Sunday, December 10, 2017

Does tennis fanbase have an age problem?

SportsBusiness Daily has reported earlier this year about the demographics of major sports' fanbases in the United States. Tennis has one of the oldest fanbases of all sports with an average age of 61 for the ATP's TV viewers and an average age of 55 for the WTA. The only major sport with older TV viewers than the ATP is the PGA Tour with an average of 64 years. The ATP's average has increased by five percent since 2006. The WTA is at least showing a positive trend by being the only major sport where the average age has decreased, by eight percent since 2006.

Of course, those are only American numbers but I'm still a bit surprised by how old the fanbase of tennis is in the USA. Tennis has traditionally been a game of young players, dominated by players in their 20s, although 2017 saw players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and the Williams sisters having great success still in their 30s.

In the American market, global sports tend to have a younger audience than North American sports, soccer and Formula One being examples of that. That makes it somewhat surprising how old the tennis fanbase in the USA is. On the other hand, the USA has greater traditions in tennis than in many other global sports, explaining the older fanbase.

There is a trend in many sports that younger fans tune in only for something big. Those young adults with work and kids don't want to spend all their spare time watching sports. As an example from tennis, the Wednesday night session featuring the Keys-Kanepi and Federer-Del Potro quarterfinals was the most-viewed US Open telecast both overall and in the 18-49 age group, though the women's semifinals and the final had more viewers in the non-18-49 demographics. Young adults wanted to see the much-anticipated Federer-Del Potro match; for comparison, the Nadal-Anderson final had only half of the 18-49 audience of the Federer-Del Potro quarterfinal.

Lack of American stars may explain why the WTA's fanbase in the USA is younger. Ever since Andy Roddick won the 2003 US Open, no American man has won a Grand Slam tournament whereas American women have achieved a total of 21 Grand Slam titles since 2004. The WTA provides more must-see matches for American people than the ATP does. The Stephens-Keys US Open final had 25 percent more viewers than the Nadal-Anderson men's final, in the 18-49 age group it had 58 percent more viewers.

Young adults are likely able to spend less time watching TV than retired old people. That may be the reason for the increased cord cutting, especially among young adults. Why pay for cable channels you don't have time to watch? Streaming services will be a big part of the future of sports broadcasting. People want to be able to watch from their mobile devices wherever they are and they don't want to pay for content they aren't watching.

All the numbers above are from the USA but it's easy to assume there are some global trends there. Streaming services are replacing traditional subscription channels around the world. Young, working adults with small children don't have as much time to watch sports as retired people have. Yet still, young adults are fascinated by major sports events and want to watch them.

Tennis needs young stars

With the average age of the fans increasing, the sanctioning bodies of tennis are trying to make the sport more appealing to younger generations. The ATP experimented some rule changes at the Next Gen Finals, including no-ad scoring, a best-of-five format with sets played to four games, and on-court coaching.

I'm not sure tennis needs those rule changes. A match played as best of five sets to four games will be 12 to 35 games, with the current rules of best of three sets to six games it's 12 to 39 games. No big difference there. No-ad scoring would shorten the matches, though it would come at the expense of thrilling extended games. Hardly an improvement.

What I think tennis needs to attract younger generations is young stars. After all the years they have spent on the top of the game, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray don't appear as young and exciting.

Tennis needs young stars whom young adults and teenagers can identify with. But how can the sanctioning bodies get them when the old guard is still too strong?

It's almost crazy how fit some players in their 30s are. Federer, Wawrinka, and Nadal would be retired at their age if they were 1990s players, yet they can beat younger players with their stamina. Today's tennis is very physical and players in their late teens or early 20s aren't ready to win major titles. Stan Wawrinka won his first slam at the age of 28; that's the age when players had usually reached their peak and started to decline. Grigor Dimitrov won his first Masters 1000 title at the age of 26 after years of big expectations.

Tennis needs to become less physical to help young players to break through (among many other reasons). Speeding up the courts would help in that. A young player who has the skills but not the stamina would be more capable of beating seasoned veterans if the game was less grueling.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Neutral Russian hockey team is not truly neutral

The International Olympic Committee has decided to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee because of the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia. Individual Russian athletes may still participate in the Winter Olympics in February as IOC-invited "Olympic Athletes from Russia" in both individual and team competitions, yet without Russia's national symbols.

I think the IOC's decision is the right one. Sports were used as a political tool in Russia, and worse still, to achieve the aims Russian sports organizations resorted on cheating with the help of the government. Russia's doping problem is not just an issue of sports organizations, it's a political issue. The only way to penalize Russia was to ban the Russian team and the national symbols at the Olympics.

The IOC's decision still leaves the door open for a neutral Russian team in hockey. Whether or not there will be a Russian hockey team under the Olympic flag is likely a highly political decision. Will Vladimir Putin's government decide to boycott the Games after the humiliating ban on national symbols, or do they want to show that nothing will stop Russia and will send the hockey players to PyeongChang?

Given the nature of Olympic hockey, a neutral team from a banned country isn't really a neutral team. Russian players would still represent Russia, even if they didn't have the national symbols. Clean individual athletes deserve to be at the Olympics but no Russian national teams should be invited to PyeongChang.

There are other team sports like curling or bobsled that are more comparable to individual sports than hockey. For example, in curling there are multiple teams in a country competing for the Olympic spot. On the other hand, in hockey players from multiple teams are aiming to make it into the Olympic team. Curling and bobsled teams are more individual and less of national teams than the hockey team is. Curling and bobsled teams can be neutral, a hockey team can't truly be.

Relay teams aren't truly neutral either

It will be interesting to see if the Olympic Athletes from Russia can compete in relays and other team competitions of individual sports. In my opinion, the Russian athletes stop being neutral if they are competing in relays against other countries.

What makes relays different from the likes of curling and bobsled is that relay teams are more of national teams. Sports like cross-country skiing are individual sports by definition, relays are just a way to enable team competitions.

The IOC's decision allows neutral Russian athletes to get invited to both individual and team competitions, though the invitations are at the IOC's absolute discretion. Even if Russia wanted to send a neutral hockey team, it's still up to the IOC to approve.

I hope the IOC will not invite Russian athletes in sports where that would lead into having a de facto national team, just without national symbols. Clean individual athletes deserve to be invited, disguised national teams not.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

New motorsports blog

As motorsports make up most of my blog texts, I have started a separate blog for them. From now on, my new motorsports texts are in the FINdyCar blog ( Old motorsports texts can still be found here but they are also imported into the new blog.

I will continue blogging about other sports here.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Glen's departure opens possibilities for INDYCAR in Pacific Northwest

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule has been released. There is only one change, though a very significant one. Portland International Raceway will replace Watkins Glen International which was not satisfied with the Labor Day weekend date.

It is very unfortunate that INDYCAR's latest return to Watkins Glen lasted only for two races and ended one year before the contract was set to expire. The Glen is one of the greatest road courses in North America and in the entire world. It was the iconic host of the United States Grand Prix in the 1960s and '70s.

However, the Glen never became a permanent fixture for Indy car racing like other former F1 venues Long Beach and Detroit did. Indy car races at the Glen have always been short-lived and the latest incarnation was not an exception. If anything, the Glen has become a NASCAR venue in the last decades.

I am not sure the Labor Day weekend date explains the poor attendance. Maybe Watkins Glen just isn't the right kind of a venue for INDYCAR. The location of the Glen is distant from major cities and NASCAR is the big draw there.

While it's unfortunate to see Watkins Glen not in the 2018 schedule, I'm excited to see INDYCAR returning to Portland. Portland hosted American open-wheel racing for over 20 years before it was left out of the schedule following the re-unification in 2008. It may not be as iconic of a track as the Glen, yet Portland has more Indy car history.

I think there are factors that can make Portland a better event than what the Glen would ever have become. Firstly, the location in a city of the size of Portland is better than Watkins Glen's hours away from major cities. Secondly, INDYCAR will be the only major series at Portland International Raceway or even in the entire Pacific Northwest. While the Glen has become a NASCAR venue, Portland used to be an Indy car venue.

Portland kind of reminds of Gateway Motorsports Park as an INDYCAR venue. Both are just outside a major city, both have some previous Indy car history, and INDYCAR is the biggest series at both venues. Gateway had a great attendance for the return of INDYCAR last season, hopefully Portland will be able to replicate that. However, it will require also great marketing like Gateway had.

