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Media: ABC hopes to end Indy ratings woes

Media: ABC hopes to end Indy ratings woes

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The running Sunday of the Indianapolis 500 will be the 100th anniversary of the fabled event at the Brickyard, and although it again is a highlight on the sports calendar it has lost much of its luster as a major television force.

Ratings haven't soured as much as if the bottle of milk that the winner traditionally drinks had been left out in the sun all day, but the numbers say stock car racing's key event continues to zoom by open wheel racing's showcase spectacle.

NASCAR's Daytona 500 has out-rated the Indy 500 for the last 15 years, something that had happened only twice in the previous 22 years. Since 2000, Daytona has more than doubled Indy's rating most times. And Indy has beaten the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's race that runs the same night, only once in the last five years. That came in 2009, when the Coke race was rained out and run the following afternoon.

The 500 has been going the wrong direction in St. Louis, too. The rating locally in 2005 was 7.3, last year it was 3.1.

ABC Sports, which is run by ESPN, will carry the race for the 47th consecutive time. And ESPN senior vice president and executive producer Jed Drake said it's important now to draw in younger viewers.

"You want to keep it turning over and over as the years go by,'' he said on a conference call this week. "But I do believe this event has staying power and it is on a growth curve. ... It is something that absolutely, positively exceeds the notion of it being just a motor sports event. It's the spectacle, it's the element of danger.

"I think that transcends age, and, in fact, I think it probably plays pretty well to the youth angle because once they do start watching it, I think that there is an amazement about it. ... I'm pretty bullish on it, and I think that is the direction we're going.''

ABC plans to weave a lot of history into the telecast, which begins at 10 a.m. (KDNL, Channel 30 locally). The race is set to start at 11:10 a.m.

"With the centennial, this great production team has put together 100 years by American presidents,'' Drake said. "We're going to have a whole pregame piece that's devoted to the journey. ... We recognize the importance of this event for the event itself, but also by addition, the historical significance of itself and the period of time.

"I was sitting with Brent (Musburger) a few years ago when we were talking about sort of the scene set. And I reminded him that if you really want to put this race in perspective, think about this: The Civil War had only been over 50 years when the first race was held. That really does put it in context.''

WXOS (101.1 FM) has the Indy radio broadcast locally.

 

SOCCER SHOWDOWN

The UEFA Champions League title match, one of the top events in soccer, will be televised by Fox for the second year in a row when it shows Saturday's match from London between Barcelona and Manchester United.

Last year's contest, between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, drew 1.6 million viewers — 14 percent better than the 1.4 million who watched on ESPN the year before for Manchester United and Barcelona. But the 2010 performance in St. Louis was dismal. Accord ing to The Nielsen Co., only 0.9 percent of the area's homes with a TV tuned to KTVI for Fox's coverage (about 11,300 households watching). That tied for just 28th nationally.

Saturday's coverage on Channel 2 starts at 1 p.m., with kickoff set for 45 minutes later. Curt Menefee is the host and British soccer announcer Martin Tyler, who did play-by-play of last year's World Cup for ESPN, has that role for Fox. He'll be joined by analyst Alan Smith.

"You get an event that probably, at least worldwide, will have more viewers than the Super Bowl did,'' Menefee said on a conference call. "... The atmosphere and electricity that we're going to try and capture on Fox is going to be unlike anything anybody has done in television back home."

Tennis in 3-D

If you subscribe to AT&T U-verse, you're missing some Cards telecasts this season because of the outlet's squabble over money with Fox Sports Midwest, but you will be able to get some telecasts of French Open tennis in 3-D if you have a receiver that picks up that technology.

U-verse, along with DirecTV and Comcast, are carrying Tennis Channel's telecasts from center court in the format on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. This will be the first time any French Open matches have been show in 3-D. Also, DirecTV has up to six live matches in HD on the same screen at Channel 701.

MORE MOVEMENT AT NBC

The transformation of NBC Sports continues under the network's new ownership. Last week, Dick Ebersol announced he was stepping down after a high-profile 22-year stint of running the department.

Then on Thursday, Ken Schanzer announced his retirement. Schanzer, 66, headed the department's day-to-day operations since 1998. NBC recently was bought by Comcast and Mark Lazarus, who had been running Comcast's sports cable networks, has taken over NBC Sports.

"SPags'' spotlight

Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo serves as the presenter when Giants defensive end Justin Tuck is named one of the top 100 players from last season in a vote by NFL players. Tuck will be ranked somewhere from 51st to 60th on a show that airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on NFL Network. Spagnuolo was the Giants' defensive coordinator before coming to the Rams.

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