people from it; and that’s why you got to stay away from living breathing records; just go for ones that doesn’t exist or no one cares about. You hold the record for most consecutive match wins for your high school’s chess team. Your school didn’t have a swim team, well I believe that’s 4 records you can have right there!

1 - Marathon Winner….. In Marathon-less City
There’s nothing easier than winning a marathon in which you were the only participant. Even better, try right now to find records of actual marathons… and very quickly you can see how this is #1 on the list. It’s hard enough to prove that the Meraux, La. Marathon didn’t exist, than to try and prove I didn’t win the dang thing….twice!

Print out some random corporate logo on paper and tape them together and have a friend take a picture of you crossing the tape with your hands in the air. If anyone asks you about it, you can always say it wasn’t a huge deal, play it down; and you know why, most people who win marathons don’t think they are a huge deal. They’re proud sure, but it’s not like they brag about it, it’s exactly what it should be, just a little something to put on the resume.

What else did we miss; give us your ideas in the comments section!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What can IndyCar learn from the World Series of Poker?

Last weekend as Helio Castroneves was all up in the grill of IndyCar Security Chief Charles I began to think that if they threw down gloves… I’m taking Charles in the first round, TKO in 9 seconds… 17 seconds if Helio still has his helmet on. I’d lay odds at 1,000 to 1 on Helio and refuse bets on Charles. Seriously, Charles was laughing when Helio grabbed him…

But all my thoughts didn’t entirely lie in the world of gambling and side-bets; but did totally relate to that world and what the IndyCar Series could really do to help themselves, and help participants and fans. You see, just as the smartest man in the world, Shane Rogers, points out it’s all about transparency and connecting with both participants and fans for a sanctioning body.

Over the past two months, I’ve been following the World Series of Poker as much as technology would allow me, especially when it came to the Main Event. Over the course of the past months, one thing has really struck me as a remarkable extra step that the WSOP performed. Not only is there a main WSOP twitter account, but Tournament Director Jack Effel has a twitter account! This account wasn’t just for generic or PR use even remotely; Jack himself used it during the tournament to answer questions by not only fans, but also to clear issues up with players who were complaining on twitter.

Think about this for a second, this is an event without live TV or radio coverage, yet because of the perfect use of technology by tournament officials and reporters, I was able to follow 50+ tournaments, know the important hands, and also know the length and reasoning behind any penalties; and also watch as issues arose and were solved.

Sure he didn’t answer every single little query, but he handled the main issues and the ones that made sense to be addressed. It made me feel like the WSOP cared about fans and players equally, not in some quiet back room blocked by security for public access like the way FIFA handles the World Cup and how IndyCar has not only handled the Helio decision, but just about any race call.

The sad part is that IndyCar has a twitter account, actually they have about 5-6; but the most all IndyCar does with their twitter accounts right now is when the world is complaining that Online Video Race Control isn’t working, they find the 1 twitter account in a thousand that isn’t complaining and retweet with a “see Race control is awesome, this guy said so!” or about how the next generation in racing is here (if you don't get that last joke, don't worry, you're better off for it).

While obviously there’s humor laced in the above statement, there’s also a lot of seriousness. I think IndyCar could benefit the series for fans, drivers, teams, and media alike by taking the same approach as the WSOP. No I don’t think Brian Barnhart has the time to be on twitter during a race, nor should he attempt it; BUT I do think whoever runs the IndyCar main twitter accounts could just put Barnhart's radio signal in one of their ears and relay the definitive calls that TV NEVER broadcasts yet would be so vital to us all. Fans could have a chance to know about it. “Driver Abcdef black flagged ‘drive through’ for blocking car #72 in turn three.”

And just like that, people know why Townsend Bell and Graham Rahal were furious during the Indy 500, because TV and radio certainly didn’t care to let us know. “Car #87 out of the race due to a broken fuel pump” “Car #23 black flagged for race due to inconsistent speed.” And when twitter nation is filled with speculation about the same issue it could be addressed: “ICS rulebook #X states inside line going into an apex is for passing only, otherwise considered blocking.”

Would it completely calm the masses about that call, no, but it would have stopped about a day’s worth of speculation and ranting about Brian Barnhart screwing up the end of the race. Instead of a twitter account clearing up the rule for fans following them (who certainly all the media and broadcast booth would have access to as well), Brian never addressed the TV crew, he went off in a trailer to review the call, and the TV broadcast ended.

Now just imagine if the IndyCar twitter account not only said car#3 was black-flagged, but told us which rule was violated and that it was being reviewed. Imagine if fans had an accurate count of how many warnings were given during a race, and to whom.

It just seems like such an easy and small step to take, one I’m sure you could easily find an unpaid intern or even a fan for. They don’t need trade secrets; it just needs usable definitive information to come out of the twitter account consistently during the race; and one that actually addresses issue people want to know about.

Heck I’d pay if this same twitter account just tweeted corrections to the truckload of very wrong information that comes out of Marty Reid’s mouth. “Conway is still leading the Indy 500, seems TV booth confused a slower car for Mike.”

One can dream and hope…

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fun with Baseball Cards

As my summer vacation nears its end, I am rapidly attempting to get through the million items on my "to do this summer" list. One of those tasks was organizing all of the baseball cards in my house. I spent a few hours sorting today, but a lot of that time was spent laughing at the dudes on these cards! So I present my first installment of... Fun with Baseball Cards!

Let's start with this one. It's a card for Giants catcher Kirt Manwaring. But if you take a look at it, I think you'd agree, it's actually a card for (the best player not in the Hall of Fame) Mark Grace. Think about it. If you were on a baseball card and someone on the card had just been plowed over... wouldn't you want to be the one who just laid someone out as opposed to the guy who just got laid out? If I were Mark Grace, I'd have lobbied for this picture to be on my card.

Now... we've all seen the awesome mullets some of these guys were sporting, right? I mean, look at Ron Hassey here:

This is a pretty good representation. You could go through these cards and see hundreds of mullets. But please... please... tell me... what is THIS:

Is Victor Rosario actually going for a jheri curl mullet?? Because that's what it looks like! And if that's the goal, then I'd say he accomplished it. But I think he was really going for this George Bell look:

Bell has the Ice Cube thing down and looks smooth. He'd already had 227 HRs when that picture was taken, so maybe that helped. Victor didn't have any Major League homers. It shows.

Finally, to end today's segment, I'd like to introduce you all to Mr. Shooty Babitt:

There's nothing terribly ridiculous about Shooty. Other than his name being Shooty. And his last name rhyming with "rabbit!" With a name like this, imagine if he'd been a great player. I'd love to have a Shooty Babitt jersey! Looking at the back of this card, we can see his speed and RBI potential:

By comparison, Shooty's minor league stats are slightly better than our crazy mullet man, Victor Rosario:

Well, this has been fun. I realize now, however, that I've completely forgotten what blog I'm posting on. Isn't this a racing blog, Ron Furious? Why, yes it is! Forget all that I've said in the post. What I meant to say was: