NBC lands Indy 500 and promises IndyCar increased exposure

Graham Rahal (15) races into turn two before finishing second in the IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Sunday, March 11, 2018, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Indianapolis 500, an American staple on ABC for 53 years, will have a new television home next season.

In fact, the entire IndyCar package is moving to NBC in 2019 in what could turn out to be an exceptional deal for the series because of promised increased exposure across multiple platforms.

That's secondary, though, to another network ending ABC's stranglehold on the "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

The Indy 500 on ABC is the second-longest partnership in television and sports events behind only the Masters, which has been on CBS since 1956. It's a jewel ABC did not particularly want to give up, and IndyCar wasn't unhappy with the network's production of its most important asset.

But IndyCar badly wanted its races on one network and made that clear in negotiations with both ABC and NBC. The networks have been sharing the series for several years, with ABC owning the Indy 500 and the broadcast rights. NBC got the leftovers and was allowed to air IndyCar only on cable.

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles worked out a three-year deal assigning all media rights to NBC. The agreement announced Wednesday comes with an increased number of races on broadcast (NBC) and a subscription-only channel for IndyCar's diehard fans.

"Mark Miles had a singlehanded focus in finding just one partner," Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports Group, told The Associated Press. "The opportunity to have the entire series was very important to us. Of course, to be able to do the crown jewel, the Indy 500 on NBC, really puts the icing on the cake for us."

NBC and ABC were in the bidding until the very end, with both networks interested in obtaining the whole package, Miles said. But negotiations apparently ended sometime late last week and ABC sent an internal memo to its stations notifying them the IndyCar package would end after this season. An employee at one of those stations revealed ABC's statement in a since-deleted tweet.

"We have had a wonderful and rewarding relationship with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar, and it has been our distinct honor to be partners for so many years," said Burke Magnus, the executive vice president of programming and scheduling for ESPN, which like ABC Sports is part of Disney corporation. "We look forward to the rest of our events this season and wish them all the best in the future."

Both Miles and Miller were complimentary of ABC's job with IndyCar, especially with the 500 each May. ABC had such a stranglehold on the event that landing it was celebrated as a coup for NBC.

"This becomes one of the leading properties on our air," Miller said.

Under the new deal , eight IndyCar races will be broadcast on the network next season, up from five that ABC aired. The rest of the schedule will be on NBC Sports Network. The deal also puts IndyCar in the NBC Gold package, a direct-to-consumer product in which subscribers can purchase additional content that is not televised.

"As drivers, we're out there risking our lives to put on a good show. The more people that get to see it, get entertained by it, the better it is for us," said IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe, who has a cross-over fan base because of a starring turn on ABC's "Dancing With The Stars." ''As athletes, we're all individual brands in and of ourselves. Getting ourselves in front of more people, it raises our value to our current partners and potential partners. From every element, this is a huge win across the board."

Especially for NBC and IndyCar because of the guarantees surrounding the Indy 500. It will be part of NBC's "Championship Season" marketing campaign. The network touts numerous high-profile championship events from May to July that include horse racing's Triple Crown, Premier League Championship Sunday, the French Open, the Stanley Cup Final and the Tour de France.

It's the package that heavyweight team owners Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were openly lobbying for during the season-opening race earlier this month.

Penske said NBC Sports will "invest in the future of the sport" at a time when the series has positive momentum. IndyCar debuted a new car at its opener that drew rave reviews from drivers and fans in a race that set a record for on-track passes.

"We know that the ways our fans are watching races and viewing IndyCar content is rapidly changing, so staying ahead of the curve and the developing technology with our partners is important to the growth of our sport," Penske said. "We look forward to working with the NBC team to continue to build IndyCar and take the sport in new directions."

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More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org

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