Maybe that should be INDYCAR's strategy; instead of fighting a losing battle in NASCAR's territory, INDYCAR should look for growth in new markets. That growth would help to make the series more mainstream, making it easier to break through also in NASCAR-dominated areas.

As much as I liked seeing INDYCAR at Watkins Glen, I am fine with Portland replacing it. After two years, the event wasn't working at the Glen and something had to change. I think it's the right move to go to Portland where there is more hope of getting a good crowd. It would be great to have a track like the Glen in the schedule, though most important is having good events.

As for a potential return to Watkins Glen in the future, I'd like it but I am not overly positive. There may not be better calendar slots opening for the Glen in the near future, and even if there was, the crowd might still not be there. The Glen is a great track for Indy cars, yet the series doesn't necessarily need it; CART was great even without the Glen.

Hopefully INDYCAR will get a good crowd next September and Portland will become a successful event in the schedule. With previous racing history but no other major series there, Portland looks like a venue with potential for INDYCAR.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Laver Cup is no replacement for Davis Cup

The inaugural Laver Cup has got a mixed reception. The points system where Friday's matches have little importance to keep the Cup open until Sunday makes the event look like an exhibition, and the disparity between the Team Europe and the Team World didn't make it look very exciting. Despite that it has been a competitive event as opposed to an exhibition and it has featured a field of a high quality.

The way I see the Laver Cup it's an all-star event for men's tennis but not a World Cup. The Davis Cup is the World Cup but it's in a crisis.

There are so many great things in the Davis Cup. I like how it rewards quality over quantity. No matter how many top-100 players your country produces, you can choose only four players into the team. You can succeed even with an effectively two-player team, like Switzerland when Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka play both singles and doubles.

The Davis Cup also has the atmosphere of team sports because each tie has a home team and an away team. There is lots of variety in surfaces as the home team tries to choose a favorable surface. It is the only event outside the Grand Slam tournaments and the Olympic final to feature the best-of-five format. The fifth rubbers are special matches, often the biggest matches in the career of those nations' No. 2 ranked players. And the Davis Cup is one of those rare events where the top singles players play in doubles.

Yet the lack of big names is the problem of the Davis Cup. Given the heavy schedule of the ATP World Tour, the early rounds of the Davis Cup are not high in the priorities of the big names.

There have been proposals to change the format of the Davis Cup to make it more attractive for players. The ITF's board's proposal to make the singles rubbers best-of-three, yet the annual general meeting voted against it. I don't think the best-of-five format is such a big problem in the Davis Cup; the calendar slots and the surface transitions are bigger problems.

There have also been proposals for a neutral venue for a Davis Cup tournament. I am not a huge fan of that idea. If the Davis Cup was condensed to a one-week event, best-of-five would probably be gone, ties might be only three-rubbers like in the Hopman Cup, and the event would lose the atmosphere of a home team facing an away team. Even if all the big names participated in the Davis Cup at a neutral venue, the final might still feature none of the biggest names. That would be hard to sell unless one of the final teams would be playing in their home country.

What I think the Davis Cup needs is better scheduling. There are four months between the Australian Open and the French Open; that should be enough for the first two rounds of the Davis Cup without needing to schedule the first round for the week after the Australian Open. Give players some time after the major events before a Davis Cup tie and a possible surface transition. The semifinals after the US Open or the final after the ATP Finals aren't quite as bad as players don't want to miss those ties. Though some big names were missing from the World Group playoffs after the US Open, especially as the Laver Cup was only a week away.

I would also reinstate the ranking points for the World Group. Playing in the Davis Cup is away from playing elsewhere; the ranking points would make it more worthwhile to play in the Davis Cup. Those players who didn't make the Davis Cup team can't score points that week, though they have the advantage of getting an off week from the tour. Very much the only problem with the World Group ranking points is that players from countries in the lower groups can't score points even if they play in the Davis Cup.

