INDIANAPOLIS — For the third consecutive year and fourth time in seven years, Central Indiana race fans will be able to watch the indianapolis 500 live on TV.
This time, though, you’ll have to pay for it.
Although the normal local blackout of Sunday’s race is traditional, over the air TV will be in effect because the race won’t be a sellout, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can’t enforce a blackout of a live airing of the race on NBC‘s peacock streaming service. For a first month’s subscription of $4.99 to Peacock’s “Premium” platform, those who live in the traditional Central Indiana blackout radius will be able to see the race before the delayed airing scheduled on local NBC channels for early Sunday evening.
Local Indy 500 fans:Here’s how you can subscribe to Peacock to watch the 500 live
Despite significant efforts to blackout the streaming option, NBC was unable to come up with the technology that would make it possible to block a stream of the indy 500 from such a small area. The technology, called geofencing, is used to block viewing of the streaming service’s content in countries like Canada that don’t have the commercial rights to view the Peacock platform.
“The 106th Running will stream on Peacock’s premium tier in Central Indiana,” IMS said in an exclusive statement to IndyStar. “Right now, there is no capability to geofence the event on Peacock, and therefore IMS has agreed to let the race stream locally this year only. NBC is working to ensure this capability will exist next year, and we appreciate its continued partnership and collaboration. We’re looking forward to an excellent showcase on NBCUniversal and its platforms this weekend.”
Miles: ‘This really is a one-off’
Without the proper technology available to block the Peacock stream of Sunday’s 500 in the local Indy-area market, Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles said the company, which owns and operates IMS, was faced with a unique decision.
“We could have nobody in the country see it on the streaming platform, or everybody,” Miles told IndyStar Friday. “It’s important to us that people understand this really is a one-off, and next year, we’ll be in a position to apply the same policy, whether it’s traditional, linear TV or, in this case, Peacock.
“Our preference would be that everyone could see it live everywhere, but because of the unique nature of the world’s biggest sporting event, in the local market the delay is really important to us, so our policy hasn’t changed. NBC is a great partner, and they just came to the conclusion that they weren’t going to be able to geofence (the local market) for this race.”
As Miles explained, the technology, though used over the internet instead of the TV airwaves, would be similar to how the local NBC affiliate WTHR (and ABC affiliates in previous years) blacked out the live airing of the race for traditional cable viewers. From a streaming perspective, it would also be very similar to how, for example, DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket customers who use the smart TV platform of the system in Indianapolis can’t watch a Colts game live via DirecTV while the game is being shown on CBS or Fox locally.
“They just didn’t have the ability to deliver it that way, and that’s a technical development situation,” Miles said. “(Geofencing) wasn’t initially part of (NBC’s) strategy when they launched the platform, but some time ago, they said they were working on it. They just couldn’t get it done for May.”
Future blackouts to hinge on sellout crowds
Assuming NBC is able to come up with the necessary technology to block the Peacock stream in the Indy-area over the next 12 months, the complete blacking out of live airing of future 500s locally will continue to hinge on whether IMS is able to sell tickets at the rate it did in 2016 — the only time the local blackout has been lifted in several decades due to a full sellout of the event. That year, for the 100th running, IMS ceased selling reserved grandstand seats the first week of May, and by Wednesday of race week, the track had sold out of general admission tickets for the infield. By virtue of turning away additional ticket sales, IMS opted to lift the local blackout in 2016, and Central Indiana race fans were able to watch the race live for the first time since 1950.
At the time, it was believed that ‘max capacity’ number stood at roughly 350,000. For Sunday’s race, IMS expects to be around or just over 300,000 for race day attendance, including 5,000 or fewer empty grandstand seats among the 233,000 available. On Thursday, IMS president Doug Boles said that roughly 10,000 permanent grandstand seats remained — none on the front stretch — and that the track expected to sell 5,000 of those or more over the final 72 hours before the green flag.
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This year’s race stands to be the second-most attended 500 in 20 yearsBoles said, continuing to be the world’s largest single-day sporting event.
The local blackout was also lifted in 2020 when no fans were allowed to attend the race due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, IMS was allowed to host 40% of its grandstand capacity, selling out its roughly 135,000 tickets and lifting the blackout.