USA Today - 27.03.2020

(Darren Dugan) #1


The numbers can’t be ignored. NAS-
CAR, Fox Sports 1 and iRacing combined
to generate a 0.53 Nielsen rating on Sun-
day, which equated to 903,000 viewers,
by choosing to air stock car racing’s first
live esports event on cable television.
Even better, 297,000 of those who
tuned in for the eNASCAR Pro Invita-
tional iRacing Series skewed toward a
younger demographic, with the coveted
18-49 range making up nearly one-third
of the viewers. That’s roughly the size of
the crowd that packs into Indianapolis
Motor Speedway each May for the Indy
500, which is hailed as the largest sin-
gle-day sporting event in the world.
One analyst reckons the broadcast
was the most watched esports event of
all time across North American air-
waves, and that should have IndyCar,
IMSA, Formula One and every other ma-
jor series clamoring to have their
esports races featured on TV.
IMSA held its Sebring SuperSaturday
iRacing event last week across its You-
Tube and Twitch channels, which com-
bined to draw an average of 10,
viewers or so through live streaming,
and IndyCar is set to use the same on-
line delivery outlets for its race Satur-
day. Even with a significant spike over
IMSA’s streaming numbers, IndyCar’s
audience size will pale in comparison to
NASCAR’s wildly successful FS1 e-visit.
The TV component has become a
must-have item, and with most sports
networks struggling to produce new
content, the NBC/NBCSNs and ABC/
ESPNs should have the ability to clear
the decks and accommodate their vari-
ous racing series.
Before we hammer IMSA and Indy-
Car for aiming low and offering nothing
other than YouTube and Twitch, there
are a few nuances to consider.
Every racing series has prioritized
finding new and younger fans, and ven-
turing into gaming has been among the
core strategies employed by most sanc-

tioning bodies. We also know that, in
normal times, the youthful audience
they seek isn’t sitting at home on the
couch with grandma and grandpa each
weekend consuming hours of cable TV,
which makes an all-streaming strategy
the right path.
But life in a coronavirus world is far
from normal, and by sticking to the
esports play book, a massive amount of
older fans get orphaned in the process.
It makes the dual delivery methods cho-
sen by NASCAR and FS1, with cable and
streaming options presented to fans of
every age, especially smart.
NASCAR knows its die-hard fans are
well aware of when to hit the couch and
fire up the TV, and by honoring that tra-
dition with the eNASCAR Pro Invita-
tional iRacing Series served up on FS1,
some sense of normalcy was main-
tained. Beyond recognizing what its
fans wanted – racing in whatever form –
the series and its TV partner also en-
sured their preferred viewing solution
was preserved.
Giving folks an eNASCAR race, on the
day and time the fans carve out to watch
from their living room, was a welcome

respite from an uncomfortable reality.
Their efforts to preserve TV time for
stock car racing fans, even with a virtual
race, is worth noting and copying by
NASCAR’s rivals.
As series and their teams search for
ways to give sponsors value while the
pause button has been pressed on live
events, the 903,000/293,000 numbers
from FS1 are guaranteed to spur action
from the IndyCars and IMSAs.
Some digital artists who develop liv-
eries for teams have reported an in-
crease in business as everyone from
professional drivers to auto manufac-
turers have commissioned iRacing liv-
eries that replicate their real cars.
It’s too soon to measure the market-
ing and exposure value for those spon-
sors and manufacturers in virtual com-
petitions, but we can see where things
are headed. Look for more perfect iRac-
ing liveries of your favorite cars as the
big brands chase TV and streaming
numbers to replace what’s being lost
with postponements and cancellations.
Based on the success of the first eNAS-
CAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series
broadcast, the rest of the immediate
calendar has been confirmed on the big