Individual prize money is my third idea to make the Davis Cup more attractive. While individual prize money goes against the ideals of playing for your country, it may be needed to make the Davis Cup more attractive. If you don't play in the Davis Cup, you can probably play more tournaments and earn prize money and gain ranking points there. The Davis Cup needs points and individual prize money to remain attractive for players.

Time will tell if the Laver Cup becomes a fixture in the tennis calendar. The Laver Cup surely features two great teams of players, though fans don't cheer for their home continents like the cheer for their home countries. The Laver Cup is the all-star event of men's tennis, the Davis Cup is the World Cup. Even if the Laver Cup becomes a success, the traditions of the 117-year old Davis Cup need to be honored and protected.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Solid summer ratings for IndyCar on NBCSN

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series saw its viewership growing throughout the season. The viewership was down early in the season and the ratings were down for ABC's free-to-air telecasts, yet solid ratings throughout the summer boosted the viewership on NBC's cable channels over the previous years' averages.

The table below shows the viewership in thousands for NBC's cable telecasts.

Click to enlarge

Total Audience Delivery for NBC's telecasts in 2017: 507,000.
  • Up three percent on 2016 (492,000; excludes the rain-delayed Texas and Pocono races)
  • Down one percent on 2015 (510,000)
Overall average viewership for ABC, NBCSN, and CNBC in 2017: 1.14 million (17 races)
  • Down 11 percent on 2016 (1.28 million; 15 races)
  • Down 1.7 percent on 2015 (1.16 million; 16 races)

Early 2017 did not look positive for the Verizon IndyCar Series' TV ratings. The ratings for the free-to-air telecasts on ABC were down, as well as the ratings for Long Beach and Phoenix on NBCSN was down. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park was an exception, showing growth of over 60 percent in audience, though it was aided by a NASCAR race having a rain delay.

The Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway was the first race back on NBCSN after ABC's coverage from Indianapolis and Detroit. The Texas race started a strong streak for IndyCar's TV ratings for the rest of the season; eight of the last nine races had over 500 thousand viewers.

The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio was the most-viewed IndyCar race on cable in 2017; the live telecast on CNBC had 200 thousand viewers and the tape delayed NBCSN telecast had 576 thousand viewers following a NASCAR race. The most-viewed live telecast was the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono with 618 thousand viewers.

None of the 2017 races could match the most viewed races of the previous two seasons; in 2016 Mid-Ohio had 1.0 million viewers, thanks to the rain delay at a NASCAR race. In 2015 Sonoma had 841 thousand viewers, though the 2015 race took place three years earlier when the football season had not started and there was no NASCAR Cup race that weekend.

Although IndyCar could not achieve its previous top ratings on cable in 2017, the solid ratings since June improved the average audience compared to previous years. The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park was the only race since June with less than 500 thousand viewers as it took place in the same night as the Mayweather-McGregor fight.

Attracting younger generations IndyCar's challenge

While the average audience for the Verizon IndyCar Series on NBC's cable channels grew by eight percent from 2016, the average for those aged between 18 and 49 went down by four percent. Over the full season on ABC and NBC's channels, the 18-49 age group's viewership was down 10 percent. The 18-49 age group made up 22 percent of the IndyCar audience both on NBC's cable channels and on ABC.

The percentage of viewers aged 18-49 is slightly lower for IndyCar than it is for the NASCAR Cup Series or NHRA, for both of which it is around 25 percent. However, IndyCar's open-wheel rival Formula One has over 30 percent of its American viewers aged between 18 and 49. While IndyCar has a slightly higher average audience, F1 has more viewers in the 18-49 age group.

An obvious explanation for the growth of the viewership in the older generations may be that there are fans of Indy car racing that were lost in the split. INDYCAR's aim was to make those lost fans interested in the series again, and the audience growth implies it has succeeded in it. However, there is a younger generation of fans who grew up during the split and were never into Indy car racing. Gaining new fans from the younger generations is the next challenge for INDYCAR.

Gaining young fans is crucial for the long-term future of the series. A series with a good future outlook is also more attractive for sponsors, which in turn will help the series to grow. IndyCar already gets overshadowed by NASCAR in American media; if it can't attract young fans, it will be overshadowed by F1 as well. Then again, if IndyCar could attract young fans like F1 does, it could outnumber NASCAR's Trucks and possibly the Xfinity Series in the 18-49 audience.

