Wednesday, March 21, 2018

What to Make of the IndyCar-NBC TV Deal?

You might turn March 21st into an annual celebration from here forward. The long-sought-after IndyCar television deal with the series permanently moving to NBC and NBC Sports has come. Starting in 2019, the entire IndyCar schedule will be on the NBC Sports family of networks and the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Congratulations IndyCar fans! You have got what you have always wanted. Are you ready to live with it? Things are going to change. Some things will be the same but not everything. This is a new era and some of the luxuries you may have gotten used to will be going away or will be altered. It was never going to be a simple as NBC taking over what ABC was doing and everything else remaining unchanged. The entire pot is be stirred.

Let's get one thing out of the way, before you start panicking about what races will be on network television, how races can be viewed if you don't have a cable subscription or what will be behind a pay wall or how much you will have to shell out; calm down. Calm down. Those answers will come in due time. It is March 21st. This deal starts next year and the 2019 IndyCar season likely will not start for another 50 weeks. All you questions will be answered. You will have plenty of time to digest it all and make decisions accordingly.

I think it would be best if we go over the press release thoroughly and see what we can decipher.

NBC Sports Group and INDYCAR announced a new, multi-year media rights agreement today in which NBC Sports has acquired the rights to present all INDYCAR races, qualifying, practices and Indy Lights races across its platforms beginning in 2019. Financial terms were not disclosed.
What did we learn? NBC gets everything and the kitchen sink. For what price? Well, regardless of what it cost you probably wouldn't have liked it and thought IndyCar could have done better. Moving on...

The Indianapolis 500 and seven additional Verizon IndyCar Series races will be broadcast annually on NBC, with all remaining races televised on NBCSN. All races will be live streamed to authenticated subscribers on and the NBC Sports app. Details of the NBC Sports' 2019 IndyCar schedule will be announced at a later date.
This is pretty straightforward. NBC will show eight races and likely nine or ten races will be on cable and NBCSN. If you get NBCSN through your cable package you will be able to stream races at no additional cost.

NBC Sports Gold – NBC Sports Groups' direct-to-consumer product — will offer a package to INDYCAR fans that features all qualifying and practices not televised, all Indy Lights races and full-event replays. Additional details, including the cost of the Gold offering, will be announced at a later date.
This is probably the part that made you nervous. What does this mean? Will I have to spend more money to see things that are already free? Let's go piece-by-piece...

If you want to be guaranteed a way to see every IndyCar session and al Indy Lights races then, if you want to pay an additional fee, this is for you. Practice sessions and qualifying sessions will be shown on television but in case one can't be shown live because of NHL playoff games or Tour de France or Premier League games you will be able to watch it live if you subscribe for the IndyCar package.

There is one thing unclear about the IndyCar package on NBC Sports Gold is will races be available and this has been an issue with NBC Sports Gold with other sports. Prior to the start of the 2017-18 Premier League season, every game was available at no additional cost to NBCSN subscribers online. If Tottenham-West Ham United was not on NBCSN or CNBC or USA or NBC and you had NBCSN in your cable package you could go online or on the app and watch it. Starting this season that changed.

For the 2017-18 Premier League season, all matches not on an NBC television network would only be available on NBC Sports Gold. For $49.99, the Premier League package gave fans access to 130 Premier League games from August to May. However, the games on an NBC network (NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA) are not available through NBC Sports Gold. It is a bit confusing. So if Manchester City-Manchester United is being shown on NBCSN, you can't watch it on NBC Sports Gold.

You can see how that is annoying and Premier League fans weren't happy about it. There is nothing wrong with that though. If you have NBCSN in you cable package you still get 250 Premier League games at no additional cost. If you want the capability to see all 380 Premier League and have NBCSN in your cable package then it will cost an additional $49.99. If you don't have NBCSN but want to see Premier League games then you can pay $49.99 and get 34.21% of the games and not necessarily the sexy games.

