IndyCar has inked a three-year extension of its standing rights deal with NBC Sports, securing a new distribution agreement that will see a sharp uptick in the number of races that will air on the flagship broadcast network.
According to IndyCar parent Penske Entertainment Corp.’s president and CEO Mark Miles and NBC Sports programming president Jon Miller, the terms of the new pact will up the number of IndyCar races on NBC from nine to 13, a move that should go a long way toward helping expand the audience for open-wheel racing. NBC reaches some 98 million U.S. TV households, giving it an advantage of around 18 million homes over the soon-to-be-shuttered NBCSN.
In addition to the baker’s dozen NBC races, the new deal will place two IndyCar races in front of USA Network’s 86 million subs. Another pair will stream exclusively on Peacock, which also will simulcast each of the 15 races set to run on linear TV.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but NBC’s original contract, which kicked in ahead of the 2019 season, was worth nearly $20 million per year. The switch to NBC had been a significant gear shift for IndyCar, as it brought an end to ABC’s 54-year run as the home of the Indianapolis 500. This year’s race averaged 5.58 million viewers and a 3.2 rating, which marked its largest TV audience since 2016.
Through its first nine races of the 2021 campaign, NBC Sports’ coverage of IndyCar is currently averaging 1.6 million viewers, its best showing since the Comcast subsidiary first took over the broadcast rights.
Speaking to reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday morning, Miller said the cooperative effort to try to put the 2020 season back on track in the midst of the pandemic effectively “set the table for where we are today.” Miller said that contrary to earlier reports, NBC at no point considered walking away from IndyCar. “We felt this was the right sport to take a bet on,” he said. “We certainly had every intention of renewing, [and] we thought we could do a lot with the sport if we could have it all under one umbrella.”
Miles corroborated Miller’s assessment, suggesting there was never any doubt that the two sides would come to an agreement. “The incumbent is always going to win a tie… and there wasn’t a tie,” Miles said.
NBC appears to have had an open lane throughout the talks, as rival networks didn’t apply the sort of outside pressure that tends to lead to an exorbitant hike in rights fees. Of the usual suspects, only Fox was said to have so much as kicked the tires on an IndyCar acquisition, although those talks never got past the scuff-the-whitewalls phase.
While the NBC broadcast network is still a relative newcomer to open-wheel racing, the cable side of the business has been a partner since 2009, when NBCSN precursor Versus embarked upon a 10-year deal with IndyCar. NBCSN will go dark before the end of the year, at which time USA Network will serve as the home for many of NBC’s cable sports telecasts.
Among the properties making the switch to USA Net is NASCAR, for which NBC Sports is contracted through 2024. On the call, Miller said that it would be premature to discuss a NASCAR renewal.