The status of IndyCar’s UK broadcasting rights

One talking point for motor sport fans in the off-season is what will happen to Sky Sports’ coverage of the Indy Car Series. With no news yet on whether Sky will be covering the series in 2013, if Sky choose not to cover it, the question becomes ‘which’ (if any) broadcaster will win the rights to show it.

Firstly though, why would Sky Sports choose not to cover it? Unfortunately, the first piece of evidence are the extremely low viewing figures that the Indy Car Series has on Sky. The fifteen races in the 2012 season averaged only 16,000 viewers, a very low number. The highest rated race was round four, which took place in São Paulo. That race achieved 39,000 viewers and coincidentally was also screened on Sky Sports F1. A few weeks later, and the Milwaukee round of the championship brought only 3,000 viewers. The blue-ribboned Indianapolis 500 event, which should comfortably be the most watched race, only had 29,000 viewers. All of the viewing figures can only be described as pitiful.

In comparison, Sky Sports F1′s entire live coverage of the GP2 Series averaged 24,000 viewers, whilst the GP3 Series averaged 20,000 viewers:

Series Averages
- 37,000 viewers – GP2 [Feature Race]
- 31,000 viewers – GP2 [Sprint Race]
- 21,000 viewers – GP3 [Feature Race]
- 19,000 viewers – GP3 [Sprint Race]
- 18,000 viewers – GP3 [Qualifying]
- 17,000 viewers – GP2 [Qualifying]
- 16,000 viewers – IndyCar Series
- 14,000 viewers – GP2 [Practice]

The purpose of the above is not to praise the GP2 and GP3 ratings, because, as I have outlined before, the feature and sprint races should be getting higher viewing figures, but for the IndyCar Series to have lower ratings the GP2 and GP3 Qualifying is criminal. There is the Sky Sports F1 argument and whether IndyCar Series would be benefited? Again, as said earlier, my opinion is that it would be. Any new contract between the IZOD IndyCar Series and Sky should state that races will be screened live on Sky Sports F1. Sky may consider the rights worthless in 2013 if Sky Sports F1 is not an option.

Aside from ratings, I assume that the rights are dirt cheap so they would not cost Sky much to renew it. But what if Sky Sports choose to drop IndyCars? Who will pick it up?

BBC – Highly, highly unlikely especially at a time of cut-backs.

ESPN – Would not be a good move. ESPN generally attracts less viewers than Sky Sports, meaning IndyCars would not reach out to anyone new. Plus, for people such as myself, IndyCars would become a no go as ESPN would be an extra £10 on top of my existing package.

Eurosport – A preferred option, but their treatment of four wheels is not the greatest. There is also the probability that not every race will be live. And their EPG is a mess at the best of times, sometimes it says Snooker yet you are watching something else.

ITV4 – I’d put this at the top of my list of choices, but I don’t think it would be something that ITV4 would actively look at. Nevertheless, the rights are relatively cheap and could boost IndyCars reputation in this country significantly as well as increasing ITV4′s sports portfolio ever more. A win-win.

Motors TV – Picture quality is not great, but they did screen the Race of Champions event in December, so do have some kind of budget if they wanted to screen it.

Premier Sports – This would be another likely option, but NASCAR also being on Premier Sports may cause potential problems.

My main concern is that the IndyCar Series may not have a home at all in the future in 2013. I dearly hope, that I am proven wrong. 2012 was a fantastic year for the series after a difficult end to 2011 and I hope to be able to see that continue in 2013.

Update at 20:30 on January 8th – In my initial few paragraphs, I forgot to link to this comment last September which goes into detail about the nature of Sky’s contract with the IndyCar Series.

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Posted on January 8, 2013, in IndyCars and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. ITV4 would be the ideal choice, as it’s the only channel there everyone has access to, therefore reaching the biggest possible audience (Its also the only one I have access to). But as you’ve pointed out it’s questionable whether they would be interested.
    Another FTA option could be potentially Five USA?

  2. ITV4 easily the most ideal! Hopefully not Premier Sports, a channel which is only available to Sky Customers (I’m with Virgin) lost live Nascar hopefully not Indycars as well.

  3. I am afraid the crackheads at 16th&Georgetown could give a monkey’s about international broadcasting.
    Their myopic view is narrow that I would not be surprised if they didn’t even know that their existing contract has now expired.
    Jp

  4. I fear Jp’s right. The obvious, and my preferred choice is SkySports F1 as Sky have historically shown the series and there’s plenty of time in their schedule to show the races.

