I was halfway through an interview about this year’s Honda Indy Toronto with Jim Ralph and Bill Watters on AM 640 when the inevitable question was asked: how was the race day attendance?
And I answered as honestly as I could – since the event has chosen once again to not release a figure.
I said on the radio that I thought it was about the size of a "BMO Field" crowd – 20,000 to 25,000, maybe a tad more. I based this on a seat and head count.
I went to the Honda Indy website in the days leading up to the race and I clicked on "tickets." That eventually took me to the seating pattern for the grandstands. For instance, Section A in one grandstand had 18 seats across and was 20 rows high; I clicked on all the sections of all the grandstands and did the math. I tabulated the totals and got a figure of just under 16,000 seats – most of which were filled on race day.
Then I added an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 suite seats, 1,000 general admission seats along Lake Shore Blvd., 1,000 or so drivers, team members, volunteers, paid workers, security, etc., and then a whole bunch of people just wandering around and came up with the 20,000-to-25,000 figure.
Now, that was not for the weekend – Free Friday attracted a ton of people and since there was no admission and nothing was reserved, there was no way to estimate a total. And Saturday and Sunday had lots of people on and about the grounds and inside the Direct Energy Centre. So maybe my estimate was low – although not by much. I mean, I’ve been around.
But in the end, so what?
Right now, today, the Toronto Blue Jays are attracting an average crowd of just over 21,000 fans per game. Mostly, they get between 11,000 and 16,000 a game and the average gets bumped up by things like opening day, Roy Halladay, the Yankees and the Red Sox. The rest of the time, you can shoot a cannon through the place and not hit anybody.
But does anybody in the media go on about attendance at Blue Jays games?
I’ve cited this stupidity before and I’ll do it again. The Toronto media routinely report that a million people show up for the Gay Pride parade every year. It is mathematically impossible for this to happen but it gets reported anyway. In fact, CFTO, on Gay Pride parade night, bumped that figure up to an attendance of "1.5 to 2 million (which would have meant just about every man, woman, child and infant in the entire city showed up)."
Total nonsense, but reported anyway.
Same with the Scotiabank Caribbean Festival (nee Caribana), the Taste of the Danforth and so-on. They all allegedly attract a million people.
If the promoters of the Honda Indy made an initial mistake, it’s this: they should have announced that a million people attended the first race in 2009. That way, the race attendance would have fit in nicely with all the other exaggerated attendance figures around here and, as is the case with the other events, nobody would have questioned it.
In the end, however, does it really matter how many people were actually there?
The TV figures were over the top. TSN announced that an average audience of 559,000 watched the race and that, overall, more than 1.2 million tuned in. The peak came as Dario Franchitti held off Scott Dixon to win; at 4:46 p.m., 735,000 were watching.
TSN said it was the best-watched Indy car race on the network since 1997, when CART was the sanctioning body and the race was known as the Molson Indy (and yes, those days are gone, never to return, just like the every-day sellout that was the norm at SkyDome before the baseball players' strike in 1994).
In the U.S., the little-known cable network Versus drew a .41 rating, which translates into a shade more than 400,000. So between one million and 1.6 million in North America watched the race, or some of it. (It would have been more if the race had been on a major U.S. network, which is something that IndyCar simply cannot ignore much longer.)
Corporate support for the event, meantime, is solid. The U.S. retailer Target, which sponsors Chip Ganassi’s racing team with Franchitti and Dixon driving, flew in all its top U.S. executives and introduced its Canadian management team to the media before the race on Sunday and emphasized its commitment to the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Toronto Indy.
They had "Target ambassadors" handing out free stuff on the grounds and they’re not even opening for business in Canada till 2013!
And several hundred media members – newspaper, magazine and website reporters and photographers from all over North America and several from Europe and Asia – sent stories and pictures about the race back to their publications and Internet sites.
So when you look at the big picture, you have solid TV numbers (which is what advertisers are really looking for), solid media interest and serious corporate support and commitment. What more can an event like this ask for?
Toronto, and the Indy car race through its streets last Sunday, looked pretty darn good in the eyes of the world.
Which is cause for celebration, not criticism.