Indy 500 Blackout – it’s continued existence is nonsensical, especially as COVID restrictions are in place

The Indy 500 live and local blackout is illogical and bad business. Why it continues is a mystery. That it would return during COVID restrictions would be shameful.

Every year, the same debate rages in central Indiana – should the Indy 500 live and local TV blackout be permanently lifted?

Twice in recent memory the Greatest Spectacle in Racing has been available for television viewers in the city where the race is run.  Last year, when no one was allowed on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and in 2016 when the race was sold out, Indy residents could watch the race live.  Other years, the only mass media allowed to broadcast the race was via the IMS Radio Network.

Of course, live local TV blackouts of sporting events are idiotic.  That’s why they no longer exist, with the exception of the Indy 500.  Blackouts depress the gate instead of enhance it.  NBC’s broadcast of the Indy 500 is a love letter to the event, and will pique the interest of young Hoosiers, making it more likely they would attend future races.  Instead, people in power have embraced the arcane notion a blackout forces fans who want to see the race to buy tickets.

The NFL and NHL used to believe it too.  Then they figured out what was already obvious.  TV is an extended commercial for attending the events it broadcasts.  People watch and say to each other, “That looks like a fun way to spend a few hours!  I want to got there!  Let’s buy tickets!”  That is why all similar blackouts went bye-bye a generation ago.  But for some reason, this one lingers as a ridiculous ode to bad business practice.

For younger viewers, their understanding of the blackout is more stark and troubling.  If an event is not broadcast live, it doesn’t exist.  There are not more likely to buy tickets – they refuse to be believe the race happens.  Instead of perceiving the Indy as a cool event and fun way to spend the day before Memorial Day, they choose another option.

The decision as to whether the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will lift the live blackout has yet to be made, despite the race being only six days away.  It would be easy to argue that a COVID driven attendance cap of 135,000 should make this the simplest of all calls.  Because the 135K tickets are gone the race is technically a sellout, so who would gain from blocking Indy residents from watching the race live.  That lost-in-the-weeds argument is unnecessary because the blackout defies logic as a concept.

IMS president Doug Boles told WISH-TV yesterday that the blackout had not yet been discussed, and that a decision would be made this week.  Knowing how detail-oriented Boles and Penske are, I don’t believe that for a minute.  The longer they kick the can down the road, the more heroic their gesture of access – and the most money the radio network can bill for its spots.

Again, no one benefits from continuing the blackout.  No one.  With live TV, national ratings will be bigger, more tickets will be sold, and the coolness of the Indy 500 will be shared with a generation of Hoosiers who otherwise would never know it exists.  Yes, the radio network potentially loses a fairly intense lift from the Indy market’s 10 rating and 60 share, but what does that mean to IMS owner Roger Penske in the grand scheme of things?

The longstanding traditions fo the Indianapolis 500 can be quaint to the point of confusion, but Penske is one of the world’s clearest thinkers.  I assumed when he bought the Speedway and all its assets, he would redline the blackout on day one.  Not so far.  We can only hope logic wins on a year by year basis prior to the last live and local TV blackout in American sports media being deemed obsolete.

 

3 thoughts on “Indy 500 Blackout – it’s continued existence is nonsensical, especially as COVID restrictions are in place

  1. Bear

    Here we have a world class event that Sid Collins once described as the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. There were packed stands during the race. And, yes, even packed stands during the first weekend of qualification runs. The excitement at the track was palpable. Now, you watch the “boob tube” and see that these “racing on goings” are so surgically sterile that it is ridiculous.

    I can’t deny that the structure of the Indy qualifications is wildly intriguing, but the actual execution of the event by Penske’s minions is baby pablum compared to having 150,000 screaming fans in the stands rooting for their favorite driver and team.

    As race fans, we have lost something here. Some could call it progress, but I don’t. Over several decades, the managers of this sport have placed the future of this sport into the hands of the media moguls at NBC or ABC so that they can sell their nauseating advertising. I can remember that the most advertising that I heard back around 1967 was the WIBC “whistle” trying to sell Stark & Whetzel hotdogs. The TV broadcast of the race was blacked out until later.

    I vote for blacking out the broadcast of the race with a later broadcast after the fact, both local and nationwide. Penske can still get his TV revenue, probably at a higher price depending on the excitement of the actual race itself.

    TV does not make the Indianapolis 500. Most of the managers controlling this sport have sold its value short. A value that is much more than what it has been sold for.

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  2. Della Pacheco

    There is no reason that Penske and the IMS can’t offer pay-for-view for the race. There are many of us who can’t attend because of health issues. I would definitely pay!

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  3. Dave Meschino

    I thought I was the only one who saw the ridiculousness of the blackout. Also, what about the $100 million interest-free loan to the track, that Mike Pence et al gave freely to IMS a few years back? That’s OUR money he gave away. I truly understand the city’s obligation for infrastructure improvements and services, such as access and police directing traffic to support the track. That’s normal stuff that we all agree is the city’s and state’s responsibility. But $100 million for improvements, out of our pockets, then they black us out? How insulting. Shame on Mike Pence for agreeing to this largess without any concession to us, the ones footing the bill.

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