INDIANAPOLIS — The TV contract for the NTT IndyCar Series was up for renewal at seasons end. There were many questions surrounding this as most wondered if NBC Sports would come back? Would they even want to? Was the growth enough for them to want to fork out millions upon millions to keep the sole rights to air not only the Indianapolis 500 each year, but every other race too?
On the flipside, did NBC Sports do everything INDYCAR had hoped for to help them grow more eyeballs to the series? Could they get more money out of them? How would it work with NBCSN going away at the end of the year? Where would the races not on network TV go?
There was a lot to discuss but on Tuesday, the two sides announced a joint agreement to continue this relationship on. A new multiyear agreement was signed as NBC Sports will remain the sole TV rights holder to all INDYCAR races for the foreseeable future.
How did we get here for this historic announcement?
“We certainly had every intention of renewing INDYCAR,” NBC Sports’ President, John 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.”
The thing is, did INDYCAR shop around and talk to anyone else to first see what they could get on the open market?
Sure. They admitted that. But they felt like even with flirting elsewhere, NBC just felt like home and there was no way they could leave them, especially with what they had to offer.
“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, it ended up in the agreement that really offered a superior choice.”
So, when did talks really ramp up? Did the ratings in being the largest viewed Indianapolis 500 since the 100th Running of the race help or were there talks already in place before?
“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’ve talked multiple times a week all along.
“So it’s not like it goes away and all of a sudden rears its head two months before the deal is up,” he added. “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.”
Miles says that NBC Sports has been the ideal partner for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, bringing their bold and audacious style of racing to a significantly larger domestic audience and fully leveraging the power and scale of the Indianapolis 500.
It paid off. Starting in 2022, INDYCAR will have a record 13 races on network TV. That’s up from nine in 2021 and from the standard 5-6 in past years including the deal with ABC.
As to why so many network races now? Well, INDYCAR fits the mold for what NBC Sports and network NBC is looking for.
“I think you’ve got some of the brightest young races and most competitive racing out there,” Miller said. “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.”
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.”
He says that this new deal represents a significant expansion of their 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 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.”
Miller echoed what Miles had to say.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
USA Network and Peacock Premium will show the remaining races. Telemundo Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage of the season-opening race, the Indianapolis 500 and the season finale.
Peacock will 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.
As to why Peacock?
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.”
“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.”