More Noon starts? Negotiation discussions? Details on this and answering key questions for INDYCAR’s new TV deal with NBC Sports

INDIANAPOLIS –INDYCAR and NBC Sports announced on Tuesday a multiyear extension of their media rights agreement. NBC Sports will continue to be the exclusive home of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge – “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – and will provide coverage of all NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, qualifying, practices and Indy Lights races across its linear, digital and streaming platforms, including Peacock. Financial terms were not disclosed.

In saying that probably comes a lot of questions. Lets try to answer them.

How Many Races Will Be On NBC?

13 races each year will be on network TV. That’s up from nine this year which is up from the 5-6 they’d get each year even going back to the days of ESPN/ABC. In fact, its been at least decades, if ever, that the series has had that many races on network TV in any given season.

The reason why was, during the past contract with ESPN/ABC, they weren’t allowed to host any other races on network TV. Yes, ESPN/ABC only had five races per season but part of the agreement was whomever hosted the other races on TV couldn’t air them on network.

INDYCAR got out of that deal with a new one which start in 2019 with NBC Sports. This new contract has 13 races now on network TV.

As to why so many network races?

“I think you’ve got some of the brightest young races and most competitive racing out there,” said NBC Sports’ President Jon Miller. “Week-in, week-out, we see great rating wherever we have an INDYCAR race on with recognizable names who are becoming bigger and bigger stars out there.

“We find that it fits into a very good, tight two-and-a-half hour, three-hour window which we think is important.

“Actually Indy narrow fits very nicely into our schedule. There are 17 races that we can accommodate, as opposed to there are some other properties that we have like the Premiere League which lasts for ten months which basically goes from August to May.

“So every property is different. We look at them and evaluate them in a variety of different ways but we certainly saw the ratings growth. We saw it was getting younger. We see the way advertisers and marketers are gravitating towards this sport. We see the way they are gravitating towards the property itself and the tracks, and we felt this was the right — right sport to make a bet on.”

Mark Miles called this the, “most impactful announcement we’ve been able to make in my view during my tenure here at INDYCAR, and it’s sort of the capstone announcement for what I think has been a very productive.”

What About The Other Races?

The remaining four will be split among two networks. Two will be on USA and the other two on Peacock.

Will The Schedule Be 17 Races Then?

If you add it all up (13 on NBC, 2 each on USA and Peacock) that’s 17 races. Mark Miles said that the 2022 scheduled would get released later this summer. So, with 17 races on the TV deal, should we assume we’ll have 17 races on the schedule for how many ever years the TV contract goes?

“That’s the plan,” Miles told me. “We like the number. NBC likes the number. If there was a compelling reason to look at 18, we might do that. If somehow 16 was even stronger we might look at that, but I think you can suffice it to say, as Roger Penske has said, we like continuity in the schedule. Doesn’t mean we are oblivious to improvement opportunities, but 17 has served the teams and the series, and so that’ the number going forward today.”

Peacock Will Also Host Everything Including All Races Now

Peacock will now stream all races on NBC and USA Network and will continue as the streaming home of NTT INDYCAR SERIES qualifying and practices sessions, Indy Lights races and full-event replays. Peacock will stream two races exclusively, which will be announced at a later date. That in theory means you can watch everything on Peacock now.

Why Air 2 Races Behind A Paywall?

Well remember, everything is going the streaming route and Peacock could be the future of the way you watch sports. With everything literally there now, why not try out two races?

“It’s an answer to our fans,” Miles said of Peacock. “We hear the fans and it’s an answer to the fans desire to do just what you said, especially younger fans, to have the option of watching the race, wherever they are, is really important to them on whatever devices they may prefer.

“But I think this is a great balance. It gives complete INDYCAR access via Peacock on those devices and it gives us the maximum reach of regular television through NBC and USA.”

Miller agreed.

“NBC Universal and Comcast by extension are putting a huge bet on Peacock and we are putting all our premium partnerships there,” he said. “As you said, people can watch INDYCAR racing anywhere they are. They don’t have to be at home in front of a television. They can take it with them on a road and they will have access to it any place they can get a signal on a phone, an iPad, a laptop or if they are watching on a connected TV.

“Our feeling is we have just broad ended the reach dramatically of INDYCAR by doing that. So you’ll still be able to do this by watching linear television, 15 of the 17, but you’ll also be able to get 15 of 17 of them on Peacock.”

