IndyCar News: Next TV deal might not deliver extra revenue

IndyCar makes about $20 million annually in gross rights fees from NBC – the smallest of all major motorsports series. This is largely due to its small global TV audience

Editor’s note: This article was written by Adam Stern and first appeared in Sports Business Journal, the industry’s leading source of sports business news, events and data.

In the market at a challenging time for traditional media companies, but a resurgent time for motorsports properties, IndyCar says it is seeing good interest in its media rights that are currently controlled by NBC Sports.

Using a football analogy, Mark Miles, president and CEO of IndyCar parent company Penske Entertainment Corp., said the series is “on the 50-yard line” of its ongoing talks, adding that Penske executives are pleased so far.

IndyCar makes about $20 million annually in gross rights fees from NBC, and a three-year extension that began in 2022 expires after this year. IndyCar switched to having its rights fully with NBC beginning in 2019 after a longtime relationship with ABC/ESPN.

According to a person familiar with the matter, companies that have held discussions with IndyCar include NBC; Nexstar Media Group network The CW; Fox Sports; and Apple. The series is seeking an increase in its rights fee, but it does so at a time when media companies are being increasingly careful about their spending. Still, several recent sports properties have earned increases in their rights, giving IndyCar hope.

IndyCar is consulting with Endeavor’s IMG and WME Sports on the talks. Nexstar and Fox had no comment when contacted. NBC and Apple did not provide a comment by press time.

“It’s about expectations — overall, they’ll do fine,” said Dan Cohen, executive vice president of global media rights consulting for Octagon, which is not involved in the negotiations. Cohen predicted that IndyCar won’t take a step backward in rights fees but said it could ultimately be flat to mildly up.

“The tailwind is a resurgence in interest across motorsports,” Cohen said. “Now with that said, back to expectations, what do Roger Penske and Mark Miles think they’re going to get? … Looking to double [the current $20 million annual rate], that’s not going to happen in this environment.”

The series saw its best viewership in 2023 since 2011, with an average of 1.32 million viewers for its 17 races when including digital streaming from Peacock, up 2% year-over-year. By comparison, Formula One averaged 1.11 million viewers in the U.S. in 2023; ESPN controls F1′s rights and pays the series $75 million to $90 million a year. NASCAR averaged 2.86 million viewers last year and gets $820 million annually from Fox Sports and NBC Sports but just signed a new deal with Fox Sports, NBC, Warner Bros. Discovery and Amazon that will pay an average of $1.1 billion annually starting in 2025.

“I see an upside for IndyCar this next cycle,” said a senior network executive familiar with IndyCar’s offering, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of private negotiations. “Whenever you have multiple folks who want it, you have a market and that will increase the license fee, and it’s a sport that is seeing increases in attendance and ratings from a broadcast perspective. A lot of networks will want to be in that business.”

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