For the first time since 1965, the Indianapolis 500 will be switching television networks. Wednesday morning (March 21), IndyCar and NBC Sports Group announced they have come to terms on a 3-year media rights partnership.
The deal will begin during the 2019 season and include both NBC and NBC Sports Network. Under the previous 10-year contract, NBC split IndyCar coverage with ABC. But during this period, ABC was the only network permitted to air races on broadcast television. NBC Sports could only show their share of races on cable.
Under the new contract, there will be eight races telecast on NBC, including the Indianapolis 500 and qualifying. The rest will be shown on NBC Sports Network, which has seen an 87% increase in IndyCar viewership over the past four years. The eight-race schedule is an increase from ABC’s previous schedule of five.
This deal also puts IndyCar in the NBC Gold Package. It’s a new, direct-to-consumer product where subscribers can purchase additional content that is not usually televised. Programming includes practices, qualifying sessions, support races, Carb Day at Indy, and IndyCar championship celebrations.
The Indianapolis 500 also joins NBC’s May-June “Championship Season.” It’s a package that broadcasts the Stanley Cup Finals, Tour de France, horse racing’s Triple Crown, the French Open, and Premier League Championship Sunday.
When speaking about the Indy 500, NBC Sports Group president of programming Jon Miller claimed it is “one of the great jewels in all of sports.” The fact the network has been “entrusted” with such a marquee event thrilled the broadcast team.
According to an Indianapolis Motor Speedway spokesman, the Indy 500’s live broadcast will still be blacked out locally. This rule also includes streaming devices located within the Indianapolis market.
ABC’s coverage of the Indy 500 was the second-longest sports TV partnership in history. It ranks only behind CBS’s partnership with the Masters, which started in 1956. However, it was a focus for IndyCar CEO Mark Miles, along with team owners Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi, to not split coverage between both networks moving forward.
“Mark Miles had a singlehanded focus in finding just one partner,” Miller confirmed to the Associated Press.
According to the AP, both NBC and ABC were in a bidding war for standalone media rights to IndyCar races. The negotiations concluded about a week ago, when ABC sent an internal memo tweeted out by an employee of one of their local stations. That tweet has since been deleted; ABC chose not to comment on the matter until after Wednesday’s announcement.
“We have had a wonderful and rewarding relationship with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar. It has been our distinct honor to be partners for so many years,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice president of programming and scheduling. “We look forward to the rest of our events this season and wish them all the best in the future.”
NBC Sports/IndyCar Deal Highlights
- All 2019 IndyCar races will be streamed live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.
- The Indy 500 and qualifying will be on NBC along with seven other IndyCar races.
- NBCSN will air the remainder of the schedule. That channel has seen an 87% increase in IndyCar viewership over the past four years.
- NBC Gold will provide subscription feeds to practices, qualifying sessions, support races, Carb Day at Indy and the postseason championship celebration.
- NBCUniversal’s “Symphony” marketing program will target the Indy 500 and use the company’s numerous assets to promote “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing.”