Miller also said that they found that over time, they’ve been paying very close attention to the cable ecosystem, as it were, and more and more people are cutting their cord or not signing up for cable distribution, and more people are streaming sports, and they have found it to be the way of the future here and INDYCAR is not going to be any different than any of the other major sports, like the Premier League, like The Open Championship, like the U.S. Open, where you can get, you know, exclusive content on Peacock.

“They are not paying to see a couple races,” he continued. “They are buying a subscription to Peacock which gives you not just the racing but also gives you an enormous amount of other programming. I believe at last count, Peacock has over 18,000 hours of programming, other entertainment, sports and news, so that you pay 4.99 a month for Peacock, and you get all of that, all of that product.”

How Do I Get Peacock?

Viewers can sign up and learn more here. Peacock is currently available across devices; more details here. Peacock Premium is included at no additional cost for Comcast’s eligible Xfinity X1 and Flex customers and Cox Contour customers.

Will Peacock’s Pricing Go Up?

“Well, sports is just one small part of Peacock. Peacock has entertainment programming, they have original series, they have shows like the office; there’s an enormous amount, I think it’s between 15,000 and 18,000 hours on Peacock. I’m not privy to what their plans are,” Miller said.

“I know right now it’s very desirable from an advertising point of view as well. It’s also a great promotional platform because now INDYCAR gets promoted on a platform that has news and entertainment as well as sports. This becomes a very important property for Peacock, so I think that part of it is good.

“But I also think the thing that’s most important to us is that we are reaching a lot of young people and people who are cutting the cord. Cable distribution has dropped dramatically in the last 15 or 20 years. In 2009 or 2009, I think it was 105 million cable homes; now it’s down to around 82 or 83 million homes, as opposed to 120 million broadcast homes.

“I think USA Network happens to be the No. 1 distributed basic cable network out there along with CNN and Food Network and some others. So I think we continue to look at all of those different options. But as far as whether or not Peacock’s pricing is going to change, that’s one of the benefits that you have when you have an advertiser-supported service like Peacock is, you’re not as dependent on the premium subscriptions as somebody who is advertiser-free might be.”

Will Peacock Still Not Have Any Commercials?

“That’s the plan right now, yes. They will continue to run commercials,” said Miller.

Did INDYCAR Talk To Anyone Else? Why Both Sides Wanted Each Other For The Future

Sure. They admitted that. But, NBC Sports has been a great partner and neither side wanted it to end. The partnership between NBC Sports and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES dates back to 2009, when NBCSN (originally VERSUS) became the cable home of the series and televised the majority of its races each season. NBC Sports became the exclusive home of INDYCAR in 2019, which also marked the year of NBC’s inaugural Indianapolis 500 broadcast.

“We did, as we said before, take the time to understand the marketplace, and what the interest of others might look like, but you know, for us, whether it’s this media partnership or important sponsor relationships, the incumbent is always going to win ties, and there wasn’t a tie,” Miles said. “NBC, for all the reasons that I hope we’ve articulated, it ended up in the agreement that really offered a superior choice.”

It was also a no brainer for the TV side for an extension. The media rights extension comes on the heels of viewership milestones for NBC Sports’ coverage of both the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on NBC was the most-watched edition of the race since the 100th Running in 2016, and NBC Sports is off to its most-watched NTT INDYCAR SERIES season ever through the first nine races of 2021, with viewership up 30% vs. comparable coverage in 2020.

“We certainly had every intention of renewing INDYCAR,” Miller said. “We’ve had a great relationship with them that goes all the way back to 2009 when NBC SN was originally called Versus, and then it became NBC SN, and all we had were the cable races.

“And we made a pretty strong pitch to Mark and the INDYCAR leadership that we felt that we could do a lot for the sport if we could have it all under one umbrella. And they went with us starting in 2019, we showed them what we could do with the 500. We’ve shown consistent growth.

“We’ve utilized all the different assets of NBC Universal, not just NBC Sports, but whether it’s Late Night or The Today Show or CNBC or marketing across our social and digital platforms, our promotional and marketing team are second-to-none and you can see that in the way they market and promote the sport.

“We always had every hope of extending it, but you know, it takes two people to make a deal and fortunately for us, the folks at INDYCAR and the leadership there felt the same way.”

INDYCAR agreed.

“NBC Sports has been the ideal partner for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, bringing our bold and audacious style of racing to a significantly larger domestic audience and fully leveraging the power and scale of the Indianapolis 500,” Miles said. “This new deal represents a significant expansion of our network TV exposure and sets us up for continued growth and success alongside a committed, innovative and world-class broadcast partner.

“The network increase provides for certain increases in the eyes of the audience that will watch us online, and NBC’s commitment through Peacock will help us grow a younger fan base going forward which we think is important.

“You know, we made our original agreement, if you will, by that, I mean, agreement that made NBC the exclusive partner for U.S. media, just, what, two and a half years or so ago. Part of what Jon and Sam and the senior team at NBC said to us is they know how to make big vents bigger and I think they have absolutely demonstrated that with their nurturing and promotion and production coverage of the Indianapolis 500-mile race, and as Dave said, the numbers now speak for themselves.

“They also said they are really good at using the breadth of NBC Universal’s platforms, whether it’s The Today Show or The Tonight Show or the promotion on other big sport events like the major golf events that they have just had a couple of them or the derby or you name it, and they have shown that to be true. We didn’t have to hound them. They saw the opportunities and I think that is an important reason to explain the 30 percent growth that our television audience so far this season, they really have delivered in both those two fundamental ways.

“Behind the scenes, they have proven themselves to be a phenomenal partnership partner as the pandemic hit not only INDYCAR, but every sport property, every league, had to reschedule itself, so imagine what they had to go through. Jon’s life was hell, I’m sure, trying to figure out how to put all the pieces back on the board in a way that worked for them.

“And we did not take second chair. We were very engaged with Jon and his team from the very beginning of that process, and I think we ended up in a really good place, given the complexities and the challenges faced by the tsunami, if you will, of — tsunami-like effect of the pandemic on sports and on us.

“And they, finally, really understood our growth strategies. I think in these arrangements, which I’ll articulate in just a second, you see both a strong commitment to growing the traditional linear audience; no better way to do that than through races being on a broadcast platform in NBC but this deal shows an eye towards future growth and the role of Peacock in this is really, really important and should be understood.”

What’s The Timeline For Negotiations?

“I do remember well before the 500 us thinking about the optimal time to really get into the discussions, and it just took its course,” Miles told me. “We feel like these arrangements announced today are really great timing. It gives the sales effort time to gear up and it gives us time to nail down our 2022 schedule with a television partnership in mind. So I don’t remember what day or when this started, but in a way, Jon, I remember we stopped talking about it.”

Miller agreed with that saying that they talked multiple times a week.

“So it’s not like it goes away and all of a sudden rears its head two months before the deal is up. That’s the nice thing about having, a, this kind of a partnership, but Mark’s and my relationship goes back 25, 30 years, so it’s a good steady dialogue that we have and we can kind of cut to the chase quickly, which is always good.”

Will INDYCAR/NASCAR doubleheader weekend continue?

Both series wanted to eventually share a weekend on a race track. Now with a same TV provider, NBC Sports helped make this happen. With INDYCAR staying onboard now for a new multiyear deal, is it still in the best interest to keep the split weekend on the same track going for 2022 and beyond?

“It’s not just important but it’s unique and fun and worked out really well,” Miller told me. “Both the INDYCAR teams and NASCAR operational teams worked very well together.

“Obviously being at a showcase venue like Brickyard made it a lot easier logistically. So when those opportunities present themselves, we are certainly going to do everything we can to take advantage of them.”

Does he see that going past this year for 2022 or 2023?

“I’m hopeful that we can find ways to keep doing it.”

Noon Starts?

The top three highest rated INDYCAR races this season have had Noon starts. Is that part of the future now?

“We have found scheduling to be very important in terms of maximizing ratings, and a great example of that is what we have done with the Premiere League and soccer,” Miller said. “We are on Saturday mornings and early Saturday; we found an audience for that. We moved our Notre Dame games from 3:35 kickoffs to 2:35 kickoffs, so we were able to bridge all the other college football that’s out there.

“So clearly we found an opportunity with some of those earlier INDYCAR windows, and it’s worked out very well for us, so we will continue to look at those opportunities, and a lot of it has to do with what the other programming we have on those weeks are.”


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