Numbers via Awful AnnouncingShowbuzz DailySports Media Watch, NBC Sports Pressbox, and Adam Stern on Twitter.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Youngster beats veterans for IndyCar championship

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series finished with Josef Newgarden winning the championship. The 26-year-old from Tennessee became the youngest champion since the reunification of American open-wheel racing in 2008 and only the second American to win the title in the reunified era.

Newgarden finds success at Penske right away

Josef Newgarden couldn't have hoped for a better first season at Team Penske. He won already in his third start for the team at Barber Motorsports Park. He returned to the victory lane at Toronto, followed by an impressive victory at Mid-Ohio.

Teammate Will Power denied a third victory in a row at Pocono Raceway, yet Newgarden won once again as the Verizon IndyCar Series returned to Gateway Motorsports Park. The race-winning move on Simon Pagenaud at Gateway ultimately decided the championship in favor of Newgarden.

Team Penske didn't have the pace to win the penultimate race of the season in the mixed weather conditions of Watkins Glen, though Newgarden was on his way to a top-10 finish before his title campaign suffered a major setback. Coming off pit road, Newgarden crashed into the barrier at the pit exit and the lead over Scott Dixon went down from 33 to mere three points.

The season finale at Sonoma Raceway was a dominant performance by Team Penske, presenting Newgarden the perfect opportunity to clinch his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship. He might have had the pace to challenge Pagenaud for the race victory in the final stint, yet the second place was enough for Newgarden to win the series championship.

The only major disappointment in Newgarden's season was the Month of May. Newgarden lacked the pace at the Indianapolis 500 and his race got eventually destroyed in a multi-car crash in a late-race restart.

Defending champion closest rival for new champion

The defending champion Simon Pagenaud completed all laps of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series, yet came 13 points short from Newgarden.

Despite the consistency, Pagenaud couldn't repeat 2016's dominant performance of five wins. Pagenaud achieved his first career oval win at Phoenix in April, yet could not win another race before the season finale at Sonoma.

Pagenaud had a chance to win at Gateway, leading the race with 31 laps to go when Newgarden made the aggressive pass on him. The championship could have been different without that pass; Pagenaud lost also the second place to Dixon and lost 15 points to Newgarden. Had Pagenaud won, he would have gained 10 points on Newgarden.

Dixon Honda's lead contender

Chip Ganassi Racing's switch from Chevrolet's package gave Honda its best chance for the championship in years. After his worst season in over a decade in 2016, Scott Dixon was again a contender for his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series title.

Dixon's consistency was comparable to Pagenaud's. The only race where Dixon didn't finish in the top 10 was the Indy 500 where a heavy crash with the lapped Jay Howard ended his race early. Thanks to the safety of today's Indy cars, Dixon didn't suffer major injuries, though the polesitter's hunt for his second 500 victory was over.

The 500 crash was a major blow for Dixon's title campaign as there were double points on offer at Indy. Dixon was still able to enter the season finale at Sonoma only three points behind the leader Newgarden but didn't have the pace to challenge him for the title.

Dixon achieved only one victory in 2017 but it came after a great performance. Having qualified fifth behind the four Chevy-powered Penske cars, Dixon beat them all for the win at Road America.

Castroneves and Power complete Penske's strong effort

All four drivers in Penske's lineup came into the season finale as title contenders. Once again, the series title eluded the three-time Indy 500 winner Hélio Castroneves in what may have been his last full-time season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Castroneves came close to matching A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears with a fourth 500 victory this may, yet instead he was the runner-up for the second time in the last four 500s. The second place still gave him the points lead as he was aiming to win the first series title in his Indy car career of 20 seasons.

Castroneves' title campaign got a boost as he won at Iowa Speedway, ending the drought of over three years. Yet road courses are his weakness; a third place at Road America was Castroneves' best result on road courses.

Even if Castroneves returns for one more full season, his chances to win the elusive series title look slim; his teammates at Penske are all better on road courses and also well capable on ovals. However, the fourth place in the season standings shows Castroneves still deserves a full-time seat in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Only Newgarden won more races in 2017 than Will Power who celebrated at the Indianapolis road course, Texas Motor Speedway, and Pocono Raceway. Power also claimed six pole positions, more than any other driver.

