NBCUniversal Media LLC's NBC Sports Group has become the exclusive U.S. media home to IndyCar, steering a multiplatform rights agreement with the racing circuit that will feature expanded broadcast coverage and wave the starting flag on a direct-to-consumer streaming service.
Under a three-year pact beginning with the 2019 season, NBC Sports will provide eight telecasts on NBC (US), notably the Indianapolis 500. When the sport’s crown jewel airs on NBC next year, it will mark the first time the race has not appeared on ABC (US) since 1965. ABC will televise the 102nd running of the Indy 500 on May 27 and four other circuit races in the final season of its expiring deal. NBCSN (US) under the new deal will continue as the circuit's cable partner. Both linear networks will provide some practice and qualifying sessions.
Sources familiar with the deal, financial terms of which were not disclosed, said NBC Sports is paying an increased rights fee.
IndyCar and NBC Sports will maintain a revenue-sharing relationship. They will pursue integrated ad sales and sponsorship opportunities, including a successor to Verizon Communications Inc. as the top circuit's title sponsor. The telco’s deal expires after the 2018 campaign.
President of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN Jon Miller said on a March 21 conference call announcing the deal that the new over-the-top entry will feature the Indy Lights developmental racing series, telemetry, qualifying, practice runs, full-event replays and archived races. "You’ll be able to consume IndyCar content of a very high caliber every day of the week," he said.
"I think we have a great opportunity with NBC to really integrate our approach to the market and to sales," said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of IndyCar, on the call. "I think there will be companies that are prospective series sponsors that NBC has great relationships with. And conversely, perhaps there are companies we’re talking to already that we’d really like to see invest in NBC and its programming, as well as being considered for title sponsorship."
Putting on his sales cap, Miller pointed to the FedExCup on the PGA Tour and NASCAR’s Xfinity Series — NBCU's parent Comcast Corp.'s took over the title sponsorship for its Xfinity brand in 2015 — as examples of companies that have benefited from over-delivery of sponsorship associations with NBC Sports.
Asked if NBCU would host "Today" or "The Tonight Show" from Indianapolis as part of cross-promotional activities to support the Indy 500 race, Miller replied: "I absolutely see that as a possibility. I think Hoda [Kotb] and Savannah [Guthrie] would look great on Gasoline Alley [the garage site at Indianapolis Motor Speedway]. Those are the type of things that we think makes us a little bit different and enhances our ability to grow a property."
He added that Miles and five-time Verizon IndyCar Series race winner, James Hinchcliffe, who was also on the call, were guests on CNBC (US) at 11 a.m. this morning, an hour after the deal was announced.
Both Miles and Miller believe the combination of NBCU’s promotional capabilities and its storytelling coverage approach will curb the downward trend of Indianapolis 500 audiences, which stalled to all-time lows when it averaged a 3.4 rating and 5.5 million viewers on ABC in 2017, declines of 13% and 9% from a 3.9 rating and 6.0 million viewers in 2016.
In 2017, NBCSN averaged a total audience delivery — linear coverage on the cable network, as well as authenticated concurrent streaming on NBCSports.com and its NBC Sports app — of 507,000 viewers across a dozen races, according to data from Nielsen Holdings and Adobe Analytics. That was up 3% from 492,000 in 2016 and was the second-most-watched season on NBCSN, which posted a TAD average of 510,000 in 2015.
The new pact would allow IndyCar fans to access to an array of circuit programming, including in-camera race vistas, via a dedicated OTT product under the NBC Sports Gold banner, which already houses subscription streaming services around track and field, pro motocross, cycling, rugby, soccer’s Premier League and select games of the Portland Trail Blazers within the NBA squad’s TV territory.