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We can still attract new fans… we can lose them again too

The View

If seven or eight years ago someone would have told me that I might one day enjoy Premier League football (soccer) as much as, or even more than I enjoy the NHL, I would have laughed at them.

If someone would have told me that one day I’d be getting up at 7:30 on a Sunday morning to watch the final race of the Formula 1 season, I would have told them that they were delusional.

Over time however, as a league once popular to me, like the NFL, became obsessed with video replay, and changed their rules to all but eliminate special teams, and when in the NHL regular season something like body checking has pretty much disappeared, my attention eventually turned elsewhere.

It wasn’t that either sport drew me in on its own merit though, in both cases it was my son that they attracted first. It was in-part, the extravaganza known as the 2014 World Cup, that drew him towards soccer, and a video game that helped steer him to Formula 1, but in the same way that he introduced me to much of the newer music on my iPod, eventually I took notice of these other entertainment options as well.

We have video games like ‘Catch Driver’ - thanks to Ryan Clements and his team. We also have racing extravaganzas such as the North America Cup and the Hambletonian, to name a few. Are we using any of these things properly to attract a new and younger fanbase? That’s a discussion for another day perhaps.

Regardless, somehow Formula 1 did draw me in, and the innovative ways in which they present their sport, combined with this past season’s historic battle between racing legend Lewis Hamilton and brash, young upstart Max Verstappen, kept me watching. But that doesn’t mean that they should rest on their laurels.

On Sunday, December 12, I did indeed set my alarm for 7:30am so we could watch the final race of the year, in Abu Dhabi, that would determine the winner of this season-long, epic battle that saw Hamilton win the last three races in a row to actually tie Verstappen in points with just one event remaining.

For most of the race the event did not disappoint, and with approximately five laps remaining (of 58 in total) Hamilton held what was basically an insurmountable lead of approximately 12 seconds. That’s when things got messy.

I’m not about to tell a sport with many years of history, after watching only a handful of races, how their rules should read. What I will do is tell them how their handling of said ‘rules’ left a new fan feeling. I’ll tell them that they should not give me the rules and then not live up to them, or basically change them mid-race.

With five laps remaining a competitor not named Hamilton or Verstappen crashed, putting the race under a caution and sending the safety car onto the track while the track was cleared of debris. Viewers were told that the options at this time were:

a) While the safety car led the pack, ALL cars that had been lapped would be allowed to pass the leaders and “un-lap” themselves. The race would then start up again with everybody in a pack. In this case however, it would take too much time to un-lap everyone, the race would more than likely end under the caution flag and Hamilton would win.

b) All cars would go to the pits, have a chance to put on fresh tires etc., and then start again from scratch. In essence it would be a five-lap race for all the marbles.

c) Leave the cars on the track, in the order that they were currently in - not allowing anyone to un-lap themselves - bring the safety car in again, and just continue the race as is. In this scenario there probably would’ve been only one lap left at that time, and Verstappen, more than likely could not have caught Hamilton because there were still five or six lapped cars between them and in his way.

By all accounts the race was over and Hamilton would soon win his 8th career title.

At the very last moment however, the Race Director changed his mind (and the rules to a degree) in a way that I’m still not clear whether he’s actually allowed to do. He allowed only the five or six lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to un-lap themselves (in contrast to option ‘a’) and then let them all race the last lap, basically starting the two leaders side-by-side. The HUGE issue here is that he was fully aware that Verstappen had much newer tires on his car, something that made it next to impossible for Hamilton to win that one-lap race.

In the end, Verstappen won easily - the lap, the race and the title - and a nine month season was decided by one man, who may or may not have even been acting within the rules.

In the end they also pretty much lost a new fan - me - that it took them decades to attract.

I’m not flat-out accusing harness racing of making this same mistake, but do we always CLEARLY explain things to our customers, both before and after the fact? I’m thinking along the lines of placings, non-placings, drivers that sit in with big favourites, positive tests, suspensions, late driver changes and a myriad of other things. Sometimes we do ex-plain clearly and sometimes we don’t, but I do know that we always need to strive to attract new fans, and continue to put all fans, our paying customers, first.

If we don’t, eventually we’ll lose them forever.

Dan Fisher
[email protected]

1 Comment

January 23, 2022 - 2:00 pmBrilliantly written article.

John McQueen SAID...

Brilliantly written article. That F1 race is the perfect analogy.

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