Indy 500 to remain blacked out
It's a year of change at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but one tradition remains constant: The Indianapolis 500 is the only major one-day national sporting event in the country that isn't televised live in the local market.
Speedway officials have more than 250,000 tickets to sell every year. Even in a prosperous economic environment, that's a difficult assignment. For that reason and others, lifting the local television blackout of the 500 seems unlikely "in the foreseeable future," said the chief executive officer of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp.
"I see some scenarios where we could (lift it)," said Jeff Belskus, who assumed Tony George's position last summer. "Unfortunately, I don't like how most of them play out."
Since 1951, the 500 has been shown on WRTV (Channel 6) after the race has ended. This year's tape-delayed local telecast is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Sunday, a couple of hours after the checkered flag is expected to fall.
Like most observers, Belskus assumes airing ABC's telecast live in Central Indiana would lead some people to stop attending in favor of the comforts of home and their big-screen TVs. But how many? That's the unknown.
Add the snacks and souvenirs not purchased at the track to fewer tickets bought, and the Speedway's potential loss swells.
NASCAR's Brickyard 400 at the Speedway is shown live locally, and the attendance has dropped from about 250,000 the first year (1994) to a level that is starting to be uncomfortable for IMS. Last year's crowd was estimated at 180,000.
IMS officials would have no authority to black out the 400 because the TV rights are controlled by NASCAR.
Speedway officials have said about 70 percent of the 500's ticket accounts are in the names of local residents. Staying home would be an option.
Randy Bernard, who became the Indy Racing League's CEO in February, doesn't think the 500 should trade that revenue for a few more TV viewers.
"We've done it this way for so long that I think a lot of people come to the race and go home to watch it," he said. "In the universe of 120 million (TV viewers), that's a pretty small segment. I don't think (adding them) will have any type of impact on the rating, maybe a tenth of a point.
"We need to move the (rating) needle a whole point."
A single ratings point equals 1.15 million households.
Members of the Hulman-George family, who own the track and control the 500's blackout policy, declined comment for this story. A spokesman for ABC/ESPN said it's the Speedway's call.
"It's part of our contractual agreement," said George McNeilly, senior director of communications for the networks.
Charlie Morgan, the former president and chief operating officer of IMS Productions, negotiated the current ABC/ ESPN four-year deal, which runs through 2012. He doesn't foresee any change. More at Indy Star