INDIANAPOLIS — What a Month of May it was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The largest crowd since 2016 showed up to qualifying weekend two weeks ago. Then, the race sold out of all of its 135k tickets that were available for last Sunday’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Now, the ratings are in and it’shonestly better than expected.
Sunday’s race averaged 5.581 million viewers, the most since the 100th Running in 2016. That makes it the most watched Indy 500 in five years. The race peaked at 7.129 million viewers with Helio Castroneves winning his record tying fourth Indianapolis 500.
That’s huge for a number of factors, but quite possibly the biggest is for the TV contract negotiations. See, INDYCAR’s deal with NBC Sports comes to an end this year. Once the checkered flag falls this September in Long Beach, INDYCAR will then be operating on a new contract.
Right now, the TV contract isn’t known. Mark Miles hopes that at some point this month that they can get a deal done. There were rumors that NBC Sports was out of the running and a new network would pick up the rights, but Roger Penske told us on Carb Day that NBC is absolutely still in play to reup their deal.
I get why some people wondered by INDYCAR was flirting with other TV networks, but they absolutely had to. It was smart business to shop around.
CBS Sports and Fox Sports jumped into the conversations as potential replacements for NBC Sports, but the fact is, nothing is done and this rating for the ‘500 further helps INDYCAR’s cause.
This is the biggest NBC sporting viewership in over a year. It’s the highest rated Indy 500 race since NBC took over the contract. Do they really want to let this go when the series is clearly still on the rise? Whatever their offer was before last weekend, they may want to reconsider upping it.
Same for the other networks. INDYCAR can now ask for more. They can leverage everyone against each other for the highest dollar amount.
The only factor with NBC Sports is, what do they do for a secondary channel? NBCSN has been the spot to show INDYCAR races when they weren’t on network NBC. But, with NBCSN being gone at the end of 2021, where does NBC house INDYCAR races that aren’t on the network? I can’t imagine the entire season will be on NBC. Is it USA?
CBS has network and CBS Sports. Fox has network FOX and FS1 and FS2. NBC doesn’t have a designated sports channel and it’s not in INDYCAR’s best interest to run races on Peacock.
Again, this rating further helps their cause. It’s the highest watched race outside of the Daytona 500. That’s a very big deal.
NBC Sports has been a great partner and has done a lot right. If INDYCAR can get a bigger pay day out of them and a good option for races not on network NBC that isn’t behind a paywall, then why change?
This strong viewership shows that INDYCAR has a lot to gain on this next TV contract.