In 2019, a 33-year broadcasting history between ABC and the Indianapolis 500 will come to an end, which will signal a new era for IndyCar racing in what is widely considered a modern resurgence for the series.
While the draw between ABC vs. the NBC network for the famed month of May is pretty much equal, they shared an equivalent household reach, the real story lies in the alignment between NBC’s cable network, NBCSN, for the balance of the year.
Ever since the Versus network was re-branded NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) as part of a Comcast purchase in to NBC Universal in 2012, IndyCar has held a unique balance over the course of their season, with NBCSN covering the majority of the races, however ABC and its affiliated ESPN would cover select high profile events, most notably the Indianapolis 500.
The challenge, however, has been the lack of consistency in the on-air product. Produced by different networks, the ABC vs. NBC broadcasts have meant different production companies, different production staff, and different on-air hosts. Beyond being confusing for the fans, it’s also led to what is widely considered by fans to be a radical difference in production quality.
While the IndyCar fanbase seems to generally accept the coverage by NBCSN, the same cannot be said for ABC’s coverage in recent years. For a variety of reasons, the preponderance of social media has to led to an increasingly large fan outcry against the network.
However, ABC has had carried one significant carrot. Network television for multiple races, and ESPN is available in more households than NBCSN (although that gap continues to shrink).
While IndyCar has never formally addressed the reasoning behind the move to shift to full-time NBC, it is widely assumed that this was not a financial move, and if anything it technically provides the broadcast in less homes.. though again, this is a questionable statistic as it’s a minimal number, and available homes doesn’t actually mean ratings.
The move seems to purely be in reaction to fan demand. In an era where maintaining a loyal fanbase is becoming the key factor to growth, it marks a very sensible decision from the powers-that-be.