INDIANAPOLIS — As swirling snowflakes descended upon Indianapolis Motor Speedway outside the window, the warm buzz inside the media center centered on the snowball effect of INDYCAR racing gaining momentum in the public eye.
The latest in a series of positive developments was Wednesday’s announcement of the IndyCar Series’ 2019 TV schedule with NBC Sports Group, whose first season in an exclusive multiyear deal will televise all 17 races – eight on NBC, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500, and nine on NBSCN. In 2018, five races aired on network TV in the arrangement split between ABC and NBCSN.
Mark Miles, president and CEO of Human & Company, which owns INDYCAR and IMS, was joined in making the announcement by INDYCAR President Jay Frye, reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and title runner-up Alexander Rossi.
Increasing the number of IndyCar Series races on free-to-air network TV by 60 percent is a bonus all its own, Miles said. Coupled with NBC’s penchant for promoting its sports properties and championship events, as well the upcoming launch of INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold, a subscriber-based product that will stream some 350 hours of INDYCAR programming content this year, coverage and awareness of the sport are bound to keep trending upward.
“We could not be more pleased with what we know is going to happen in terms of exposing great Indy car racing to more fans through these arrangements that have been made,” said Miles, who turned the TV schedule announcement into a “State of INDYCAR” update that touched on numerous topics.
He was understandably eager to share other series advancements on the horizon, including introducing a new series title sponsor and Indianapolis 500 presenting sponsor. He also discussed the possibility of finalizing a deal for Indy car racing’s return to Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia.
From his first day on the job in late 2012, Miles has been asked an all-important question, one he continues to pose to himself daily: “What can we do to make this better?” As he quickly realized, growth must be achieved in several facets.
“Our objective was to get people focused on the future of the sport,” he said. “There is no silver bullet. You’ve got to do all kinds of things, everything better, from our schedule to our racing on the track to our officiating. Everything related to competition operations – it was already good but now it’s nailed – TV in this country and around the world, sponsorship beginning to get to the point where we can find more sponsors who will really invest in us and help promote us. Back on the schedule, finding opportunities to have one or two international races that will add some more momentum globally.”
Miles suggested the deal to return to Australia, where the series last visited in 2008, could be finalized in “the next couple of months.” That’s especially important when considering that the Surfers Paradise race was one of the most popular on the schedule and one of INDYCAR’s most successful and popular drivers now is Aussie Will Power of Team Penske. Power celebrated the most important victory of his career in last May’s Indy 500.
Expect other announcements in the near future, Miles added, including the next title sponsor to take the place of Verizon, which had a productive five-year relationship.
“Today, we are not making an announcement about our next title sponsor, but I would just say to you we expect that that will be very soon, and we are delighted at the news that we expect to be able to make quite quickly,” Miles said.
He suggested another “soon” timetable on introducing the Indy 500’s presenting sponsor to replace PennGrade Motor Oil, which had been in place the past three years.
“It’s that and a hundred other things,” Miles said. “Momentum often snowballs. We were patient and pushing hard, but I hope we can grow at an even faster rate now.”
An example of NBC’s cross-sports promotion came Sunday when it aired a 15-second Indianapolis 500 promotional commercial during its NFL playoffs telecast. Another will be shown this weekend.
“That was huge to see the activation that NBC is already putting in,” said Dixon, who was prominently displayed in the commercial. “I was at an event actually in Florida, a golfing event, the father-son PNC (Bank) event a few weeks ago, and spent a lot of time with the heads at NBC and just how pumped they are about this and how much they're going to push it, and they know what a big deal Indy car racing is. It's going to be very cool to see, obviously, the Indy 500 under their belt, too.”
Dixon’s comments make Miles happy but not content.
“You can never be satisfied with anything, and we’re not even close,” he said.
The word “satisfied” is taboo when thinking of the big picture and always angling for a more successful future.
“I only invoke the word to make the point that we’re not (satisfied),” he said. “We just need more of it. The reality is that there are some headwinds for motorsport, especially in the States. When you can grow, and that’s not anything to be taken for granted, it’s harder but more important in a way. Fighting through kind of the tough times is how I feel like where we are today.”
Another question asked is how high can INDYCAR realistically climb?
“There’s no ceiling,” Miles said.
Watch a replay of the "State of INDYCAR" news conference here: