Indy 500 viewership a surprise down from last year, a look at maybe why

INDIANAPOLIS — This was supposed to be what was expected to have a large TV number from last Sunday’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500. I mean all the top storylines were there. Could Helio Castroneves become the 1st driver to win 5 here? He just won his 4th last season. You have Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean making their Indy 500 debuts. You had speed back in a sense that Scott Dixon turned the fastest four-lap average for a pole run in the 106 year history of the event. This was also the fastest field ever with speed starting to rival record breaking territory.

With over 320k in attendance and the largest one day spectator event during the COVID era, you’d think that too would want people to tune in and watch.

NBC Sports had 4.836 million viewers for Sunday’s race. That’s remarkably down from last year. Granted last year was almost 200k less in attendance and no local blackout, but it still doesn’t make up for the 700k dip in number of viewership.

The problem with this is, 4.5-million folks were the peak for Bristol Dirt. Nearly 4 million (3.958-million) people tuned into FOX a week prior to that for the Richmond race. They’re within striking distance of the Indy 500.

Last year’s Indy 500 averaged 5.581 million viewers, the most since the 100th Running in 2016. That made 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. It was the highest watched race outside of the Daytona 500.

Would lifting the local blackout help that number from this year? I think it could push it over 5 million but I really don’t think it goes bumps it over 6 million.

It does make me question though on if the Indy 500 has become a regional thing and not as big nationally as it once was? That’s a factor here.

I mean if you’re not already going to the race and live in Indy, would you really watch it live? I know some would but is it enough?

The Midwest embraces the Indy 500 already. I think we have to look broader on why the number is where it is.

Lifting the local blackout would help the number though.

Would altering the race style help too? The 2012-2017 style was exhilarating while the new type of race has made it tougher to pass. Race fans tune into Daytona for the pack racing so are they wanting a tighter race at Indy?


Do they want something new? Could be.

I mean NASCAR has went to Bristol Dirt, a football stadium and redid Atlanta. All produced huge numbers. Is there something with Indy they can do? I don’t like changing it but I’m also the one there every year too.

What about more practice and qualifying on TV? We only got a couple of hours on NBC this year and all practices were streamed on Peacock. Would it benefit to move some practices to say USA and have more qualifying air time on NBC?

Take this year as an example. Maybe a casual fan would have caught a practice and picked up on the Helio run for 5 storyline. Or maybe Johnson and Grosjean’s debut. Maybe Saturday qualifying on NBC would have caught someone’s attention to the speeds and wanted them to tune in Sunday to see who wins the pole and how close they would have flirted with the record.

I mean we always say all you have to do is get them to a race track and the rest will take care of itself. What if we can’t get those that can’t get to the race track to even witness what’s even going on?

Having all month basically behind a paywall may not be helping this cause and could have a huge contribution to this number. The casual fan outside of the Midwest may not have Indy on their radar. We need to bring Indy to them and honestly that could be the thing bringing this number down.

For a race with so many storylines, so much hype, why aren’t people tuning in? Maybe they’re not even seeing what we’re selling.

The Daytona 500 by comparison drew 8.868 million viewers for their February race on FOX. The Indy 500 drew 4 million less on NBC.

Fox Sports has all on track activity at Daytona on FS1. NBC Sports has all on track activity prior to the Indy 500 minus 2 hours on Peacock.

Fox Sports promotes the Daytona 500 on the NFL platform and had the benefit of the Super Bowl this year too. NBC Sports really only has the Kentucky Derby to promote off of at this time of year.

This could be a factor too, one that I think would bump this number the most.

The good news is the Indy 500 almost got 1-million more viewers than the Coca-Cola 600 so maybe it shows that folks just weren’t willing to sit inside and watch racing on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend too.

The other thing is, maybe this is just where this INDYCAR fan base is. Maybe only 5-6 million people truly care about open wheel racing and the Indy 500 here in the States. If so, then they captured the base at least. The key moving forward is, how do you capture new fans?

They have the best racing product in the world. They have the speed. They have the driver personalities and great storylines surrounding them. They have the best leadership in place. Everything they need to succeed is there. It’s how do you get that aspect to new fans to grow that number?

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