After much discussion and dipping its toes in the water with other outlets, the NTT IndyCar Series decided to remain with NBC Sports as its TV outlet for at least the next few years, it was announced Tuesday.
Is it a good move for the racing series? With few other viable options, did it have much of a choice but to stay where it was?
Let’s answer the second question first:
IndyCar had few options other than returning to NBC. Per a high-ranking source of mine at ESPN, preliminary talks with ABC/ESPN about a potential return didn’t go very far as NBC reportedly was willing to pay more to keep IndyCar than ESPN offered.
And CBS—which many thought IndyCar might go to after CBS’ successful just completed six-week summer run with the Superstar Racing Experience—said nearly a month ago that because of existing golf contracts, there was literally no room at the inn for IndyCar.
There had been talk about IndyCar potentially forming its own TV network or perhaps joining forces with another streaming service (Amazon was rumored to be very interested), but in the end, IndyCar will remain under the Peacock network’s wings for at least the next few years.
However, there is some concern that IndyCar may have waited to exhaust all other avenues before re-upping with NBC. Consider that IndyCar announced its first deal with NBC in March 2018 (for 2019 through 2021), but waited until past mid-July this year to announce the new extension.
The exact length of the contract, including option years, and the overall price of the new deal were not disclosed.
It’s an interesting outcome, as it’s likely the new deal will mirror the remaining length of NBC’s current deal with NASCAR, which ends after the 2024 season.
Which leads us to answer the first question: Is returning to NBC a good move for IndyCar?
On the surface, the simple answer is yes. Tuesday’s press release from both NBC and IndyCar related that 13 IndyCar races will be carried on the parent NBC network. That is huge, a jump of four races from the nine on network TV in the current season.
That also gives the implication that IndyCar may be expanding its season from 16 this season to perhaps maybe 18 or 19 in 2022. Seventeen races were originally scheduled for 2021, but the July 11 race in Toronto was cancelled due to COVID restrictions that kept the border between the U.S. and Canada closed. Ironically, it was just Jul 19 that Canadian officials announced they were finally going to reopen the border on August 9 after 17 months of shutdown status.
At this point, it’s too late for IndyCar and Toronto officials to reschedule the canceled race, so we’ll all h
But there’s also a couple of potentially negative aspects that came out of Tuesday’s announcement:
• With NBCSN ceasing operations by the end of this year, IndyCar will see its races telecast on three different NBC-affiliated networks: NBC, the USA Network and the Peacock streaming service. That may be somewhat confusing to fans who may wonder where which races will be aired.
• Also, two as-yet-undetermined races will air solely on Peacock. That’s not going to sit well with some IndyCar fans who don’t subscribe to Peacock. According to a recent analysis by Newsweek, Peacock is the sixth most-popular streaming service in the country with 33 million subscribers. While that may sound like a lot, it’s a far cry from the top three streaming sites per Newsweek: Netflix (207.6 million), Amazon Prime (200 million) and Disney+ (100 million).
In addition, all practices and qualifying sessions—as well as Indy Lights races—in 2022 and beyond under the new deal will be carried solely on Peacock (with the likely exception of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 still being on NBC, as well as the legendary Greatest Spectacle In Racing on its traditional Memorial Day weekend spot).
However, if you’re a real die-hard IndyCar fan, it will cost you even more if you want to see everything the series (and Indy Lights) has to offer, with an additional cost to subscribe to Peacock Premium, an offshoot of the Peacock streaming service.
One other plus, and in a move to enhance and grow its Spanish-speaking audience, Telemundo Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage of the season-opening race, the Indy 500 and the season finale.
On the plus side, Peacock will also simultaneously stream all races in the NTT IndyCar Series televised on NBC and the USA Network, as well as offer replays.
NBC’s airing of IndyCar racing has had some key high points:
• This year’s 105th Indy 500, won in dramatic fashion for the fourth time by Helio Castroneves, was the most-watched IndyCar race since the 100th Running of the Indy 500 in 2016.
• Viewership this season is running 30 percent higher than last year’s comparable viewing, albeit with the caveat that last season was also heavily impacted by race cancellations, postponements and relocations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While many fans have expressed hopes that IndyCar would return to ABC/ESPN and form a strong 1-2 punch package with ESPN’s coverage of Formula 1, NBC will continue to be IndyCar’s home for at least the next 2-3 seasons.
But after that, especially depending on whether NASCAR will extend its current deals with Fox and NBC following the 2024 season, it’s anyone’s guess where IndyCar will go from there. It should be interesting to watch, both literally and figuratively.
Full disclosure: Jerry Bonkowski covered motorsports for NBCSports.com from 2013 until 2020 before he was laid off along with over 4,500 other NBC employees due to the advertising downturn related to COVID-19.
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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