  5. Motors don’t pay for anything. Series pay Motors to show thier stuff, that’s how the model works, so they’re out. ITV4 do have some motorsport interest(BTCC, BSB, DTM), but couldnt imagine them wanting anything more than recorded highlights due to thier live BTCC commitments. Eurosport are pretty hit and miss on everything bar Le Mans, but it wouldnt be a disaster.

    Ideal world would be that Sky pick it up again and put it somewhere that people could actually see it (SSF1) instead of in the dungeon of SS4.

    Regarding the figure above, don’t forget that the 500 was put on behind the ‘Red Button’ this year. It took a bit of finding. Disgraceful.

  6. I was surprised last year that more races weren’t on Sky Sports F1, and with more advertising during the races. Austin was a fantastic opportunity to advertise, yet Dario was only asked about his cousin when he was interviewed. And Rubens was in the series last year – ideal advertising that wasn’t maximised.

  7. As things stand there is little reason for a motorsports fan to purchase Sky Sports. You only need to buy the HD pack to get the F1 channel which includes GP2 and GP3.

    IndyCar suffers from being the only form of live motorsport left on Sky Sports. Other series like BTCC, DTM, NASCAR and Formula Renault 3.5 are on other channels which are either free or can be purchased with separate subscriptions.

    Sky might as well shunt it over the the F1 channel where it will at least stand a chance of getting better racing alongside similar open-wheel categories.

    But I wonder if their deal with Eccletone forbids it. As others have pointed out the near-total lack of IndyCar advertising on Sky’s F1 channel makes me suspicious. Other sporting events are promoted ad nauseum.

  8. ITV4 probably wouldn’t work. ITV4 show the French open the day of the Indianapolis 500 and play doesn’t stop till around 7pm. Indy starts at 5pm. Can’t fathom why Sky don’t put it on Sky sports F1 on non F1 weekends. There’s only so many times I can watch the same repeated features they show.

  9. In fairness to the Milwaukee round with 3000 viewers, it was on a Saturday evening and was rain delayed over an hour. By the time it got going around 8pm or so it never stood a chance against the pub/Britains Got Talent/a rom-com the other half insisted on.

    Most races are late Sunday evening, which will always make it difficult to get good figures. My girlfriend makes a pained face on Indycar weekends, but I get to watch it. I can see how unfair it is, after a weekend of me watching GP3, GP2 and F1 for 2 days solid, you can even throw the odd BTCC, WTCC and Moto GP in there, but she lets me watch it. Other people aren’t so lucky, or are less selfish than me!

    Sky know all this stuff though. I genuinely don’t think Sky focus solely on the ratings at 10pm on a Sunday night. Even football would draw a, relatively, minimal audience at that time, which is why no UK football matches take place then. Indycar, at least, has that in its favour.

  10. They ought to show it somewhere. My problem last year was I subscribed to HD rather than sports to get F1 and assumed Indycar would be screened on Sky Sports F1. Even where it was screened on F1, they cocked it up by putting the replay of the F1 race of that day (which was rescreened several million times) ahead of the LIVE Indycar and not repeating the Indycar race in full. A criminal act in my opinion. I;ve been interested in watching Indycar since the days of Nigel Mansell but, since those days, have been unable to receive it! I’d watch – really I would Sky!! Put it on Sky Sports F1 HD an get 39,000 people, myself included, tuning in for every race!

    • Since I published that blog, the rights have since been confirmed – it will be shown on ESPN UK: http://f1broadcasting.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/espn-win-uk-rights-to-screen-the-indycar-series/

      However, ESPN UK is closing down on July 31st, BT have yet to officially say if they will be screening IndyCars from August.

      • Interesting comments. I’m now watching the opening indy race of 2013 and added ESPN to my package. However, I think I will be cancelling due to the amateurish nature of American tv. There were eight ad breaks in the first half hour. These came without warning and got progressively longer. At least when Sky were showing the series the yank ad breaks would often be covered by Keith and guests in the studio. ESPN’s coverage is pathetic so I will undoubtedly be dropping them from my over priced Sky package.

  1. Pingback: UK’s Coverage Of IndyCar Switches To ESPN | I Watch Too Much Racing

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