Fox network and FS1, which should lead
to a skyrocketing bump in ratings. Now
the clock’s ticking for the other net-
works to do the same with their racing
And if we’re lucky, this sudden and
heavy shift toward esports will outlast
the coronavirus.
“There’s the potential for something
big here, that can last,” said IndyCar
driver Conor Daly, whose passion for all
forms of esports is well-known. “I was
watching the eNASCAR race on Fox, but
I was also watching one of the driver’s
Twitch feed because it was more of a
personalized thing. The TV option was
great, and they clearly advertised it
enough, and the drivers tweeted it out,
and people knew to tune in.
“Esports have been around for a
while, but because we’re in such an in-
teresting place in the world where ev-
eryone’s craving content, the value of
esports content is being recognized. I
think that if it can draw that kind of au-
dience, people need to think about mak-
ing it a bigger part of what they do.”
Daly hopes more series follow NAS-
CAR’s approach to presenting esports
and has a message for older fans who
might be averse to the streaming side.
“(McLaren F1 driver) Lando Norris
yesterday had more Twitch followers
than the biggest Twitch stars, and that’s
for everything, not only racing,” he said.
“Clearly, the motor sports fans will tune
in through streaming, but you’re not go-
ing to see six-figure numbers. You’d be
happy with 30,000 viewers, maybe
45,000 viewers, online. That’s why hav-
ing our esports races on TV matters.
“I’ve been watching esports for years;
watched a ‘Call of Duty’ event today, and
I’m telling you, it’s a better experience if
you’re doing the dual-screen thing. If
you have a Facebook account and fig-
ured that out, you can create a Twitch
account. You can communicate directly
with the drivers, and even donate to
their cause if you want through Twitch. I
feel like this could be big if all the racing
series approach esports the right way.”


TV boosts auto racing’s eRevolution

Marshall Pruett
Racer Magazine | USA TODAY Network

Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, won the eNASCAR iRacing Pro
Invitational Series Dixie Vodka 150 at virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway on

MLB’s opening day is traditionally a
time of optimism and excitement for
baseball fans everywhere. Every team
starts with a 0-0 record and – at least
theoretically – has an equal opportunity
to win the World Series.
But due to the coronavirus outbreak
that halted most sports since March 12,
there was no opening day Thursday in
the major leagues. Each team will keep
its 0-0 record for the foreseeable future.
In an alternate universe, the games
would have gone on as scheduled. Max
Scherzer would be on the mound for the
defending champion Nationals and Ger-
rit Cole would be making his first start
as a member of the Yankees.
Fortunately, there was a way to see
what was happening in that alternate
universe ... thanks to the incredible real-
ism of baseball simulation games.
The oldest and most popular of these
is Strat-O-Matic, which was first pro-
duced in 1961 – before two-thirds of the
current MLB managers were born.
To help fill the void with no live base-
ball being played, Strat-O-Matic is of-
fering a simulated version of the MLB
schedule, at least until the real thing is
“We’re able to provide baseball in the
background,” Strat-O-Matic research
director John Garcia tells USA TODAY
Sports. “We’re still able to bring baseball
to people’s homes and people are able to
enjoy the game that way.”
The results of each day’s games –
complete with box scores and standings

  • will be revealed at 2 p.m. ET on Strat-
    O-Matic’s website (
    and various social media platforms.
    So that Scherzer versus Jacob de-
    Grom pitching matchup we didn’t get to
    see in real life will come to life in a box
    score. Sort of like the days when people
    turned to (gasp!) newspapers to find out
    how their favorite teams did.

How does it work?

Strat-O-Matic and other baseball
simulations use statistics from the pre-
vious season to create “cards” for each
player on a roster. The team managers
select the batting order and the starting
pitcher. From there, a series of dice rolls
and calculations determines the out-
come of each at-bat.
Strat-O, as it’s known to longtime

