GoDaddy.com founder Bob Parsons has mixed emotions when it comes to the IndyCar Series.
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Like his driver Danica Patrick, Parsons prefers ovals to road/street courses. So it’s understandable that the CEO of GoDaddy.com wished to clarify his analogy of IndyCar racing being "as exciting as watching paint dry."
Parsons experienced an awakening of sorts after viewing one of the most compelling Indianapolis 500s from Patrick’s pits.
Parsons’ Indy experience began by spending time with the No. 7 Andretti Autosports car "to get it started" with an assist from the team and trainer Jillian Michaels.
As the 33-car field began to roll off and whizzed by him throughout the course of the afternoon, Parsons began to realize what the buzz was all about.
"It was about as exciting of a race as I’ve seen, and with Danica out leading with about 10 laps (to go) with things coming around the far turn, when you have that kind of race often, you’re going to have a lot more viewership," Parsons said.
"Given the viewership, given Versus, given how exciting NASCAR is, they need to make it more exciting. And by more exciting, I don’t mean dangerous. I mean more exciting where everyone keeps having a chance to win if they perform."
As a businessman, it’s the viewership that concerns Parsons. While the IndyCar Series will appear on ABC five times this season, the balance of the schedule remains on Versus. When the Indy 500 ran on ABC on Sunday, nearly 5 million households tuned in to the broadcast — that’s a 7 percent increase over last year.
Thirteen of NASCAR’s 36 Sprint Cup Series are broadcast on FOX. Of the remaining events, ESPN carries 10 races, TNT covers six and ABC televises night races at Bristol, Richmond and Charlotte.
Parsons has already seen a considerable difference in the return on his investment from running GoDaddy.com on cars in NASCAR compared with IndyCar, particularly on Versus, which reached 75.1 million households.
While Parsons has never spoken to IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard about that issue — or anything else, for that matter — he appreciates the effort Bernard has put into turning the series around.
"From my standpoint, I’m really interested in the viewership," Parsons said. "I’m interested where it’s being broadcast. And our return, the response from our ads on Versus fell off the cliff. There’s a number of things to fix. First of all, let’s say this was the most exciting sport in the world, then maybe people could find Versus. At the moment, it can be really exciting to watch like the Indy 500, but it’s not. The fact that he’s moving in the right direction is good. But he’s got a big job.
"Randy and I have never chatted. I’ve never heard from him. He’s looking at losing us and her, so a phone call might be in order one of these days, you think?"
Sunday before the race, Parsons questioned the entertainment value of the IndyCar product. On Tuesday, Parsons clarified that his earlier remarks were in response to the single-file racing that happens on these circuits. Although IndyCar has a "no blocking" rule, Parsons would like to see the series institute a passing rule for road courses.
"In my opinion, there’s a problem with road courses, especially narrow road courses like you have at Long Beach," Parsons said. "If you get a team out in front, first and second, the second guy can really choke down the field. To me, when I watch it, that’s when I almost turn it off because it becomes unexciting.
"That is what my comment, ‘It’s about as exciting as watching paint dry’ (referenced). . . . If you see a football game that’s 98 to nothing and the leaders keep scoring, you lose interest in it, right? Because what we all like to see is everybody still having a chance to win and the leader keep earning its keep, keep earning the victory.
"I think that’s one of the things they need to fix on those road courses. They have to have a mandatory passing rule, meaning if somebody can pass you and they can overtake you, (you stay) on the left and you let them go by. I think that would make it so much more exciting."
Parsons’ company has been Patrick’s primary sponsor since 2006. Throughout that period, Parsons has familiarized himself with the sport. He likes the double-file restart. He likes the league’s move to his hometown of Baltimore this season and the possible move near his current residence in Phoenix.
Parsons remains complimentary of Bernard, who came on board as IndyCar CEO 14 months ago. However, he still believes the IndyCar Series has a ways to go to reach the popularity of NASCAR.
"The one thing that I love about a double-file restart is that it’s a signal from the people at Indy that they’re trying to make it more exciting," Parsons said. "It’s moving in the right direction, and I like it. But I don’t think it’s ‘job done.’ You have to keep in mind that me, as a sponsor and an advertiser, I look at it differently from a pure fan. For me, number one, it’s a business relationship. Everything I do with a business relationship has a purpose.
"This Indy 500 was absolutely the most exciting I’ve seen. I was drawn into it from the moment it started to the moment it ended. One hour after it finished, I sat down with a beer and got a little relaxed; I thought I was at a prize fight.
"That’s the type of thing you want to see. So, if (Bernard is) responsible for that — and in a certain part, he is — then my hat is off to the man. I’ve got no complaints with him, that’s for sure. I just haven’t had the luxury or the honor of meeting him."