Indy 500 ratings not necessarily all that bad

INDIANAPOLIS — Ratings are in. I’ll admit, when I first read NBC Sports’ press release about how their presentation of the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday from Indianapolis Motor Speedway averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 3.737 million viewers, I was shocked and not necessarily in a good way. My first thought?

“Is that all?”

But, once I did my homework and dug deeper, which is what I’m supposed to do, I actually think that this was a very respectable number in the end. Sure, you’re going to have the pundits saying that it was a lack of media coverage there. But, where they’d fail you is if you listen to that, you’d miss the fact that the media coverage there was fantastic. It was next to none. I don’t want to beat my own drum, because this story isn’t about me, but I wrote over 100 articles regarding the Indy 500 this month alone.

Don’t believe me? It’s all right here.

Everyone there busted their ass and did a great job. Every main and intriguing topic was covered. No stone was left unturned for content that would have swayed the number that watched this race on Sunday any bigger.

Marco Andretti became the 1st Andretti to win the Indy 500 pole since 1987 – INDYCAR Media Site photo

If you want to buy into that theory, then how did the Indianapolis 500 Qualifications have a 26-percent viewership increase? With no network TV coverage prior to Saturday’s opening day of Time Trials, the content that you read or watched would have been from media on the ground.

So, don’t blame the media there.

Don’t also blame the NTT IndyCar Series or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway either. They went above and beyond this month. I saw a post blaming them for not allowing media into Gasoline Alley to tell more stories. Well, that’s part true because we weren’t allowed to go into Gasoline Alley, but it’s also FALSE about the content part because IMS/INDYCAR brought Gasoline Alley to us.

There was a daily and I do mean daily, media bullpen right outside of Gasoline Alley every morning from 9-10 a.m. They’d rotate a large cast of drivers each day. It wasn’t a press conference either. It was 1-on-1 interviews with drivers. In person.

That doesn’t count the full field media day last Thursday where literally all 33 drivers were brought to us, in person again I might add, in a chalet behind Pagoda Plaza. They did so in three groups of 11.

I can attest that I’ve covered this race in person for eight years now and I’ve never seen such well thought out plan and so much organization on it from IMS/INDYCAR in terms of media coverage on site. It was flawless and I know that it took a lot of work for them to make happen. From Alex Damron, to Suzi Elliott to Wesley Johnson, Arni Sribhen, Paul Kelly and Kate Davis, they were the real MVP’s of the month for their tireless work to get everything coordinated.

If you wanted a driver for any reason, they’d set it up. How many sports right now can you go cover IN PERSON and talk to their athletes IN PERSON? Name them, I’ll wait…

Most broadcasts are done away from the arenas. Any athlete interaction is done via zoom. It is rare to talk to an athlete in person these days.

For the biggest race in the world, IMS/INDYCAR literally allowed all 33 drivers to come to us in person.

So, I call that reasoning for a drop in numbers BS. There’s absolutely no reason to discuss it further than that. Anyone and anything saying the media, IMS or INDYCAR is the reason or even a factor in the decline of numbers is flat wrong.

Some will still focus on that I know. I know that they’ll focus on this being the lowest number ever. I get that. Some will say INDYCAR is gloom and doom and a failing sport. But, if you think that, I hate to tell you this, but you’re the problem. Here’s why.

How about we spin it this way. The Indy 500 was NBC Sports’ second-most watched INDYCAR race on record and NBC’s second-most watched sports event since January, according to Fast National Data from Nielsen and digital data from Adobe Analytics.

That’s a little more positive and I’ll focus my attention there. So should you.

How about Sunday’s race being the first-ever Indy 500 to take place in August, following 103 runnings in May. I bet that’s a large factor in a decline of numbers.

Also, there’s this – competition.

In May, there’s no real head-to-head competition going against the ‘500 during the day. Yes, MLB does, but this year, you got MLB, NBA Playoffs, Golf and NASCAR all on at the same time on the same day.

So, for 3.737-million viewers to tune into the Indy 500 on Sunday, that’s a really big deal. Thank you to those 3.7 million.

A bunch of people watched the NBA game from Sunday. How about almost 2 million people, well lets be exact and go with 1.95 million, watched the NASCAR race from Dover. I’m not saying all 2 million of those fans would have watched the Indy 500, but with 2 million watching that with so much more on TV that day, a big portion of that 2 million are NASCAR fans in general.

In a normal year, the Coke 600 doesn’t start until well after the Indy 500 ends. How many of the 1.95 million people that watched the NASCAR race at Dover instead of the Indy 500, would have tuned in? I venture to say a lot.

How many of the Golf fans or NBA fans that tuned into those events, would have tuned into the Indy 500? After all, there’s no Golf of NBA matches or games going against the Indy 500 normally.

That’s a very large reason for the number drop. A huge factor in my opinion. Lets just say half of NASCAR’s number watched the Indy 500. Say half of Golf and NBA did too. That could be in excess of 2-3 million more people tuning in at the very least.

So is this — how many watch parties were there? I saw a lot happening on social media. How many people were taken away from their TV set to help the number rise and were crowded around a TV set in someone else’s living room?

That’s not a large reason, but it definitely plays a factor here when you group them all together.

Want another fact?

The 104th Indianapolis 500 is also the most-watched motorsports race to take place in August in three years, since a NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol (2017, 3.838 million).

How about this, it was the second highest viewed sporting event of the entire weekend.

So, while you want to focus on negatives, NBC seems happy. They know next May, this race can eclipse the 5.489 million viewers from 2019. That race was up 11% over ABC’s coverage from 2018.

I would sense 2021 can outdraw 2018, 2019 and 2020. The only reason it won’t? Well, I think we know that answer and it involves those that constantly bitch and moan. The drama and negativity is what draws fans away.

Roger Penske, Mark Miles, Jay Frye and Doug Boles are the best leaders this series has ever had and they’re doing a phenomenal job. Their teams around them knocked this month out of the park and the TV number is very respectable. I choose to look at a positive. So should you.


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