players, first gained its immense popu-
larity as a board game. The company
has since expanded to a downloadable
Windows version and one that’s played
online. A few years ago, it introduced
Baseball Daily – an iteration that com-
bined the player cards from the previous
season with statistics from the real sea-
son being played at the same time.
“What we decided when we created
Baseball Daily was let’s have the oppor-
tunity to be current in any season and
have the ability for our consumers to be
able to download a current data feed ev-
ery day during the baseball season,”
says Adam Richman, son of founder Hal
Richman and a second-generation own-
er of the company.
A typical game between two oppo-
nents can take an hour to play, less de-
pending on experience. Online, the time
can be cut to about 30 minutes. A com-
puter simulation takes only seconds.
That’s the version that will spit out
the results of every simulated game on
the MLB schedule as fans and media
members provide input into the lineups
and pitching rotations for each team.
“We’re taking injuries into account
too,” Garcia says. That means no Chris
Sale for the Red Sox. And Giancarlo
Stanton of the Yankees is likely to begin
the regular season on the injured list.
“We just have to use the latest reports
that we have at the time. We’ll use the

latest news reports and best judgments
on projected return dates. We can’t be
exact but we’ll try.”

Playing at home

Sports simulations have proved to be
a popular way for fans to fill the absence
of live sporting events.
“People want their sports fix,” Rich-
man says. “Not only baseball, but
there’s no basketball, there’s no hock-
ey.” Strat-O-Matic also has games for
those sports, as well as football, but
baseball has always made up the major-
ity of its sales.
“Last year was our biggest year ever
and this year will be much much bigger,”
he says. “It’s an exciting time for us. We
just are sorry that it’s happening in the
midst of all this chaos.”
Another player in the sports sim
world is Dynasty League Baseball. Like
Strat-O-Matic, it began as a board game
(originally called Pursue the Pennant)
and has evolved into a more sophisticat-
ed version that’s played with either
cards and dice or via an online engine.
Since the sports world shut down
two weeks ago, traffic at the Dynasty
League Baseball site (DynastyLeague- has tripled, owner and
founder Mike Cieslinski tells USA
TODAY Sports.
Part of that stems from a technical

upgrade that has enabled game play on
all Windows and Mac browsers. But the
largest percentage comes from people
just wanting to play the game.
Dynasty League Baseball has just an-
nounced a new option that allows its us-
ers to play an entire 2020 season with
their favorite team while the computer
simulates all other games simulta-
One major upgrade from other sim
games is that offseason transactions
have already been processed, so Mookie
Betts is now on the Dodgers’ roster and
Anthony Rendon is on the Angels’.
“The new solitaire season league
mode will be great for those missing
opening day,” Cieslinski says. “They can
have their own opening day right from
home managing their favorite team in
the 2020 opener.”

Strat-O-Matic goes to bat during MLB void

Steve Gardner

The baseball board game Strat-O-Matic was first produced in 1961.

Opening day
In many respects, MLB’s 2020
opening day was like any other –
with pitchers’ duels, late-inning
heroics and surprising heroes scat-
tered throughout the 15-game
schedule. Except for one major dif-
ference. The games didn’t take
place in major league ballparks
across the country. They took place
in a parallel online universe.
While the real game is on hold,
simulation game maker Strat-O-
Matic is playing out the entire 2020
MLB season, using its Baseball Daily
engine, with each day’s results re-
vealed at 2 p.m. ET. In this version of
opening day, the Nationals began
defense of their World Series title
with a 4-3 win over the Mets. Just as
he did to propel the Nationals to
victory in Game 7 of the Fall Classic,
Howie Kendrick came through with a
go-ahead home run to lead Wash-
ington to victory. – Steve Gardner

Thursday’s scoreboard
Nationals 4, Mets 3 (10 innings)
Indians 9, Tigers 1
Royals 5, White Sox 2
Brewers 7, Cubs 4 (11)
Orioles 3, Yankees 2
Red Sox 3, Blue Jays 2
Athletics 5, Twins 3
Rockies 10, Padres 7 (13)
Dodgers 10, Giants 3
Rangers 10, Mariners 0
Cardinals 4, Reds 3
Marlins 4, Phillies 3
Pirates 4, Rays 1
Angels 9, Astros 6
Braves 5, Diamondbacks 3
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