Indianapolis 500 forecast could keep unique broadcast policy in place


The Indianapolis 500 was trending towards its first complete sellout since 2016 but the threat of thunderstorms is likely to keep the race off terrestrial television for those who live near the Circle City.

As per IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway regulations, the event must reach 330,000 attendees before a local television blackout will be lifted for those who live in the Indianapolis and Lafayette markets.

The reason for the blackout is pretty straightforward in that it encourages fans to continue pouring into the venerable 2.5-mile race track to watch the largest single day sporting event in the world as opposed to watching it on television.

On Indianapolis 500 race day, the town of Speedway (population 20,000) becomes the 14th most populous market in the country.

In other words, if the race was made available on television locally, IMS risks losing that distinction. Historically, the race wouldn’t be shown locally on TV until weeks later but it has aired the night of since 1986 with only the 2016 sellout (for the 100th running) an exception.

The pandemic races of 2020 and 2021 were also shown live on television due to pandemic restrictions.

Penske Entertainment, which owns both the track and series said lifting the blackout “was on the radar as a consideration” but that ticket sales have slowed over the past two weeks, coinciding with a forecast that risks being a washout on Sunday.

Even though protecting the 300,000-plus attendance number is a compelling argument to maintain a blackout, there is also an argument for lifting the blackout for TV ratings purposes as IndyCar is negotiating a new TV deal for next season and beyond.

In 2016, when the 100th running was shown locally, it added 361,000 viewers from the Indianapolis market.

The race could also be run on a Monday and that opens all sorts of questions too. The race may need to air on USA instead of NBC depending on what the network decides to do. And if the race does remain on USA, would it consider lifting the blackout to allow those who have to work or whom didn’t take two days off to watch on television live?

That remains an open question.

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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