Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Now, What Was That About TV and Sports, Again?

By Mitchell

Am I the only one who noticed this irony?

Just past the halfway point of the Indy 500 on Sunday, a rainstorm caused a three-hour delay. The race finally resumed, but was again cut short by rain and finally halted before the full 500 miles were run. It made for an exciting race, with the additional element of time adding a layer of drama to an unusually competitive race, but it also left many with a somewhat empty feeling, being cheated out of the thrill of a down-to-the-wire finish.

Now, the irony. A couple of years ago, in an effort by ABC to boost TV ratings, the start of the race was moved back an hour, from 11:00 a.m. to noon, Central time. (The fact that Indianapolis is now on Daylight Savings time has nothing to do with this particular equation.) Understanding that heavy rain early on Sunday morning made it fortunate that the race was even able to start on time, the fact remains that had the race begun at its customary 11:00 starting time, it would almost certainly have been possible to run the entire 500 miles, at least if you include the restart after the first delay.

Changing the starting time of a sporting event in order to accommodate TV is nothing new, of course. As far as racing goes (and you can correct me on this, Bobby or Cathy), I believe the start of the Daytona 500 was also pushed back a couple of years ago for TV. The difference here is that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is, unlike Daytona and many other race tracks, totally dependant on natural light for the running of a race. Starting the race even one hour late, especially an event as prone to weather interruptions as Indy can be, purely in order to capture the crowd that might otherwise be at church or Sunday brunch, seems to be – what, unfortunate? Besides, most non-racing fans would insist that you don’t need to see the beginning of the race (unless it’s Formula 1, with its traditional first-lap pileup), when it’s only the last hour or so that really matters. True racing aficionados, I suspect, would make sure they were able to see the start of the race if they really wanted to.

Again, it may not have been possible on Sunday due to the early rain, but that doesn’t change the essence of what we’re talking about. Thanks once again to television, the outcome of a major sporting event might have been affected. I certainly hope the money that ABC pays Indianapolis was worth it!


  1. Mitchell,

    Actually it's ESPN, not ABC. A Disney rebranding policy made that easy. Advertisers don't like it.

    What happened at Indy reminds me of what can happen with baseball games before lights were installed, and even in today's college game. On Sunday games, there is a "fixed" curfew to prevent innings from starting past that hour in order to allow the visiting team's flight back to campus to depart.

    In fact, one team in a major conference (Wake Forest) does not have lights at their on-campus stadium, and they have to play selected early-season games at a minor league park in Winston-Salem, but with that team having a new park in the city, it's expected the Deamon Deacons will be able to use Ernie Shore Field as the team's permanent home (it's near their football stadium).

    Yes, fans feel cheated out of having any game cut short because of weather or darkness. However, in any outdoor sporting event, once a game passes the halfway point, it is declared official, and if a game must end on account of inclement weather, darkness, or curfew, the score stands and whoever is leading wins.

    The exception usually is in minor league, college, and international baseball, where all nine innings must be played, even if it takes two days, unless it is the last game of the series because of the travel rule. If the first of a three-game series is in the bottom of the seventh, home team up 5-0, and it rains, the game must continue the next day at that point.

    However, if the third of a three-game series is 5-0 for the home team in the sixth inning, and because of weather, the visitor must leave for the airport, or if it rains and cannot continue, the game is over, no 7th-inning stretch, and no closer to finish the game, similar to what happened at Indy.

    Some recreational softball leagues have a rule where once a time limit is reached, that is the last inning. I play in a church league where once the game reaches the 1:30 mark, regardless of inning, that is the last inning. There is no seventh-inning charge because of the "curfew" in these time-limit games.

    The 11 AM start time at Indianapolis was based on the race starting on May 30, and an agreement not to hold the race on Sunday. In 1976, Tony Hulman moved the race to the Sunday before Memorial Day, and with live coverage starting in 1986, race coverage started at 11 AM ET, and in 2005 IMS moved the race to Noon EST. The current 1 PM start time is a byproduct of Daylight Savings Time.

    The Daytona 500 start time was moved to 1 PM in 2001 for television purposes, and a 1:30 start was moved to 1 PM to beat the rain (and the track won; starting the race 30 minutes later would have meant a Monday postponement; instead, at 272.5 miles, the race was official). In 2005 and 2006, 2:30 PM starts were used, but in 2007 a 3:30 PM start was implemented, with some at Fox wanting a 4 PM start in 2008. This has led to the mechanics' changing the cars to run differently from day to night.

    There are laws at many race tracks prohibiting races starting early; Richmond (home of the SunTrust 250 for the IRL) has a 12AM-12PM curfew for their races, and no engines can run before noon. Promoter Bob Colvin was arrested in 1957 for having the first Rebel 300 in Darlington on a Sunday because of rain. (The law has been changed; no Sunday races before 1:30 or longer than 250 miles.) Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, CT cannot race on Sunday because of an agreement with the local church next to the track.

    If the race started at noon, I don't think it would have been changed in any way. That would have "bought" only 30-40 extra laps between the first shower and the second shower.

    Sometimes, as fans saw in Charlotte at the end of the 600, it was the strategy of the last 65 laps that determined the race, especially since conditions changed from the 5:52 PM start (full sun), into 7 PM (shade starting to develop), 8:30 PM (sunset), and 9:10 PM (darkness with lights on). Fans wanted the change for fan safety after the all-star race had moved to a night race for spectators, and the next week, the 600 was run in very hot conditions, with many fans complaining about the heat, with some fans hospitalised for heat exhaustion.

  2. Good comments, Bobby. Although I would contend that if Indy had started an hour earlier, they might have run an additional 40 laps or so, which would have put them there.

    Do you remember the first couple of years after Memorial Day was changed to a Monday holiday, when they ran Indy on Saturday rather than Sunday? As was the case with the major college bowl games, the tradition always had been that if Memorial Day fell on a Sunday, the race would be held on a different day. That kept up for the first couple of years after the Memorial Day switch, until they decided to have it first on Monday, then on Sunday. Sorry to see another tradition go by-by.


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