I think NBC has learned this year from the rollout of Premier League package for the future not only the Premier League package but also for all other packages sold on NBC Sports Gold... or at least I hope it learned from it. I could see multiple packages roll out, one being everything available to fans (all IndyCar races, Indy Lights races, qualifying sessions and practice session) for one price and another being a package for everything not live on television but not including IndyCar races.

As for how much an IndyCar package will cost, let's see what other NBC Sports Gold packages are going for. The most expensive package is the track and field package at $74.99 followed by the rugby package at $59.99. The Premier League package was $49.99 but with two months left in the season you can now get it for the low price of $19.99. The Pro Motocross package was $49.99 last season and it is currently $9.99 because we are in the Motocross offseason. The next subscription period for the Pro Motocross package begins in late May and I would guess the price would return to at least $49.99 when the season starts. The final national package is the cycling package, which costs $29.99.

My guess is the IndyCar package will cost you somewhere between $20-$50 a month depending on if there are multiple tiers.

No one is going to force you to spend money and there will be IndyCar coverage at no additional cost if you have NBCSN in your cable package. Things cost money. This deal wasn't going to be a handout to race fans with everything being for free. It is a business and somebody has to pay the bills. IndyCar fans are going to have to ask themselves questions. First being, if the fan already has NBCSN does it want to shell out additional dollars to be guaranteed live coverage of all sessions and Indy Lights or could that fan live with knowing he or she will see all the races and most qualifying sessions and can live without seeing the Friday morning practice at Barber, which they likely don't watch now because it occurs during the work day? If a fan doesn't have NBCSN that fan will have to decide either to open up the wallet and move up a tier in the cable package or subscribe for the IndyCar package on NBC Sports Gold and we aren't sure yet if all the races will be made available through that package.

I hope and I expect all the races to be available through the IndyCar package on NBC Sports Gold. IndyCar and NBC know cord-cutters are out there and some you aren't going to change. While NBC could keep the races out of the NBC Sports Gold package and entice people to either keep a cable subscription or make them get the tier with NBCSN I think IndyCar was keen on making sure IndyCar would be available to cord-cutters and all races will be available on the package.

The only other thing that caught my eye was the length of the deal, which is three years. That doesn't seem that long. It allows for one honeymoon year, one year getting to business and then a year of nail biting and negotiations. NBC's first deal with the Premier League was for three years and prior to the start of the third year a six-year extension was signed. At the end of the 2020 season things might be going so well that IndyCar and NBC agree to a three-year or six-year extension on the spot. I feel like three years isn't long enough of a commitment for a partnership to develop but another way to look at this is IndyCar has been working with NBC Sports since 2012 when the network absorbed Versus. This isn't a new network to IndyCar. When this three-year deal is up, IndyCar's relationship with NBC Sports will be ten years old. The three-year deal should keep you on your toes but you shouldn't hold your breath.

There are going to be things that piss you off about the new IndyCar television deal even though it was the one you were dreaming of from the start. There are going to be practice sessions you will want to watch and can't for some reason. There will still be hard outs for races or sessions. ABC caught a lot of flack for the ending of the St. Petersburg race but that won't change on NBC. If an IndyCar race runs a bit long and golf is following or NASCAR is following, IndyCar isn't going to get a 30-minute post-race show. NBC has another event to get to and once the checkered flag is waved and perhaps the winner is interviewed it will be onto the next event. That is the nature of the business.

There is no such thing as a perfect deal but this deal doesn't get much better for IndyCar. It has an interested television partner that wants to revive the television numbers, especially when it comes to the Indianapolis 500. We know the quality of the NBCSN broadcasts and it doesn't appear there will be massive changes. Leigh Diffey deserves the role as lead announcer with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller are a stout team of pit lane reporters. What this deal hopefully allows is for IndyCar to be available to a segment of the population that chooses an alternative way to viewing television other than a traditional cable package.

This is what IndyCar fans wanted. Everything will be fine.