Indianapolis Motor Speedway to consider lifting blackout if Indy 500 sells out

Central Indiana television viewers might see the Indianapolis 500 live after all.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials discussed lifting the blackout Monday, ultimately deciding not to so long as unsold tickets remain, and there are some.

But with five full sales days left, there could be a change to the longstanding TV policy.

“If we get to the point where we don’t have tickets to sell, we’ll think about it," Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles told IndyStar. “But right now, it’s academic."

On May 6, IMS announced that all reserved seats had been sold but infield general admission tickets were still available. Miles declined to say Monday how close IMS is to reaching infield capacity, but he didn’t rule out reaching it.

It’s believed IMS could sell 75,000 general admission tickets to bring Sunday’s total attendance to about 350,000, a significant increase over recent years in part due to temporary suites being installed in the Turn 1 infield and on the backstretch. Grandstand seats previously removed have been reinstalled to meet demand.

Miles stressed that selling completely out of tickets doesn’t assure the blackout of being lifted, but it does suggest the conversation will come up again.

“We’re looking carefully at it," he said.

The local blackout is one of the longest-standing 500 traditions, nearly as old as the winning driver drinking milk in victory lane. Hoosiers have seen the race live on TV only twice – in 1949 and ’50 – despite multiple cries for a change.

The race typically airs in the evening on ABC affiliate WRTV-6 as a way to attract viewers who attended the race. Last year’s local airing drew a 12.7 rating, the highest for any metered market. Second was Dayton, Ohio, at 9.9 and Louisville at 8.7, according to Nielsen Media. In 2014, the local rating was 12.9.

Nationally, last year’s race drew a 4.2 rating, up 7.7 percent over the previous year. The number of viewers rose from 6.06 million in 2014 to 6.48 million last year.

A spokesman for ESPN said Monday that network officials leave the decision to IMS. Miles noted the lack of data regarding the decision to lift the blackout or not.

“The sense is that everybody goes to the race and watches (the delayed broadcast) when they get home," Miles said. “The question is, would (the rating) drop off?"

A compromise might be to allow a live version while also offering an evening re-air, and the 500 could actually double dip since both numbers would count toward the final rating. Strong TV numbers help attract sponsors.

Miles doesn’t seem fazed by the notion of Central Indiana viewers being upset with a one-year-only lifting of the blackout. Years ago, he said, Indianapolis Colts fans were subjected to blackouts when all the tickets weren’t sold.

“I think people could follow (that logic)," he said.

ABC is planning a local lead-in to Sunday’s race. Its SportsCenter crew will be at IMS both weekend days, and in the hour before the 500’s broadcast begins SportsCenter will have Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and receiver TY Hilton as guests.

Lifting the local blackout also would allow Hoosiers to watch the race on the WatchESPN app.

Available to local viewers regardless of the blackout decision are onboard cameras carried by pole sitter James Hinchcliffe, defending champion Juan Pablo Montoya and reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon as well as current points leader Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden, Will Power, Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato and Helio Castroneves. Indy Star

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