Power's title campaign suffered many setbacks, many of them not through his own fault. At Barber slow puncture cost him a likely win, and at Gateway the first-lap crash with Ed Carpenter took him out of the race. Despite the three wins, the setbacks were too costly and Power couldn't finish the season higher than fifth in the championship.

Once again Indy 500 victory for Andretti Autosport

For the first time since 2014, three Andretti Autosport drivers finished the season in the top 10; Alexander Rossi in seventh, Takuma Sato in eighth, and Ryan Hunter-Reay in ninth place.

Having won two of the previous three Indy 500s, Andretti once again had a strong effort in the Month of May, strengthened by the two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso. Yet it was another F1 veteran that claimed the 500 victory for Andretti this year. Having crashed out of the victory battle in 2012, Takuma Sato beat Hélio Castroneves to become the first Japanese Indy 500 winner this year.

As has been the case throughout his career, inconsistency kept Sato out of the title contention. Outside the 500, his best results were two fourth places, and in 10 of the 17 races he missed the top 10.

The 2016 Indy 500 rookie winner Alexander Rossi kept on developing as an Indy car racer. At the penultimate race of the season at Watkins Glen, Rossi achieved his second career INDYCAR victory and the first on a road course as he went on to finish the season as the highest-placed Andretti driver.

For the 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2017 was the second winless season in a row. His best chance for the win could have been at Indianapolis, yet an engine failure ended his hunt of a second 500 victory.

Rahal turns poor start into solid finish

Takuma Sato will leave Andretti to drive the second car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2018. That should help the team which has struggled at times with setups when running a single car.

RLL's Graham Rahal had a poor start to the 2017 season as his best result in the first four races was a 10th place. The performance improved in the Month of May. Without a late-race puncture, Rahal would have been in contention for the Indy 500 victory.

A week after Indy, Rahal won both of the doubleheader races at Detroit to get back into the title contention. Although he failed to win more races to remain as a title contender, he missed the top 10 only once after Detroit to finish the season sixth in the points after a poor early season.

Chevy outnumbered but not defeated by Honda

Ever since returning to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2012, Chevrolet has won the manufacturer championship. 2017 was the sixth straight title, even though Honda outnumbered Chevy-powered cars in the field.

The 10 wins of Chevy in 2017 were achieved by the four Penske drivers whereas Honda's seven wins were achieved by six drivers from five different teams. Besides Ganassi, Andretti, and RLL, Dale Coyne Racing achieved a win with Sébastien Bourdais and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with James Hinchcliffe using Honda power.

Ed Carpenter Racing's J.R. Hildebrand came closest to winning for other team than Penske in a Chevy-powered car as he finished second at Iowa and third at Phoenix. However, his first full-time season since 2012 did not match the expectations set by Josef Newgarden in the same car in the previous seasons. While he had strong results on ovals, he was disappointing on road courses and will be replaced by the Spencer Pigot who showed more promise when driving Ed Carpenter's car on road courses.

A.J. Foyt Enterprises was the third full-time team running the Chevy package. While the team had a poor early season after switching to Chevy from the Honda package, the team improved by the end of the season. The highlight of the season for Foyt was Conor Daly finishing fifth at Gateway, showing competitive pace.

As Honda will continue with all its current teams in 2018, it seems like Chevy's hopes will again rely mostly on Penske. That may play a big role for the future of Castroneves' career. Given that Penske may be the only Chevy team able to beat Honda's top teams, Chevy would surely like Penske keeping the fourth car.

Newgarden leads the next generation of IndyCar

Josef Newgarden winning the series championship is a great finish for the 2017 season. While Fernando Alonso's participation and Takuma Sato's victory in the Indy 500 were great for the international exposure, a young American winning the championship is a great result for a series that needs local stars to succeed in its home market.

As most of the top drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series are in their late 30s or even 40s, many of whom likely retiring from full-time racing within the next five years, it's good to have top drivers like Newgarden who have 15 years or so left in the sport. And Newgarden is not the only young American star in the series; Graham Rahal and Alexander Rossi are both under 30 and have proven their capability to win.